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7.6 Online Purchasing Nirvana

A heavenly online purchasing experience begins with making your products easy to find online. So many companies just throw their catalogs online without any regard for the unique attributes of this medium. Beware. Most printed catalogs are not necessarily organized in a way that consumers will find easy to navigate if the catalogs are just thrown online without any redesign. It takes a fair amount of research into what your customers would find of interest and then a sharp Web designer to present your merchandise in an appealing way.

One of the real strengths of the Internet is that it allows consumers to dive more deeply into product features and function. I have found so many online retailers who don't take advantage of this feature and simply don't bother to link their products to additional information and content that they or their suppliers might have.

My recommendation is to just take your site to the next level by offering content linkages. You'll find this endeavor to be extremely valuable to your customers and to your ultimate bottom line.

Next, make the online experience heavenly for your customers by making the online ordering process incredibly simple and easy. Make it easy for your customers to get in and out of their shopping baskets. Above all, make it easy for them to keep adding items to their baskets.

Give your customers the chance to choose their preferred method of shipment. Some will want expedited service and will be willing to pay a premium for this service. Others will be completely satisfied with less expensive ground transportation. Whatever your customers choose, be sure to provide delivery date estimates, and, when available, hot link the FedEx, UPS, and U.S. Postal Service tracking numbers so that your customers can follow their orders from your door to theirs, with just a click of the mouse. Remember, all of these services are going to be downright difficult to provide if you are still using manual processes. With just a small financial investment in technology, these processes become a piece of cake.

You can buy yourself bushels of goodwill by providing an immediate acknowledgment of every order placed. Do this through an instant email message, which includes confirmation that the order has indeed been placed and that the credit card has been charged. Also include a status update on the items to be shipped. Trust me and automate this process.

I find so many companies that just haphazardly bolt these processes onto their frontends without automating their internal systems. These companies don't realize that their performance as a supplier is incredibly visible to their customers on the Internet. Believe me, those early customer experiences really do determine whether customers will come back to those sites in the future.

Remember, the customer experience does not end when you ship your product. The returns process generally has received poor attention. However, as unglamorous as this process is, it can have a startling impact on your company's profit picture. Keep in mind that the more times your product is touched means the more likely it is to arrive damaged. Therefore, consider shipping your products with preprinted return labels and enough packing material to cushion its journey from, and if needed, back to your warehouse.

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