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How can we learn from the best online stores?

A recent TV programme quoted a prediction that consumer spending online is set to rise over the next few years from 10% to over 25%. Given the amount of merchandise which is already bought online, that made me want to go and set up an online store tomorrow. Perhaps we all should. But what are the implications of that for those of us selling products which won’t ever be bought online, or at least not in the foreseeable future? After all, if the product is one which needs a degree of expert configuration which the customers wouldn’t expect (or be able) to do themselves, it’s hardly suitable for an online store. Nor is it suitable while the customer expects to pay through the more traditional means of purchase orders, invoices and endless chasing for the money.

What we need to take on board, however, is that customers will assume a degree of hand-holding from our websites which the top e-commerce sites have already nailed. When all of our customers are spending their weekends shopping on Amazon or Ocado, they have their expectations raised. They don’t expect to have to do the work.

At the online retailer, they always get enough information to be able to click “buy”. On your site, the equivalent is giving them enough data to be confident enough to click “contact me to discuss my requirements”. Just saying “yeah, we do this kind of stuff” is not enough. They don’t want to set up a call from a salesman who may not be able to provide what they want.

Once they’ve clicked the button, they need to be walked through providing their information in as straightforward a way as possible. Remember, at Amazon or Ocado they don’t even have to say who they are (they did the first time, but they’ve forgotten that now). So don’t ask them for superfluous information; they’re only asking for a sales call. And never, ever ask them what they’re enquiring about. They’re enquiring about what’s on the page they’re reading. Imagine being at Ocado and clicking “buy” on a page about a box of cornflakes, then being asked on the next page: “what was it you wanted again?” But that’s exactly what most B2B companies’ all-purpose contact forms do.

Finally, your prospect expects to be offered more. They’re so used to being given this by the top online retailers, they expect it from any professional company. Thanks for your enquiry; while we’re at it, would you like this background document too? Are you interested in red widgets as well as blue ones? Hey, we do a great monthly newsletter, would you like to be put on the mailing list for that?

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