Coronavirus has impacted every part of our lives, from the places we can go, to the way we spend our time. Lockdown and social distancing measures continue to affect brick-and-mortar stores, restaurants and venues – the places we often go to spend our money. With most people stuck at home, naturally our time online has gone up. Online shopping as a proportion of all retail reached 30.7% in April, up from 22.4% in March. Research has also found that customers are also returning to shopping apps, which had been on a downward trend before the pandemic.
All of this is potentially great news for e-commerce businesses and those making money online, but what about those who are not selling online? If the arrival of this global pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of having a good website and a strong online presence.
In this article, we give you five things to consider now to prepare your business for a new kind of ‘normal’ – which will include even greater numbers of people shopping for goods and services online.
1. Can your business sell online?
This is a question largely for those who are not selling online but are not considering how to sell online now we find ourselves in a pandemic? The answer to this question for 99% of businesses should be yes. Every business can sell online - whether it is products or services. Products is an easy yes – you need to create an online store and allow people to buy from you online. This means creating a shop that can handle orders, inventory, stock and delivery. If you are new to this, we suggest looking at Shopify which gives you access to store templates and complete control over every aspect of your websites look and feel, from its colours, layout and content – all with no coding or design experience required. It also lets business owners sell directly on the world’s biggest websites and apps. It is perfect for the beginner. If you have the resources, engage an eCommerce expert – they will help you get your business online in no time.
If you are a services business, there are lots of ways that you can also sell online. You can offer consultations, appointments, meetings and ‘slots’ people can book online in place of face to face sessions – everything from counselling, legal services, accountancy and so on. Booking online is an absolute must in 2020 and beyond. Clicking a link to book your next hairdressing appointment, plumbing upgrade or car MOT is how most people want to do business today. They can view your availability along with their availability and it is a win, win for everyone. A lot of business is lost because we forget a very important customer insight – and that is to make it easy for people to do business with you and online booking does make it easy. You will be surprised in the uplift of sales and orders by implementing this simple and effective tool.
2.Review your website from a customer perspective
Very few businesses design and build their website with the customer in mind. The experience is therefore not always as good when the website goes live. If you are embarking on a redesign or build, avoid designing and building what you think is right for customers and instead work with them to design something together. If your website is live, why not use this quieter time to re-think and re-look at your website and get some of your customers involved in some testing. Ask them to find 5 key pages or products and talk through the experience of coming onto your site and using it to find these products/ pages. You could witness how they navigate your website using Zoom or Skype by screen sharing. Their experience will provide insights on small changes that can be made to make the experience better. Sometimes it takes just a few tweaks to optimise the site and make a real difference. If you have some money, why not embed some tracking software onto your website so you can view how people navigate your website. We recommend hotjar or full story which can be really insightful. They offer limited services on a free plan so even if your budget is limited, you can still access some support at no cost to you.
3.Make your website fast
Not only is it important to have a fast website to keep customers from leaving, having a website that loads quickly is actually a ranking factor for Google. This means if your website is slow it may not rank as well as faster loading websites. By improving the performance of your website's loading time, you will also be improving your chances of getting ranked higher by Google.
A study released by Kissmetrics discovered that fast loading websites have higher customer satisfaction and retention rates. For example:
- 47% of online shoppers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less
- 40% of visitors will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load
If your website takes 3 seconds to load, you could be losing 40% of your traffic before the page even loads. Do a speed test on your website and do everything you can to improve the site speed. This could include changing the hosting package you are on, examining the code and set up, condensing images and so on. If you are unsure what to do, contact a web developer to help but start with testing your website using ‘Google test my site’ to find out what might be slowing your website down.
4. Make your website secure
Most website owners have not had to worry about special measures to secure their web pages unless they were conducting eCommerce transactions or collecting sensitive information such as medical or banking data. But that has changed, and it is surprising how many businesses are not aware of their obligations and the expectations of customers when it comes to site security.
Google officially recommends securing websites with HTTPS, which means that not only will this be important for organizations that want their websites to perform well in search, but more and more visitors will come to expect it. In short, website security is no longer something for only certain types of websites to worry about - it's a best practice for all businesses and organisations that want to optimize their search engine performance, establish credibility with visitors, and maintain a professional web presence.
Website security covers many areas, but for the purposes being discussed here, it means that the website utilizes SSL, which stands for Secure Socket Layer, a standard security technology that establishes an encrypted connection between a web server and a browser, with the URL being prefixed with "HTTPS" rather than the standard and unsecure "HTTP" (with that extra "S" standing for "Secure").
Put simply, SSL secures the information that is shared between you (the browser) and the website that you are viewing or interacting with. Any information that you normally submit to a website (or retrieve from a site) is sent as plain text and can be viewed if an attacker is able to intercept the information. SSL encrypts the information that is shared between the browser and the web server, so that even if a user's information is intercepted by someone who is not supposed to have it, they will not be able to read the data.
It's not hard to understand why SSL has historically been considered a best practice for any website that is processing transactions with sensitive data such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, personal health records, or login credentials. Now, SSL is becoming a best practice standard for all websites, including those that do not necessarily process sensitive data.
If you don’t have an SSL certificate for your website, get one now!
5. Make your website an ongoing cost
Finally, we would recommend making your website an ongoing cost. Most people outlay for a website and do not expect to do anything with it for several years – leaving it to just orbit in the world wide web. This is a mistake. Like a physical shop building, it needs to be maintained and updated regularly if you want people to visit. This means updating the content, testing for broken links, providing new shop frontage [aka the home page]. The online world is moving very fast so just like a new car when you drive it off the forecourt – the value of your website has already gone down. Someone else has already launched a better website, a new plug in, a new piece of code or design feature that makes the customer experience better. You have to keep up or you will risk falling behind in the online world. Allocate some budget every month for maintenance and testing new features.
Embrace this digital revolution, you’ll be surprised at how well your business can do…