It's every online storeowner's worst nightmare. You've had a few months of solid sales, you're pulling decent monthly order volume, and you're finally starting to feel as though you have a handle on running this ecommerce store thing.
Then, suddenly, your sales just stop. Your store seems stagnant, and you can't really figure out what the problem is.
Stagnating sales is a obstacle many online retailers - especially newer and smaller shops - face at one point. This post will focus on actionable advice on how you can reinvigorate your store if you see declining sales.
Reduce homepage clutter
This is a bit of advice I gave in a previous post here on this blog, but it's worth mentioning again in this post as well.
Customers don't want to be bombarded with too many options all at once. If your sales are going stale, it may be due to the fact that you're giving them "choice overload." Yes, it's possible to have too many things to choose from - even in an online store.
You can read the above linked post for more information on choice overload, but I'll quickly recap here why you need to keep your homepage simple and clean.
Take the following two homepage examples. I'm an avid fly fisherman, and Orvis and Winston are two companies I do a lot of business with. Both of them feature great, clean, simple homepages that don't bombard users with too many options right off the bat.
">Orvis does a great job of featuring just a few, high-selling and new products in their slider, plus promotional items below them. A simple navigation menu at the top of the page directs shoppers to the different departments in the Orvis online store.
Winston's design is even simpler than Orvis', due to the fact that Winston only sells fly rods, while Orvis offers all things fly fishing (in addition to outdoor apparel, wingshooting supplies, and a full clothing line). Again, this simple design lets customers know what Winston has to offer, but doesn't bombard them with too many choices.
Now, contrast those two examples with the homepage of Lost Creek Flies.
This is a classic example of an old, outdated homepage far too many product offerings. There's no logical grouping of products except by alphabetical order, the site looks as though it hasn't been updated since the 90s, and if you want to talk about choice overload - well, this is a classic example.
It's a real bummer too because I've bought from Lost Creek Flies before. I know the owner well - he's a great man, and runs an awesome shop up in Washington. In fact, he's one of the few dealers in the US you can buy Stroft fly fishing tippet from.
That aside, unless you're a patron of the brick-and-mortar Lost Creek Flies, or really love the owner as I do, you're not going to spend time shopping on this site.
Take a look at your site's homepage and make it as minimalistic as possible. That alone should help you see not only more sales, but a lower bounce rate on your homepage as well.
Tone down the hard sell
Customers don't want to come to an online store and immediately feel a hard sales push to buy something.
HubSpot has coined the phrase, "Always be closing is dead" and has started putting a larger emphasis on why salesmen (and online store owners) need to be focused on always helping their customers.
As Dan Tyre of HubSpot wrote,
"High-pressure selling has stopped working because it treats customers as interchangeable piles of money. But that's not really true. Prospects' situations and needs are as diverse as the people themselves, and while one buyer might be successful with your product, your offering may actually hurt another."
Tyre's sentiments are backed up in an Entrepreneur post from Derek Gehl, where Gehl says that,
"People usually go online looking for free information. If you start your sales pitch too early in your copy, you may end up losing them before you've had the chance to hook them. You first need to get them interested in what you have to say by relating to a problem they're facing--as I outlined in Test #5 --and how you can solve it. Once you've accomplished that, you can start to sell to them."
If your site is full of "Buy Now!" buttons or similar hard sale-themed copy, it's time to tone down your rhetoric and focus on how you can help solve your customer's problems, instead of focusing on just selling them your product.
Online shoppers hate it when retailers aren't upfront in regards to extra shipping costs, processing fees, or other "sticker shock" items that only appear once they've proceeded to checkout with their shopping cart.
Display your shipping costs on as many pages as possible. If you offer flat-rate shipping, advertise it. If you offer shipping based on order total, mention it. If you have separate fees for certain items (higher shipping costs for fragile products, etc.) make sure to disclose the costs on your product pages.
The more upfront you are with your customers, the more willing they will be to buy from you. If you're experiencing a sales drought, or plateau, it may be worth taking a hard look at your store and identifying areas where you can be more transparent about your processes and costs.
This leads us nicely into the next point.
Effectively communicate your unique value
Why have people bought from your store in the past? What is it about your online store that separates you from the thousands of other retailers peddling the same products that you offer?
This is your unique value proposition, and if you don't communicate it clearly and effectively, you're going to see a downturn, or stagnation, of sales.
Take a look around your website - is there any copy, images, or other media that communicates why your store is the place to buy custom pottery, or whatever else it is you sell? If not, this could be a large part of the reason your sales aren't where you want them to be.
In order to learn how to effectively communicate your unique value proposition, I recommend reading this post from the Rain Selling Blog, and staying tuned to the Doba Blog as well - on Friday, I'll be posting an entire article focusing solely on communicating a unique value proposition.
These aren't all the ways to improve sales for your online store (product pricing and merchandising are other things you need to look into), but they're a good place to start. Checking these items off your list of reasons why you may not be selling as much as you'd like is a great way to get your store back on the right track.
Photo courtesy reynermedia.