Recommends Common Sense Online Strategy
By Jim Bray
If you or your company are planning to blaze a trail into the world of
e-commerce, the results of new study may interest you.
The study was done in Canada by consulting firm Deloitte and Touche in
conjunction with the Retail Council of Canada and, though it was aimed
at the Canadian marketplace, the omnipresent World Wide Web makes it just
as valid for US and other businesses.
The survey looked at the kind of online experience e-commerce sites offered
to potential buyers, which I think is one of the most important considerations
in designing an e-store, yet which is all too often ignored.
Ive ranted before about the depressing and apparently increasing
number of Web sites that insist on bombarding their potential customers
with glitzy animations and other Web site toys that, while interesting
and/or cool to look at, do more to show customers how bright the Web designers
are than they do to offer customers a straightforward way to find the
things for which theyre actually looking.
After all, it doesnt matter how nice the lights are on that big
Kmart sign on the building if people cant find the door into the
The study found that surprise, surprise! the same fundamentals
that work in brick and mortar retailing apply to the virtual
world as well. This is undoubtedly why a major concern expressed by online
shoppers was customer service (well, duh!), something
thats often overlooked in the stampede to cash in on the digital
The top Web sites singled out by the survey werent necessarily
the most attractive, but they were generally clean, functional, and straightforward.
Check out some of the sites to see what I mean. They include www.eBay.com
and www.yahoo.com, both of which are unattractive but functional. Then
theres www.amazon.com, www.onvia.com, and the surveys top
e-commerce site Sears Canada (www.sears.ca), which beat out its mother
Another winner, a Canadian electronics retailer called Future Shop (www.futureshop.ca),
even offers its surfers background articles on products and technologies
so they can make smarter buying decisions. All of these sites feature
easy navigation, good product information, and no nonsense interfaces.
The people behind the study have come up with a set of recommendations
for companies and/or entrepreneurs planning to put that better mousetrap
onto the WWW, including some pretty mundane but common sense suggestions.
For instance, they tell you to do the boring stuff first.
This means you need to come up with an online philosophy and an infrastructure
that will let your Web site do what you want it to. This could be as simple
as arranging for enough bandwidth to handle the demands of your surfing
public while ensuring that, if youre building a digital offshoot
to your brick and mortar business, your branches arent working at
cross purposes or competing for the same customers.
Then theres Web design itself. An engaging site is
recommended, which means the site should be interesting and attractive.
Flash or any other innovation coming down the pipe is fine
if used intelligently, but remember that the more fancy graphics and toys
you have, the slower the site will download, especially if the surfers
dont have high speed Internet access, and they may not wait.
Sites should also be easy to navigate and understand. In fact, nearly
half of the surveys respondents complained about problems finding
their way around e-commerce sites. A straightforward navigation bar and
a well-functioning search engine can be a Godsend here; otherwise, customers
might as well just stand in the aisle of the real world store waiting
for those elusive sales clerks who never seem to get off the phone.
A couple of other important considerations are your online ordering system,
which should be robust and foolproof, and you need to ensure the privacy
and security of your customers information. This latter point cannot
Its also essential to ensure you actually have the products you
claim to have on your Web site. The main reason many, if not most, people
are at your site in the first place is to save themselves some time and
effort (and money!). If buying online from you is a hassle, theyll
go elsewhere and find a company that backs up its talk with action.
Of course, thats the bottom line with selling in the real world,
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.