Commissioning your ecommerce website (part two)

The first impression someone gets when arriving at your site has little to do with how good you are as a retailer. It's all about how good you look; in this game aesthetics are everything. However, a good e-commerce implementer will remember that the number one goal of your site is actually to sell. Everything else — and this is often a bone of contention with designers — is of secondary importance.How good is the design?Research shows that website visitors make their mind up about a store in only three seconds. In those precious moments your site needs to make a great impression, establish your brand and build trust. It's a tall order, and the only way to do this is through the design of your site. It’s a difficult balance but a good designer should have no problems.Once you have a prototype of your design, spend time with friends, family and (if you’re feeling brave) customers, and get some input. The question you should be asking is ‘How would you approach buying from this store? not ‘What do you think of the design?’.If your designer is mocking up an HTML prototype, ask them to use a heat map such as Click Heat and ask people to spend time surfing around your new site. Click Heat is a free visual heat map of clicks on a web page displaying both hot and cold zones. Ensure all of this research is available to your designer and tweak the design to ensure maximum performance. If they are not interested, maybe they aren’t right for you.What about multi-channel?In our own research at Actinic we found more than two-thirds of small retailers take orders via mail, catalogues and the telephone and more than half of them process more than 50 per cent of their orders this way. You may also have a traditional bricks and mortar store. If you fall into these categories then whatever solution you adopt for your online store should be integrated across all of the channels where you sell.The largest retail operations very often have very similar requirements to smaller business. It’s just a question of scale, and a great example is Argos. With Argos, a customer can order online, in store or via the telephone and then choose a method of delivery or opt to collect in person. Argos has developed the concept of multi-channel retailing to such an extreme that it is now becoming a widespread expectation.Getting your channels into synch with each other is not an easy task. A good e-commerce designer should have multi-channel experience, so you need to review them and only opt for a solution that fits. Could your new commerce store be the catalyst your business needs to offer a competitive advantage?How will you handle payments?If you are planning to sell online, it’s more than likely you will require the ability to accept credit and debit cards. This can be an absolute minefield and highly confusing for those new to e-commerce. It’s important you ask lots of questions and do your research. Card security and banking regulations such as PCI-DSS are your responsibility, not the designers. It will be you that’s fined by the banks if the solution doesn’t comply.If you are in any doubt, discuss the situation with your bank. The simple shortcut is that by using a Payment Service Provider (PSP) such as Worldpay you will be pretty much fully compliant.Don’t discount other payments services such as PayPal and Google Checkout — research shows they can add up to 10 per cent of sales.How will the site be maintained?The RSPCA is always telling us, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Well, it’s the same with web designers; their job is not finished just because they have handed your site over.It’s important to obtain a clear picture about what happens after you’re in control. Do this before the end of your project and definitely before they have moved on to new clients. Very often I talk to frustrated store-owners complaining about their lack of ability to add products or content. If you are planning on managing the site yourself, discuss training and devise a long-term plan that makes you independent of the designer.Last wordRemember, not knowing what you want from the beginning will cost a lot of money, either by retro-fitting features that weren't planned, or by paying for features you don't need. Arm yourself with as much information as possible, research and reel in the sales!