The website features that make your retail business hum

WWWorkshop – October 29, 2014
The pro website features you will need if you are in retail

Some time back, I created a list of website – or more accurately website platform features, that retailers required to run a professional eCommerce operation.
But like all things digital, the landscape soon changes so I thought it worth re-visiting just to ensure retailers had the latest information at their fingertips.
This list is by no means exhaustive – each retailer has different specific requirements.  But for the smaller retailer embarking on their online journey, or perhaps streamlining it, this will provide a handy guide to what online tools you are going to need to make a fist of your eCommerce website.
As their business model is relatively similar, wholesalers are likely to require similar functionality.

1 - Content Management System (CMS)
An absolute fundamental for your website.  Having your web professional alter and edit your website whenever you need it adds unnecessary cost and delays when a CMS makes this relatively easy and convenient.
In fact, CMS are so easy to operate these days that a reasonably computer savvy shop assistant should easily be able to do this task if you don’t wish to do it yourself.  Don’t even consider arranging a website without this fundamental editing and website management tool.
2- Integrated Email Marketing System (EMS or EDM)

Despite social media very much being the flavour of the month, not everyone uses social media regularly, unlike email which most people use on a very regular basis.
But the days of sending your specials to a group within Outlook are long gone.  An EMS or Electronic Direct Mail system ensures your email campaign will look great, be personalised and be integrated with the statistics you need to ascertain its effectiveness. 
And by being integrated with your website platform, you cut out considerable time in having to keep lists up to date and synchronised.  Better still, your customers can alter their details themselves, saving you even more time.
3 - Integrated Customer Relationship Management System (CRM)

Of course an EMS without a CRM is a wasted opportunity and something of a waste of time.  A good CRM will allow you to integrate your customer so that you can seamlessly send emails, keep purchase records and have a record of website visits, among other things.

This approach saves having to keep such data in a myriad of different unconnected places and the time involved in maintaining each one.

4 - Secure Shopping Cart 

Goes without saying really, though for those not quite confident enough to take this plunge, they can start with basic product information via a CMS before going the whole cart route.
Just ensure that your website platform allows you to upgrade to Cart / eCommerce functionality very easily and affordably.

Your Cart will need to be hooked up to a Payment Gateway – the secure encryption technology that allows funds to be transferred securely and safely.  At its most basic, Paypal provides a great and affordable way to do this.
5 - Auto-Homepage Capabilities

There are few things worse in the online world than visiting a website some time after your previous visit, only to find that nothing has changed and that the so-called Coming Soon specials have never eventuated.

Auto-Homepage capabilities allow you to bring new product, specials and so on to the front page of your website without having to physically alter it.  In other words, by literally ticking a box the featured item brings itself to the front page of the website and keeps it fresh, interesting and above all, likely to result in more sales. 

6 - Australia Post Delivery Integration

Managing delivery costs can be a major frustration for website operators as they constantly need to be updated to reflect changes in postal charges and product dimension etc.  But a good cart system will be integrated with Australia Post delivery charges.  This allows real-time integration of the latest delivery charges so that you never need to alter it beyond your initial inclusion of the product leading to fantastic time and cost savings.
7 - Currency Conversion

The truth is very few Australian retailers consider making interstate sales let alone those from overseas.  
But why not?  A customer is a customer is a customer, no matter where they’re located.  And if they’re prepared to pay the delivery charge, even better.  If you can’t achieve automatic currency conversion, at least have a prominent link to one so they can do the math themselves.
8 - Financial Software Integration

This capability is not critical to many retailers because online sales can be categorised as such on their financial software and entered periodically with a refer online sales report memo.  Others prefer complete integration with their software. 

Either way, such an integration is becoming increasingly viable with today’s cart solutions.

9 - Social Network Integration

Every retailer should fundamentally not let a customer leave their store – online of on-street, without either selling them something or getting their contact details.  Just because they didn’t buy this time doesn’t mean they won’t buy from you later.

Social networks provide a convenient, seamless and affordable way for customers to engage with you and you to promote your wears for essentially nothing.  So links to the major social networks should be prominent on your page.

Miscellaneous others
There are numerous other website features a retailer could benefit from depending on the level of sophistication / automation required.  Some of these include:

• Inventory management – this can be used for all stock whether sold online or in-store
• Gift vouchers – An automated gift voucher system which bypasses the need to send a physical voucher
• Affiliate programs – Others can promote your product and earn a commission for doing so
• Drop shipping management – Orders can be despatched automatically to manufacturers and wholesalers for drop shipping
• Download sales – Sell a music, pdf or other file and allow immediate download following purchase.
• Product image zoom – Allows you to zoom in on a product image for detail
• Wishlists – Allows visitors to create a wishlist for gifting etc purposes
Larger retailers will find this list somewhat primitive as they embark on exciting new capabilities like personalisation, virtual fitting and so on.

But smaller retailers will certainly be able to operate a professional online outlet if they ensure their website includes these capabilities.

The fantastic news about so much wonderful functionality is that it is so affordable these days.  There really is no excuse not to make your product available for online purchase.

Don’t forget too, that these websites are invaluable at promoting in-store purchase as well for those who are in your vicinity.  In fact, the sales generated in-store from your website may well exceed those made online, giving you even more online bang for your buck.

NEXT WEEK: Online marketing tactics for retailers
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.