In the competitive world of online retail, it helps to stick to a few simple — but effective — tactics. So here’s a look at six principles I personally use in business to wow our customers (and earn repeat business) year after year.
Beat the Pricing Game
Offering thousands of products definitely is an advantage in the my industry (i.e., the pet industry), where pricing determines your placement in many search engines or websites. However, learning how to beat the pricing game is always the best strategy. Try offering bundles of your best selling or similar products at a discounted price. You can hire a graphic artist, make your own labels, and prepackage several items to make a new or bundled product that no other store offers. You will find that most customers will buy in bundles, especially if they feel they are getting a better value.
Consider Shipping Costs
Over the last several years, we have tried a variety of online shipping price strategies. They included a weight-based shipping price (actual shipping costs), bundled items (lower shipping prices) and an average built-in shipment cost (“free” shipping). We have found that most customers do prefer the third option. Even though the cost is built in, the consumer likes to believe they are getting something for free.
Say ‘Thank You’
Online consumers don’t want to feel like a number. They require the same care and courtesy as a customer you deal with face to face. Send them a thank you letter, along with any information pertaining to their order and a means of contacting your store in the event of an issue with their purchase. A simple email or physical note really goes a long way. I can’t tell you how many customer have thanked us for taking the time to send them an email. Many are repeat loyal customers because of this simple gesture.
Get Clarity on Returns
Make sure your return policies are clear. The first thing your return policy should say is the length of time allowed for a return. Do not hide important information — post the return period, any restocking fees and what you do and do not accept. The return process should always be handled very delicately with an offer to exchange an item for one your customer needs. Most customers are returning items because they weren’t right (i.e., the purchase was too small, too large, wrong color, or doesn’t work). Help them find the product they do want, and offer assistance or recommendations.
Address Mistakes and Errors
Mistakes are bound to occur. After making a mistake, the first thing you should do is apologize. Then, inform your customer of your intentions to correct it, when it will be corrected, and the time frame in which you will provide a refund. For example, when an error occurs in our shipping department, we send the corrected item same day, throw in a free item for the consumer’s pet, and offer 10 percent off the customer’s next purchase. This gives us a chance at future business and makes them feel appreciated. It also gives us another chance to make things right. Plus, when we began offering this service, our feedback ratio increased. While some of the customers acknowledged we made an error in the feedback, they also acknowledged how quickly we worked to fix it.
Encourage Customer Feedback
We invite all of our customers to leave feedback regarding their experience with our company. We want everyone to know that feedback an important way to inform other potential customers of the way we do business and allows us to reflect on any errors made and how we can fix them. The interaction with customers is the most integral part of an online business. Your online customer could have chosen any company to do business with, so you need to make sure they remember your company positively and come back next time.
If you follow these simple yet underrated guidelines, the next time customers need to make a purchase online, your site will be the first place they go. Talk about a win-win for everyone! A little customer service can go along way.
Tricia Bolds is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Pet Supplies, which is making strides towards healthier, happier pets. She has been recognized as one of Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies, Top 40 Executives under 40, and Entrepreneur of the Year.
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