These winning strategies can help make your digital doors more engaging, easily searchable, convenient and intuitive. Worth the effort? Watch as shoppers fill their virtual carts
If the past year has taught mattress retailers anything, it’s that the consumer migration to online shopping and purchasing is no longer a trek. It’s a stampede.
Recent research from the Better Sleep Council, the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, shows that consumers, especially younger consumers, increasingly are researching, browsing and buying online. (For more on the research, see this January/February article.)
Miskelly Furniture, a furniture and mattress chain based in Jackson, Mississippi, is among the retailers that have improved their e-commerce capabilities in the past year.
“We became fully e-commerce capable. We added web chat for both pre- and post-purchase inquiries. Lastly, we worked with AVB (our e-commerce provider) and our own internal team to streamline our website, making it more consumer friendly,” says Alan Vonder Haar, the company’s director of bedding, who is better known as “Dr. V.”
If you’re improving your e-commerce capabilities, we’ve compiled a number of best practices to follow, as well as missteps to avoid.
Make shopping easy
O Design for mobile. With “mobile commerce expected to account for 72.9% of e-commerce sales” by the end of this year, “nowadays, your e-commerce site should be designed primarily with mobile in mind,” writes Emil Kristensen, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Sleeknote, in a March 2020 blog post. Sleeknote is an e-commerce marketing and lead generation company based in Aarhus, Denmark.
Kate Shokurova, in an April 2020 article for UX Planet, puts it this way: “The necessity of having a mobile version of a website in 2020 is not up for discussion. If a website doesn’t have a responsive version, users won’t be able to properly view or interact with it, which will cause them to abandon a store in favor of another.” UX Planet is an online source devoted to improving user experiences.
Text should be easy to read and elements such as buttons and navigation bars should be easy to use on a smaller screen.
O Give the most important information first. Duh, right? But the information you think is most important may not be what consumers want to know. So, in addition to displaying product name, description and price on product pages, you need to, for instance, include details about your return and refunds policy because “67% of shoppers will check your returns policy before making a purchase,” Kristensen says. Other key information that consumers want available without having to hunt for it, according to Suzanne Scacca:
- Payment options
- Delivery time frames
- Options to order online/pick up in-store
- Product size selector
- Add-to-cart and wishlist buttons.
“The more time visitors have to spend digging around for pertinent details about a product, the greater the chance they’ll just give up and try another store,” writes Scacca in a November 2020 article for Smashing Magazine, an online magazine for web designers and developers.
Again, such information should be available on every product page, even if only through a link to a page that explains more fully.
O Make it simple to search. And speaking of hunting around for information, a key to happy customers is making it easy for them to find products using a search feature. Kristensen encourages companies to provide a prominent, no-miss search bar that appears on every page of your e-commerce site.
“Shoppers that use your site search are three times more likely to see a purchase through” if you have such a search bar, Kristensen says. “It makes sense when you think about it. They can find exactly what they’re looking for at lightning speed.”
An autocomplete feature is super handy. “A search bar will certainly help shoppers who are short on time, can’t find what they need or simply want a shortcut to a product they already know exists,” Scacca says. “However, an AI-powered search bar that can actively predict what the shopper is looking for is a smarter choice.”
For more navigational assistance, Scacca recommends leaving breadcrumb trails for shoppers as they go deeper into your site as they shop. These breadcrumbs often appear in the top-left corner of product pages and help shoppers understand where they are on your site and in their search process. For a mattress retailer, a breadcrumb trail might look something like: Mattresses’Brand X’ Hybrid’Queen Size.
Relatedly, you want to make it as simple as you can for shoppers to choose product sizes, Scacca says. For sleep products, drop-down lists with key sizes (California king, king, queen, twin, twin XL, etc.), firmness levels or colors (for accessories like sheets) often make the most sense. If a product is not available in a certain size or color or is backordered, you can use the drop-down menu to make that clear. Even better: Give shoppers a heads-up about unavailable sizes or options before they even get to that stage so they don’t get their hopes up or waste time, she says.
Even if consumers feel comfortable shopping online, it’s still important to demonstrate that you are a trustworthy, reliable sleep products retailer and that they can have confidence in you and your e-commerce site.
Here are some ways to build trust:
O Include contact information. Retailers that offer only a one-way Contact Us form are likely to lose customers. Let people know you are a real company run by real people by providing consumers with a phone number, email address and mailing address where they can reach you. A Contact Us page is a logical location for it but some of this information, like a customer service phone number and email address, should appear on most pages. If you have brick-and-mortar locations, a list of those should be on the homepage. If you are e-commerce only, indicate where you are headquartered.
“Nothing throws potential customers off more than a website without contact information. …This type of information, along with an ‘About’ page, helps potential customers feel they’re buying from a real person,” writes Michael Keenan in a November 2020 blog post for Ottawa-based e-commerce platform Shopify.
