Building an ecommerce website for your SME

You only get one chance

The old adage that you only get one chance to make a first impression succinctly describes ecommerce websites; if your content is bland and uninteresting, looks sloppy or is difficult to navigate, then your visitors will immediately career back off into cyber-space, never to return again. The average website has only seconds to entice a potential customer into staying to look around, so make sure the first impression you create is a good one.

Go it alone, or hire a professional?
One thing you may be considering is whether to hire someone to design your website, or to go it alone, building your own using a web hosting platform. This is a choice that ultimately boils down to how much money you are willing to spend. Hiring a web designer is not cheap, but it is often money well spent. They will provide you with a professional-looking, superior product that is easy to navigate. Not only that, but it will be uniquely built to your personal specifications, presenting you with the opportunity to stand head and shoulders above your competiton.

In comparison, the web designs featured on hosting platforms are generic, and used by hundreds of businesses. However, they are most definitely the cheaper alternative, and there is no denying that for small or new businesses, this could be the determining factor. Furthermore, with only a little web savvy and research it’s possible to tweak existing website themes to make your own unique design. So if you know your way around the basics of HTML you can likely make a great, individual website using an existing platform like Tumblr or WordPress.

User-friendly homepage
To keep your readers around for more than a few seconds, your homepage should pique their curiosity, satisfy their initial requirements and impart an overall impression of quality. The design needs to be uncluttered and simple, with muted colours and a readable font. Blazing reds and tiny writing in a contrasting colour may look cool, but they will play havoc with the visitors’ eyes. The homepage center-piece should be you: who you are, what your company stands for, and what you can offer them above your competitors.

It is also a good idea to include your contact details, as this automatically raises the trust of your visitors. Other information included should be pertinent, useful and brief. Don’t bamboozle visitors with too much information in one go. Navigation tabs should be clear, and if you include a search box, place it in a prominent position.

Clear and easy navigation
There is simply nothing more frustrating to visitors than viewing a website that is difficult to navigate. They don’t want to hunt for the information they need. Try to keep the navigation tabs in the same place on each page, as this will allow visitors to find relevant information and products quicker.

Similarly, make the titles simple and unambiguous. This is one instance where less is definitely more. If you need some clues with regards to easy-to-use navigation, visit the site of an established competitor. Check how easy it is to move through their website, considering what works well and what you would do differently. Thinking as a customer, rather than a business owner, should offer some clarity over what is most suitable for your own customers.

A customer focused approach
Customer service and communication are an integral part of an online business, just as they are in physical commerce. That said, it is difficult to replicate the positive effect of a smiling shop assistant in the virtual world. What you can do is concentrate on the ways you do have of communicating with your customers. For example, make it easy to get in touch with you, by providing several alternative methods of contact. This way, problems can be resolved more effectively. Maintain your customers’ interest by sending out regular emails or newsletters, and set up pages on social media sites where you can share your business’s latest developments and answer any queries.

Providing excellent customer service goes beyond an easily navigated site and open communication; it is also about adequately protecting your customers’ sensitive personal information, especially with regards to processing payment and credit card details. It’s essential that you use a secure, reliable online payment solution such as the ePDQ options from Barclaycard.

The importance, and potential impact, of your website can’t be stressed enough. It’s your way of connecting to existing and new customers. Competition these days is rife, so if you fail to impress at the first hurdle, your business is going to suffer. Your failure is your competitor’s success. Getting it right, by offering your customers a pleasant, straight-forward experience, will ensure that they gladly return for repeat business.