Selling Online: Why your site is more important than your product

Many commercial websites are too product-oriented.  There's nothing really wrong with that up to a point.  You want to make sure that people understand what you are selling and why they should want it.  Unfortunately that's where many site owners get things wrong.  They display the product but neglect to provide sufficient detail about why the consumers would want it.  This is perhaps based on the assumption that their product is so great that it needs no explanation.

In truth, you always need to provide as much detail as you can.  There are all kinds of “experts” out there telling you that internet users have short attention spans and they don't want too much information, and all that sort of nonsense.  It really is just that—nonsense!

If users really had short attention spans, they wouldn't spend ten minutes watching a video to get the same information they could have read in 30 seconds or less.  The real difference is that most people find it easier to make an engaging video than they do to write compelling site copy.

So don't listen to that seriously bad advice telling you that users don't want information.  They most definitely do, and the number one complaint most users will have is that your site doesn't effectively answer their questions.  More often than not, this will cost you a sale.

Don't use that old “used car salesman” trick of hiding the price or other important information in the misguided belief that it will encourage people to contact you by email with questions.  It simply doesn't work that way 99% of the time.

The truth is you can never have too much information, but you definitely can have a situation where you don't give enough information.  That's really bad for the bottom line of your business because it's costing you sales and driving potential customers to your competitors.

Instead of being product focused, your site should be user focused.  You need to make sure the entire experience of visiting and browsing your site is as easy as possible for the user.  You need to make sure that the experience is a positive one.  You can do this by:

  • Anticipating the kinds of questions users may have about your product
  • Providing as much detail as you possibly can about your products
  • Always being upfront about the price
  • Making it easy for customers to trust your sales platform
  • Making it easy for customers to complete their purchase
  • Giving quality after-sales service

Now that we've defined those important steps, let's take a more detailed look at each one.

Anticipating Questions

This doesn't necessarily mean creating FAQ entries (though that's certainly a good idea).  You can also answer potential questions directly in your site copy or product descriptions.  It just means thinking about what features your customers are looking for, what objections or worries they may have, and so on.  Then you simply address those points as efficiently as possible.

Providing Details

Skimping on details is an amateurish mistake based on the results of market research.  That entire industry is sketchy at best, because you always have to remember they're in the business of skewing results to get desired outcomes.  Why should you expect that they don't bias their own research as well?  The truth is that most of what they suggest about typical users is not measured in a typical environment, and therefore it's not really reliable.

Most users prefer to have as much detail as possible about anything they are considering buying.  They will never hold it against you for providing too much detail, but they could avoid buying from you if you don't give enough details.  Often when a customer declines to buy from you, they won't tell you why, and often they won't even know why.  But the reason is you left them with unanswered questions, and so they didn't commit to making a purchase immediately.  Once a customer has left your site, it will often be their last visit.

Being Upfront

Not providing the price is seen as a sleazy and sneaky tactic.  It's universally disliked by all consumers and the assumption they'll tend to make is that your price must be too high for the quality of what you're offering, or you wouldn't have any hesitation to disclose it.

Therefore unless the consumer genuinely has no care how much the cost is (which is becoming increasingly rare), you may lose the sale.  In most cases the consumer will only return to you if they have exhausted all other possibilities, including purchasing from somebody else at a higher price than you would have charged, simply because that other entity wasn't so reticent about declaring the price.

Using a Trustworthy Platform

When selling, your sales platform should be identifiable as a service that consumers can trust.  Usually this should be connected to a major online payment service such as Skrill, PayPal or WorldPay, or it should be connected to a major banking service with a familiar name.

An example of the direct opposite of this is asking users to mail a money order to your post office box.  You won't make many sales if you present an unprofessional checkout experience.

Make Checkout Easy

The actual experience of buying should be simple and straight-forward.  If your offer is going to include an upsell, it's often better to include that as a separate after-sales transaction.  In other cases it is acceptable to put it once (and only once) directly after the checkout button and before sending the user through the payment gateway.

A good example of this is the way Agoda offers users the opportunity to upgrade their room purchase at a special price just before the final checkout.  The reason this works is because Agoda makes it very easy for the customer to make the decision and either accept or decline the offer, and they do it in a way that does not seem obtrusive.

Try-Shopify

Give Quality After Sales Service

This means at the very least that you acknowledge the customer's purchase and thank them for their business.  You should also make every effort to ensure the customer has nothing to complain about.  Ship products promptly and do everything you have promised to do.  If there is any reason why you're not able to do everything exactly as promised, get in touch with the customer and explain the situation to them.  If possible, offer them some sort of compensation for their trouble, as this will only serve to boost your reputation from a situation where it might easily have suffered.

None of the above ideas are exceptionally difficult to implement and you will certainly benefit from putting this advice into action.  When you put the customer first, your efforts will usually be rewarded.

Catalin Zorzini

I'm a web design blogger and started this project after spending a few weeks struggling to find out which is the best ecommerce platform for myself. Check out my current top 10 ecommerce site builders.