Online Stores: Website quality is the key

(By: Internet Evolution)

Discount Tire changed the language for its online store checkout button and increased sales 14 percent in one week.
Best Buy wanted online shoppers to be able to navigate to the video game section of its online store and find what they came for just as easily as they could in a brick-and-mortar store.
These are just two examples of how better understanding the online customer experience — and what can make it truly excellent — is catching the attention of more business executives. And justifiably so: Industry researcher Forrester Research Inc. projects that online retail sales in the US will approach $250 billion, or nearly 8 percent of all retail sales, by 2014.
In this environment, a Website with poor performance or broken links and images isn’t going to stay competitive for very long.
A good bellwether of performance is transaction response time, which is easy to pronounce as satisfactory if it comes in at two seconds for a Virginia-based online Website processing a purchase made in New York or Washington, D.C. — but the same transaction could take 10 to 20 seconds in San Francisco or Seattle.
The consequences of not providing timely order fulfillment to all segments of your demographic are huge, whether their transactions are delayed by geographical location or by the fact that they are using mobile devices. Unfortunately, response time is a degree of detail that many companies with online retail presences still don’t measure. And there are other Website customer experience metrics companies should be aware of. Here is a checklist:

  • Broken links and images. There are still organizations that post “Under Construction” signs in areas of their Websites that are not yet built out. It is better not to have these areas visible at all until they are ready to go. Also disconcerting to Website customers are links and images that don’t work when you click on them. “This is the equivalent of a window to a retail store being broken,” says one retail executive. “It doesn’t look good for your brand.”
  • Desktop performance expectations for mobile devices. As more users migrate to mobile devices, they still expect the same performance that they get on their desktops. There is now a contrarian technology push away from thin client computing, back to pushing out a lot of the application to the device itself. The end goal is facilitating more capability — and perceived performance — on a local device.
  • Clear content. Clear Website content, like clear verbal directions, enhances the customer experience — yet a surprising number of companies focus so much on visuals that they forget about good copywriting. The customers don’t.
  • Consistency. A Website — and any transaction processed through it — should always perform consistently well every time, regardless of time of day, geographical location, or device type. Customers expect this as a promise of the “brand.”

In every industry sector, there are companies that are very advanced in their Website strategies, while others are just getting started. The important thing for IT and Website business strategists to remember is that the road to an excellent Website is an evolutionary journey.
Even if you’re there today and outperforming all of your online competitors in benchmarks, you have to continue innovation to stay on top.
Conversely, if your Website has fallen behind, begin from where you are to make it better. Start by making incremental improvements, but do get started.
— Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data

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