In addition to building trust, giving people multiple ways to contact you makes the shopping, buying and post-purchase experience easier for customers. Along those same lines, be sure also to include links to all your social media channels and a robust page for frequently asked questions.
A live chat feature, Shokurova says, will help boost sales, as well.
“People don’t always buy what they came for. Most often they leave with what they have been sold. … It is also important for potential buyers to understand that there is somebody on the website,” she says. “The easiest way to show this is to enable a live chat to help customers find and select the right products and increase the average check by offering extra services and products.”
O Explain your return and refunds policy. “A return policy not only makes it easier for people to bring back products that don’t satisfy them, it actually increases sales by lowering shopping cart abandonment and instilling the customer with a sense of confidence and trust that they can send back an item if they need to,” Keenan says. Be sure to include any fees for returns. Pro tip: Include a link to your return policy on every product page. (For more reasons that online shoppers abandon carts, see story on page 30.)
O Display your certifications. “Customers think Mr. Robot is just waiting to grab their details at any moment. It can happen,” Kristensen says. “So, you have to show people that your site is secure.” First make sure you have an SSL certificate. (SSL stands for secure sockets layer and is a global security technology standard.) Without an SSL certificate, Chrome and other search engines may flag your site as being unsecure, Kristensen says.
Another way to demonstrate the security of your site is to display graphics or badges that “show your security compliance and all the payment methods you accept,” Keenan says. It’s also helpful to display the logos of product or component certifications, when applicable. If you belong to trade associations, display logos to indicate those memberships, too. Footers are a good place for most of these logos.
O Add social proof. “Even if a company is an honest one, it doesn’t mean that customers think the same. One effective way to gain customer confidence is to use social proof,” Shokurova writes. Social proof can include testimonials and customer reviews; product and company awards; and magazine, newspaper, TV and radio mentions. “But don’t add it all at once,” she says. “Many companies bombard their websites with social evidence, and sometimes it looks a bit self-righteous. Consider the most important and more appropriate evidence. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer and think about what they might want to find on a website that is yet unknown to them.”
Where Did You Go? Avoiding Abandoned Carts
An abandoned shopping cart is a sad sight, whether in a parking lot or on your e-commerce platform.
Bolt, a San Francisco-based provider of e-commerce checkout technology, has compiled a list of the most common reasons shoppers leave websites without buying. Do any of these apply to your online checkout process?
Surprise costs and charges: No one wants to get to the end of the purchase process and be hit with unexpected fees. Be upfront about all costs.
Forced account creation: As much as you might like to encourage repeat business by having shoppers create an account, the practice can slow down the buying process — and send some potential customers elsewhere.
A complex, burdensome process: Make checkout as fast and easy as possible.
Limited shipping options and methods: “Delivery is a major component of the e-commerce experience,” according to Bolt. “Customers want multiple shipping methods and customized delivery options.”
Security concerns: Shoppers are trusting you with personal and financial information. Ensure that your site is secure and display security badges to give shoppers the confidence to buy.
Limited payment methods: “Customers like to pay with their preferred payment method whenever they can,” according to Bolt. “When one isn’t available, they may not complete the purchase.”
Performance issues and errors: Slow sites, error messages, broken links, missing pages and other glitches can annoy shoppers and diminish their trust in a site.
Site Features That Are Soooo Annoying
That last thing you want your e-commerce site to do is frustrate or irritate potential customers.
In July 2020, Smashing Magazine, an online magazine for web designers and developers, released a list of the top pet peeves people have, in general, about websites. Use it as a checklist of “don’ts” to ensure your site delights rather than disappoints shoppers.
- Tiny scrollable panes
- Tiny click targets
- Drop-down menus for country selectors
- Disabled “Continue” buttons
- Auto-play carousels and videos
- Slow websites
- Unsupported “Back” buttons
- Push notifications
- App installation prompts
Go With the Flow for Easy Checkout
According to Bolt, a San Francisco-based provider of e-commerce checkout technology, consumers who buy online have gotten accustomed to a browsing and buying process that goes like this:
1. Browse products
2. Add items to shopping cart
3. Provide billing information
4. Provide shipping information
5. Preview order
7. Receive order/shipping confirmation
If you alter that typical flow, be sure it’s an improvement that makes the process easier for your customers. “The best checkouts,” according to Bolt, “will have a clear flow and will be designed to be seamless and frictionless for the user.”
Don’t Forget the “Thank You”
Every time a customer completes a purchase on your e-commerce site, you should follow up with an order summary that includes the order number, purchase summary with itemized costs (product price plus shipping plus taxes), delivery date estimates and any other pertinent information, according to Bolt, a San Francisco-based provider of e-commerce checkout technology. Most often such summaries are sent via email although you could send them as a text with a link to the information.
Don’t waste the opportunities these summaries present. These follow-ups are a great place to include a coupon for a future order or give people who checked out as a guest a chance to register with you, according to Bolt.
And, most importantly, this is the time to thank customers for their order. (You know how big Sleep Savvy is on appropriate thank-you notes!)
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.