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12 Ways to Increase Sales on Your Site

The tips to increase sales on your site come from an e-commerce veteran who eats sleeps and breathes sales for an upscale fashion retailer. She's none other than our own Managing Editor Eileen Shulock.

In addition to being our Managing Editor, Eileen is the Creative Director for IntermixOnline.com, which has retail stores in 20 major cites across the US. Their online store is considered a store in its own right. Eileen has bottomline responsibility for meeting or exceeding sales projections. -Larry Chase

1. Why Do People Pay $150 For a Tee Shirt?

The fact that you pick and choose products for your e-commerce site makes you an editor, just as a magazine editor picks and chooses which articles are published within his or her magazine. As an editor, you ideally build trust with your shoppers. As an editor, you are also the arbiter of how to position your products. Position them as a commodity and you will sell them at commodity prices. Romance and gussy them up as the coolest, hottest or most valuable thing, and you too can sell a $30 tee shirt for $150.

2. Offer Optimization

Believe it or not, time-honored retail wisdom states that people respond better to an offer for a dollar amount off of a purchase rather than a percentage off. The reason is that people can easily deduct x amount of dollars off of a price, whereas figuring out the percentage off actually requires a bit of brain power. This applies even if the percentage off would yield a bigger savings. My experience running the Intermix e-commerce site supports this premise.

Beyond dollars or percentages off, you can also test many other types of offers. Your creativity is the only limit. I have found over the course of my online retailing career that the offer of free shipping does not perform well for my trendy, big-spending customers, even though almost every single one of our competitors does offer that perk. Our customers much prefer something "exclusive" (more upscale) such as a VIP discount. It's also interesting to note that many of our well-performing offers are of equal or lesser value than a complimentary shipping offer would be.

3. Identify the Opinion Leaders In Your Blogosphere

Find out which influential bloggers appeal to your customers and treat those bloggers like gold. Find their contact information on their sites, contact them and romance them with exclusive information, offers or even freebies. If you get your company on their radar screen, chances are they will eventually think about you and feature one of your products or interview you. These mentions drive more traffic to your site, create more links to your site and also reinforce the trust and opinions that existing or new shoppers have about you. As director of a fashion e-commerce site, I have a plethora of fashion bloggers to contact and my efforts have really paid off in the form of mentions in blogs with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of readers.

By the way, you can find appropriate blogs and see their "influence rating" at Technorati.com.

4. Meet or Beat Your Numbers ASAP

If you have bottomline or partial responsibility for sales, what you first of all need to do is meet or beat your numbers. Like credit card debt, once you fall behind it is difficult to catch up. So the trick is to know if you are falling behind within hours, or definitely within 24 hours, and to do something about it immediately. Too many online retailers or marketers wait for weekly performance analytics to see how things are going. In the real world of retail, numbers are available all day long to the merchants, and their number one task is to watch their key performance indicators all day long, whether the KPI is sales, average order value, sell through percentage or whatever is deemed most important. If you do not have real-world retailing experience, this may not be something that you are used to, but it will make your job much, much easier.

You will also have regular opportunities to be the "hero" and make an immediate impact on the business thanks to any solutions you might offer, such as repositioning merchandise, targeting special customers, offering deals and so on. And don't be afraid to cut your losses and move on. If you need to mark merchandise down or offer an outrageous bargain to get rid of it, get to it right away. A molehill quickly turns into a mountain.

5. Don't Be All Things To All People

This is a broad statement, but in my experience as director of an e-commerce site, there are two types of shoppers in this world: Those who are always looking for the deal and those who are more than willing to pay full price. The customer who is willing to pay full price does so for one or many reasons, such as quality, exclusivity, ease if site use and convenience and such. When you decide which customer you are marketing to, your marketing dollars will be more focused and therefore more effective.

When you dilute your mix and are satisfied with whomever you reach no matter what they spend, you also cannot pinpoint the type of marketing campaigns that appeal the right customer. Full-price customers will not respond to intense promotional efforts and "deal finder" customers will not purchase at full price. If you spend your dollars wisely on the right customer, you will likely find that your clickthrough and conversion rates increase as a result.

6. Customer Service Reps Build Loyalty

In this day and age of customer-centric marketing, customer service is one of the most important aspects of retailing. Yet how many times have you tried to contact customer service about a purchase and received a response late if never, or received a totally impersonal response that makes you feel like you are corresponding with an anonymous android?

My e-commerce site IntermixOnline.com may not be the biggest company, and we definitely do not have the resources for a world-class customer service operation. But we do pride ourselves on our personal service and it is greatly appreciated by our customers. We often hear from satisfied customers who say they would rather shop with us than with any of our competitors. The same goes for initially dissatisfied customers whom we were able to swing back over to our side because we went out of our way to listen to them and offer fair responses. And usually both groups are quick to purchase again.

