Why you should be superficial in the way you build your e-commerce site

Security and substance are two words that need to define the look and feel of your e-commerce website. If the site isn’t safe and focuses more on glitz than functionality, you’ll have a hard time building a successful business on the Web.

“If you don’t have a compelling argument (a value proposition) in the design of your website convincing a person as to why he or she should be your customer, you are going to fail,” says Laura Ingraham, Ph.D., CPA, a professor in the department of accounting and finance for the College of Business at San José State University. “The design has to translate in the customer’s mind as to why they should buy from you.”

Design does not necessarily mean flash videos and high-tech bells and whistles that may instantly catch the eye, but clutter your message.

“You want to focus on your product,” Ingraham says.

Smart Business spoke with Ingraham about key strategies to help your e-commerce business stand out from the competition.

What are the biggest mistake companies make in the e-commerce sector?

A lot of companies jump right into the fray and just throw up a website. They’re going to have an e-commerce site and they don’t pay a lot of attention to design. Web design is critical. If someone comes to your site and they aren’t sure of what you are trying to sell or they have a moment of hesitation about doing business with you, it won’t work. They will go to the next site.

More and more, there are few reasons to shop anywhere else than the large discount sites like Amazon. You either have to beat the discounter’s prices or the user experience. So if you can’t beat them on price, it’s all about the user experience. To do that, you can’t just take your brick and mortar business and plaster it on an e-commerce site. You have to provide a compelling reason for someone to choose to do business with you. That starts with design.

Where can an e-commerce business find an edge?

Security is so crucial to anything on the Internet today. You should be upgrading constantly and have your experts out there looking at the latest security options available and what is necessary for what you are doing.

Beyond that, you need to be innovative, flexible and adaptive. Think about what’s happening with your website and how people are interacting with it. What are consumers looking for and what is happening in the market of your industry?

You need to have your supply chain down pat and think about your return policy. People get frustrated with return policies, so you have to make it easy for the consumer. If they have to pay for returns or find their own box to bundle up the product to send it back, that’s all a big hassle. They are not going to want to shop with you.

The user experience needs to make it easy to navigate through each step of the interaction with your business. Give people a place to voice feedback, both positive and negative, so you can continue to adapt and improve the way these processes are handled.

How is hiring for e-commerce different than for a typical business?

The people skills are still critically important. There are times as a customer when I’m very frustrated with what has gone on. I need to be able to vent that frustration and have the individual who is representing the company be able to respond in a way that is helpful. If they can bring humor to the situation, that is great. But that is a difficult thing to do and it takes a unique kind of individual to be able to do it. Your ability to find those people who can will go a long way toward how your business is perceived.

How does an e-commerce business integrate new technology?

You need to stay competitive and build a trusting relationship with your IT people. Hire individuals who you can put your trust and faith in and let them do what they need to do.

Let the team monitor the existing infrastructure and technological developments on the horizon so you can maintain your competitive advantage. Otherwise, somebody else is going to take it.