IT is often called upon to optimize the company e-commerce site with new technology and ideas. Here are 10 fundamentals you should never lose sight of in your strategy.
1: Optimize end-user experience and the WAN
To be successful, e-commerce websites have to deliver a consistently good end-user experience to a global market of customers. This means you should pay attention to how easy it is for customers to access and to do business with your website from any geographical location. Since internet performance over a global wide area network (WAN) is not within IT's direct control, it is imperative to have WAN monitoring and ISP network switching capabilities in place to redirect traffic when it's affected in certain geographical regions. Slow response times are a leading cause of customer shopping "abandonment," which is why WAN performance is such a priority.
2: Reduce website load times
An e-commerce website should load within two seconds for customers. If they have to wait any longer, they may abandon your website. Avoid initial loads that include videos and a high number of graphics and photos because they slow down load.
3: Adapt for mobile
Web applications should be pared down even further for use on mobile devices, which have smaller system footprints than laptop or desktop computers. If you are deploying your e-commerce site for use on an assortment of mobile platforms, be sure to perform user acceptance testing for each device you are deploying to.
4: Create ease of use
Websites that enjoy the most e-commerce success are those that are easiest for customers to understand and use. Websites clogged with an excess of graphics, videos, and complicated links that don't quickly get customers to what they're looking for are not going to earn their business.
5: Ensure adequate response processes
Customers get frustrated when they have a question about a product and try to phone in or initiate an online chat session only to encounter long wait times or no response at all. If your e-commerce website is weak in these "high touch" customer areas, fix them.
6: Avoid broken links
It is surprising to find e-commerce sites with broken links to products or product specifications, but it still happens. When customers come across a broken link, it is a poor reflection on the company that could determine whether they shop with you again.
7: Think "omnichannel"
Web shopping channels, in-store shopping, and phone shopping should all be integrated so retail employees have end-to-end visibility of each customer's experience. When this degree of channel integration is achieved, your company is in position to deliver premium customer service — and customers will notice.
8: Refresh your website content
E-commerce website content should be refreshed daily. It shows that your company is constantly moving forward, and customers like to see that kind of vitality in a business.
9: Use analytics
Website traffic patterns, consumer buying preferences, demographics analysis, and product sales performance are all important knowledge areas for forecasting and sales promotions. Today, e-commerce website analytics are a competitive necessity for IT and retail strategies.
10: Constantly upgrade security
Card breaches, malware attacks, and other security threats can scare away customers. If you run an e-commerce site, security audits should be conducted annually at a minimum, as should security upgrades for the website.
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What other measures do you recommend for building and maintaining a robust e-commerce site? Share your advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.