Retail is being redefined every day. Everyone still looks at their bottom line sales, but it doesn't matter anymore if the sales are from foot traffic through the front door or via shipping boxes out the back. While most retail businesses are still struggling to figure out how to bring foot traffic back in the front door, I submit that it's probably easier to learn what it takes to build your ecommerce business and increase the flow of shipped product instead.
With regard to marketing, the common problem with brick and mortar stores is that there's no perfect way to track the effect your local marketing has on your local community. Simply stated, the physical world is hard to track, no matter how much effort you put into it. My own company uses various techniques that could measure the foot traffic boost as a result of billboards, direct mail, newspapers, and even mobile websites; but it only works if all the employees in the store agree to participate AND if there is software available to do the tracking. I only know of one company so far that has figured out how to track the global offline world and their customers, and that's Walt Disney.
As you can imagine, Walt Disney has millions of dollars to spend on marketing research and development and so there's no way a small business can achieve that same successful real world tracking.
However, you could do it through ecommerce.
There's Gold In Those Reports
Relatively speaking, tracking your website, social media, and customer engagements online is much easier than tracking results of your billboard and other ads. You might believe that online tracking is rocket science, but you don't need to know how the rocket works in order to see the results. You can hire rocket scientists to work for you, and then all you need to do is look at the reports.
When it comes to current day website tracking reports, most of them are pretty graphs, pie charts, and numbers showing upward or downward success. They are very easy to read by anyone. These reports will tell you exactly which online ads work, which social networks bring traffic to your site, which products people most look at, and if your website design is good or bad. Simply follow the reports and change your website, ads, products, and online activity according to what your customers want.
The more closely you change your actions to follow the reports, the more likely that you'll be shipping boxes out your back door. It doesn't take skill to manage your ecommerce business, and you don't even have to understand it, you just need a few internet savvy people by your side and you must trust reports and make appropriate small changes every month.
If you choose to build a website and not read your website reports, then your online success will be as hit or miss as that of your physical store.
The following are a few of the things that you can discover on your website reports.
How Well Do You Know Your Products?
What product will be easiest to sell online?
What is your most popular product?
Which item will bring you the largest ROI?
The answers to these 3 questions might surprise you because your own experience, tastes, and ideas are probably completely different than what the reports will tell you.
From the reports, you can learn what product categories are most popular, and which specific products within that category attract the most attention. Again, it's probably not what you expected.
With every report you read, you should ask yourself what caused these results. When it comes to products, the results are often directly related to the quality of the photography, the background color of the photos, or the color of the item itself. Drab looking photos do not attract much attention, and therefore those products or categories will not be clicked upon very often.
In addition to getting clicks on a product or category, the reports will also tell you how interested people are once they click. Those who don't stay long on a page are disinterested while those who stay longer are more likely to buy. How do you achieve the longer stay? Simply write longer product descriptions. Perhaps there really is nothing simple about writing long product descriptions for every product in your website, but this will be very important for the early and continued success of your website.
Simple product numbers with basic size and construction details are not enough for your customers. They want to know every last detail, including romantic descriptions, how to use or wear the item, how to care for it, and even the best person who could use it. All this should be written out in a long sentence format.
In addition to the written description, you should also have an area of "technical specifications" or "product features." This area should be presented in a tabular format so people can skim through it for the exact detail they are searching for.
From years of reporting, I know that websites with both the long descriptions and the technical details usually have the greatest "Time On Page," which is what we call the amount of time someone spends reading a specific page.
Improving your photography should change how people navigate through your website, but those changes alone will not help you increase sales if the product descriptions are lacking. There have also been plenty of cases where websites had great photography and product descriptions, but still didn't have many sales. In those cases, there is usually something else wrong with the way the strategy of the website. There could be a problem with the usability, the search engine optimization, or even the audience targeting for the product you are trying to sell.
How Well Do You Know Your Audience?
Audience targeting and merchandising go hand in hand. Depending on the merchandise you want to sell, you need to target the right audience. Who is your right audience and are they coming to your website? If you get this wrong, you might find yourself trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong people, like trying to sell a hamburger to a vegetarian.
Reports generated from Google Analytics and Facebook will tell you the age range of the people visiting your website, their income, where they live, and what their other interest are. Knowing who visits your website is one thing, but you also need to know who is making a purchase. Are the customers who buy from you the same customers that you expected? Here's a hint for anyone who is about to launch their first ecommerce website, you will rarely sell to your expected target audience.
With audience reports in hand, you can change your online marketing methods to further attract that demographic, and hopefully more sales. On the other hand, if your audience reporting is not very specific, then you might need to look at the products you sell, i.e. your merchandising. Unless you have a large marketing budget, trying to sell online to everyone is very difficult. It's easier to change your online product line to focus on the interest of one audience group. But don't take my word for it, listen to the information in your own reports.
Change Is Good
There are many different types of usability reports that are also very important for your website success. Examples of usability reports include A/B testing, heatmapping, mouse tracking, and click tracking. Unlike the product and audience reports which show easy to understand charts and graphs, usability reports are can be video or colorful overlays for your website.
These reports are subject to interpretation and usually lead to continual changing and further tracking of the website to build upon your desired success. Usability reports can help you determine where best to place a button and what color that button should be. These reports could also help you discover if your navigation links work best at the top or the side. More detailed study could further help you discover how many links should be in your navigation menu.
Many physical retail stores are built once and then never remodeled. Large and small businesses alike will often decorate their stores for different holidays throughout the year, but they would never consider a store refurbishing, or even a simple new coat of paint. My local Sears hasn't been remodeled in more than 30 years, and I know several family owned local businesses that haven't changed in just as long. While some might find these old stores to be quaint, or even historic, there's a big difference between "old and classy" and "old and tired."
The look of a website becomes old and tired very quickly today. For those who do not track the usability of their website, it will need a refresh within 2 years after you first launch it. On the other hand, for those who are tracking usability, the website is continually changing and improving one small piece at a time. In essence, your website will evolve and get better over time as you continually redesign small aspects of it.
If you're one of those people who doesn't understand how the internet works, or if you believe that you should be using Facebook because everyone else is, then it's time you start to look at your website reports. Some free reports come from Google Analytics and Facebook, while others come from paid subscription services. In my experience, the better reports are more expensive, but are worth every penny... assuming you take action based on those reports.
Traditional advertising to get people into your store is more difficult than ever. Figuring out what traditional marketing works and what doesn't work is very difficult, and expensive. On the other hand, there are plenty of online reporting methods to help you improve sales from your website.
Ultimately, as you follow your online reporting to improve your website, you'll also discover that some of those techniques have also helped bring local customer back to your store.