As we approach the end of 2016 and look to 2017, it is important for retailers to pause and take an objective look at their websites. Why? Because internet technologies change rapidly. Marketing messages can get old and stale. Websites can get slow and bloated. There are many reasons to regularly review your website to make sure it is delivering an excellent customer experience.
As the founder of a website analysis company, I thought it would be interesting to review the top retail websites to see what they do well and what they could improve. I found that the largest retailers struggle with the same issues that plague their smaller counterparts. Here are a few of the top problems:
1. Poor Page Load Times – Page load times are critical for all websites, but they are especially important for retailers. Consumers expect a certain level of performance from websites and are likely to leave pages that do not appear in a certain timeframe. For e-commerce websites, slow pages translate directly into lost sales. According to Kissmetrics, a one-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions
Retail websites tend to lag for two reasons—the overuse of marketing technologies and large image sizes. The top retailers use third-party marketing technologies to study consumer buying patterns. These tools are extremely valuable to retail marketers, but they can be overused. If your page load times are above two seconds, reduce the number of third-party services, pre-fetch DNS requests, or move tracking scripts to your CDN [content delivery network].
According to Akamai, 63 percent of the page weight comes from images. It is important to provide visitors with a dynamic, image rich experience, but this needs to be done in a responsible manner. Be sure to optimize image size and resolution to deliver the highest quality image at the smallest file size.
2. Security Holes – All retail websites should employ the best security measures possible. Customers are required to enter sensitive information in every transaction, and they will refuse to do business with retailers that do not protect this sensitive information.
Google shares this opinion. Its popular Chrome browser—which has 42% marketshare (according to NetMarketShare) —will soon start warning users about SSL compliance on websites. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard technology for establishing a secure link between a browser and a web server and protecting all communications. Chrome will expose websites that don’t use SSL by displaying a red “X” next to their URL to warn users of the security risks. I highly recommend that all retailers implement this basic security measure before Google exposes them.
3. Confusing SEO Tags – Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the method of getting attention for your products on the popular search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.). The top retailers we analyzed all tend to reuse the same descriptions, headings or keywords across multiple product pages, which makes it difficult to differentiate their product pages.
When it comes to SEO, smaller retailers have a distinct advantage over their larger competitors. Large retailers sell thousands of products and are forced to auto-generate their descriptions and headings. Small retailers have the ability to specialize and focus their efforts to own a brand or niche in their market. For example, if I am a specialty kitchen supplier, I will never sell as many faucets as Home Depot, but I might want to own the Google keywords for specific high-end brands to drive customers to my store.
4. Poor Mobile Navigation – A recent BI Intelligence report states that mobile commerce will represent a $79 billion market in 2016, and will make up 45 percent of all e-commerce by 2020. With over half of today’s internet traffic coming from mobile devices, it is imperative that retailers make their websites mobile commerce-ready.
Navigation is one of the biggest challenges in mobile website design. Many retail websites are designed for desktop browsers. They use complex navigation menus and offer cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. These options are limited on mobile websites.
When you build a website, there are ways to enable and disable features on mobile devices based on what’s called a “user agent”. This technology can tell what type of device and browser you are using, and then the web application tunes certain site features to make the user experience more appealing.
Also, resist the temptation to offer cross-selling opportunities on product pages. Let people focus on each product and give them the ability to easily purchase the product if they choose. Your customers will appreciate not having to scroll through all of this extra information, as well as the faster, uncluttered mobile experience.
5. No Social Media Incentives – All of the retailers we analyzed offer some sort of social media support. In other words, when customers purchase items, they are given the opportunity to share the news of their purchase with their friends. However, none of these retailers gave their customers any incentive to share their purchases with their friends.
Social media is today’s word-of-mouth advertising. You want to encourage your customers to promote your company, but you need to offer them a reason to take this extra step. For example, some restaurants offer small discounts to their customers in return for reviews or “check-ins” on Yelp, Facebook, etc. If your business relies on word-of-mouth advertising, encourage your customers to share their experiences with their friends and family with some sort of reward.
In today’s digital world, an efficient and effective website can dramatically improve a retailer’s bottom line. However, it must be evaluated frequently to make sure it is presenting the right image to your customers. As we close out 2016, I suggest that you consider a full analysis of your website to make sure you are making the most of your online sales opportunities.
Brightmill is a website analysis agency that measures such factors as security, marketing effectiveness and overall performance.