by April 1, 2000 0 comments

When
it comes to doing business, one of the most important objectives is complete
customer satisfaction. Applying that formula to a Web business is a whole
new ball game. The parameters for an online shop should be defined keeping
in mind, that unlike in a brick-and-mortar shop, there is no face-to-face
interaction between the company and the customer. All you have are a few
moments of a prospective customer’s time. During those moments, your site
should be able to grab the customer’s attention and he should come back
again.

Here are a few things you
should keep in mind when building an online store.

Easy navigation and good
site architecture

A clean and tidy interface is very important. The first page of the site
should clearly be able to convey what you’re selling online. It should
list all the product categories that you’re selling, so a customer doesn’t
have to waste time hunting around.

Organization of the site is
another important factor. Its architecture should be easily navigable. There
shouldn’t be any broken links, nor should there be any inactive ones. If
you’re planning to introduce a new product category, it should be
explained clearly on the site, instead of listing it with the
already-existing list of active ones. We saw some sites that listed the
inactive links along with the active ones. A newbie may not be able to
understand this and might consider it as a flaw on the site.

Appropriate metatags
Metatags are used to provide information about a particular Web page, like
who created the page, how often it’s updated, which keywords represent the
page’s content, etc. It’s the latter that’s very important for a page,
because search engines pick up this information to build their indices. If a
site doesn’t have proper metatags, then it won’t show up in a search
generated by a search engine. Needless to say, your online shop will be at
an advantage if a customer finds it after running a search in a search
engine. For example, if your site sells toothpaste online, then the customer
searching for a site that sells it should be able to find your site through
a search engine.

Registration
At several sites that we checked out, we noticed that you had to register
with them if you wanted to buy anything. A prospective customer may not be
willing to submit personal information on your site. Or, he may not have the
time to go through the various fields in your registration form. Therefore,
registration with the site could be made optional. A customer should be able
to place an order from your Website without registering. You could give
added benefits to registered users, like special discounts or free gifts,
which would entice users to come to your site.

Search
As bandwidth is still an issue on the Internet, Web surfers don’t want to
go through multiple locations to reach the desired location. It’s very
time-consuming too. So, imagine a customer having to go down several levels
to reach a product you’re selling online. This is where a search engine is
really needed. A search engine should make it convenient for a customer to
find an item on your site at one shot. It should do the job of attendants in
a supermarket, who help you find what you’re looking for. The
implementation depends upon what you’re selling online. A customer should
be able to search by product type, budget or product description. For
example, if you’re selling gifts online, then your search engine should be
able to give results to a customer based on category and price range.
Similarly, on a music site, the search engine should let a customer find an
album based on title, singer/band name, music company, etc. The idea is to
have enough variables to search with. Variety

Though not a must, but having a wide product variety increases your customer
base, and improves your customer’s shopping experience. Many sites we
reviewed had only a few products up for sale, and many had empty category
after empty category. Not designed to enthuse a prospective shopper.

Flexible shopping cart
Shopping cart development has become an area of high activity. There are
many different shopping carts available. These are components that can be
plugged into your Website. A shopping cart holds your items when you’re
shopping online. A good shopping cart should be flexible enough to let the
customer see the details of what he’s planning to buy. It should be
accessible from every page on the site, and should allow the customer to
make changes to it–like removing an item, or adding more. It should also
allow him to return to the original page before he entered the cart. It
should be able to show the names of the products in it, as well as their
prices.

Price
Needless to say, an online shop is in direct competition with its
brick-and-mortar counterpart. Therefore, pricing becomes a sensitive issue.
If you’re selling groceries online, then your prices should compete
against the local grocery shop, or at least the local posh market.
Otherwise, a customer would prefer to walk out of the house and buy it from
the shop. You must also offer discounts and special deals to attract
customers.

Modes of payment and
security

The most important aim for an online shop is to make a customer’s
experience completely hassle-free. Mode of payment becomes a critical issue
here. Being on the Internet, your online shop is accessible to anyone across
the world. Therefore, limiting the mode of payment could cause a loss of
customers from across the world. That’s why your site should provide all
payment facilities. It should accept credit cards (both rupee and dollar),
and also accept other methods like cash on delivery, check, or demand draft.

When online payment comes
into the picture, security becomes a major issue. In fact, there’s still a
lot of fear about sending credit card information over the Net. Therefore, a
site has to ensure complete security to a customer making online payments.
To start with, it should have a privacy policy prominently displayed on the
Website. Where credit card payment is concerned, a secure server becomes a
must. This should be able to encrypt all credit card information traveling
from the customer’s Web browser to the online shop’s server. Even
customer registration information should be encrypted. One thing we noted
while doing this story was that order confirmation e-mails from some sites
contained our credit card number. This must be avoided, as e-mail can be
intercepted, or sent to the wrong recipient. The latter is a common
phenomenon on free-mail Websites. If an order confirmation is to be sent, it
shouldn’t include the customer’s credit card number. Quality of service

Quality of service is very important in the online world. As you aren’t
there personally to handle your customers, you have to ensure a pleasant
online shopping experience for them. One important factor here is that you
must do what you mention on the site. The case in point here is delivery
time. If you promise delivery within two days, then actual delivery shouldn’t
extend to the third day. You should also define delivery time as low as you
can.

A return policy follows the
delivery time. If the product doesn’t reach the customer in good
condition, then your site should have some sort of a policy for that. The
ideal case is to replace the product free of cost. Whatever the case may be,
your site should clearly mention what policy you follow, to give your
customers a clear picture. All the terms and conditions should be clearly
listed.

Handling customer queries is
another important issue. Your site should be prompt in replying to all
customer queries. To aid the process further, it should put answers to
common queries in the form on FAQs. A step-by-step guide on how to shop on
your site is also a must. We even saw some sites that had an online chat
facility where customers could directly interact and ask for clarifications
and help.

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