All we really do is respond relatively quickly to emails (we don't even offer customer service by phone) with a positive attitude in a conversational tone. We actually share our names and personal email addresses, and address customers by their names. It's amazing how much impact those tiny little niceties make.

7. Target and Speak to Specific Customer Segments

One-size-fits-all marketing is a good place to start from to drive sales, but once you've mastered that you need to get more specific. Some of the customer segments we focus on at our e-commerce site IntermixOnline.com are big spenders, people who have returned items, dissatisfied customers, new customers and customers who have not purchased in a while. Because we are an online retailer we reach out to them through email, and we achieve much better open rates, clickthroughs and sales with any targeted group.

8. Update, Update, Update

No matter what you are selling (or offering on a complimentary basis, for that matter), it is essential that you update at least your home page on a regular basis. In my duties as Managing Editor of Web Digest For Marketers, we can't tell you how often we take another look at websites we've covered before, only to discover almost the exact same presentation. Who on earth would explore your site further to see if you have something new to offer? This does not mean you need to redesign your home page or your website. You can keep to the same design and placement but reword, enlarge or highlight new things, or try a graphic in place of what's currently text, or vice versa.

In my role as e-commerce director for a fashion site, we change key pages of our website every day. We then review the results and test new options, which is what every good Internet marketer should do.

9. Navigation Customization

"Taxonomy" is a classification system, ie. the categories you present on your site so that people know how to navigate it. Our main organization for our e-commerce clothing site is the basic Tops / Bottoms / Dresses / Accessories. But unlike a real-world store, you can organize your site in multiple ways. People do shop in different ways, so you can offer more than one way to navigate through your site. Depending upon your customer, there are most likely intuitive alternatives that you can try. For example, we offer the ability to shop by "trends" such as Top 9 Fall Essentials / The Little Black Dress and whatnot. Other retailers offer the ability to shop by size or even by color.

Even if you have a B2B site, there are additional navigational schemes that you can test in addition to your current system. In addition to a "Resource" section, try offering the alternative top-level Whitepapers / Research / RSS Feeds categories, for example, as a way for those directly interested in those resources to get right where they need to go.

10. Take Advantage of "Pause Points"

There are many points in an online purchase process where the visitor "pauses" for a moment before continuing to shop, to checkout or to receive a confirmation of his or her purchase. While typical retail wisdom states that one should not distract the customer from the task at hand, in my experience as an e-commerce practitioner I have found that there are many places where an offer or additional incentive to purchase performs quite well.

These points include at the bottom of the shopping cart page as people add items to their carts, and on the confirmation page that people see after they have made their purchase. We typically offer relatively low-cost items that might not be heavily promoted throughout our site, or the ability to purchase items where the proceeds go to a particular cause that is part of our marketing campaign at that time. And these offers do quite well; our analytics reflect that.

11. Highlight Your Exclusives

This may seem like a no-brainer, but often retailers and marketers are so deep down into their business that they do not realize what exclusives they have to offer. The right to sell a particular brand or type of merchandise is one that we enjoy at IntermixOnline.com, where I am creative director. Other exclusives may be lurking inside your business. You may have an exclusive VIP club or other membership program. You may have exclusive editorial such as Top 10 lists, guest editors who swoop in and provide their opinions on your products, expert shopping tips, user-generated content, buying guides and the like.

While some of these ideas are time-intensive (such as organizing and monitoring user-generated content), creating Top 10 lists or asking partners or brands to provide some editorial is an easy way to "beef up" your site with some useful, interesting exclusives.

12. What Is Your "EST"?

The best book I have ever read on retailing (Winning At Retail: Developing a Sustained Model for Retail Success (Hardcover) by Willard N., Jr. Ander (Author) and Neil Z. Stern) boils down to the following advice: Figure out what your "EST" is and focus all your efforts on doing the very best you can in that space. "EST" means "cheapest", "hottest", "quickest", "easiest" and so on -- and no, "best" does not count as that is not focused in any meaningful way. The point is that you should excel at one thing over your competitors. Get your entire company on board with this concept, from buyers to top-level management and all points in between. While this is not a quick fix for driving online sales, it will have beaucoup impact on the success of your business over the long term.

Our shoppers at IntermixOnline.com know that we edit down to the hippest, most cutting-edge stuff they can find anywhere. They could go out on their own to a larger fashion site, but what they buy could be (the horror) more 2002 than up to the moment. People also rely on us for a unique way of mixing products together, such as wearing a very dressy top with jeans and metallic stiletto heels. That's a particular style or attitude that only we deliver. Our role as the hippest tastemaker around is the focus of our marketing, merchandising and sales efforts in all of our retail stores (20 across the US in major cities) and on our e-commerce site.