Is your website the best it can be?

US reporter Bob Vereen investigates why there are still too many retailers whose websites are not “working” for them and why their website isn’t the best it can be.

With so many retail websites displayed as nothing more than unchanging electronic billboards, how do retailers ensure their websites are used as the perfect communication and promotional tool? Unfortunately, too many retailers are not analyzing who visits their sites and what customers are viewing, so changes and improvements can be made accordingly to enhance the sites’ effectiveness.

Easy to use programs

While many retailers often turn to a specialist to develop their websites, it really is no longer necessary to seek out a specialist to change or update your website. There are now a number of easy-to-use programs available that enable anyone to change and improve a website quite easily, or even to create a new one. Many of the programs are as easy to use as using Microsoft Word, which most are familiar with, particularly the simple use of copy and paste. It is remarkable how easy it easy to insert photos of products, departments, stores, employees or customers which all add to the appeal of a site.

Simply go on Google and search ‘Website software’, to find an abundance of programs. A website evaluation service, for example, ‘WebEasy Professional’ costs just US$49.95, however some are even free. Another evaluation service that is particularly easy to use, though somewhat more expensive, is ‘Contribute’ by Adobe.

So let’s review some basic questions about your website:

1. Why do you have a web site? Is it only to provide information about your store (location, hours, information about your departments and/or products)? Or is it designed to also generate sales—either via the Internet or to drive traffic to your store to purchase products shown on the site?

2. Do you have a schedule established to keep it updated? If not, why not?

3. Who is responsible for keeping its content fresh, new, informative and interesting? Are you doing it yourself or have you assigned the task to someone?

What kind of information should your website feature? Here is a partial list for review:

1. Educate your customers about the products you sell.

2. List the departments or categories you carry.

3. List the services you provide.

4. Inform visitors about local matters and events that would be of interest to them. This personalizes your site and encourages repeat visits.

5. Picture products you stock, especially new items you add to your inventory.

6. Picture customers who have completed projects using products bought from your store or pictures of the projects themselves.

7. Picture employees, especially by recognizing staff who have special training that makes them better able to serve customers and solve problems. (This is a great morale booster as well).

8. Use your site to generate sales from the website itself. Many dealers actively pursue web sales; others are satisfied just to use the web as a promotional tool to lure customers into the store to buy the items pictured.

9. Offer coupons and/or rebates to stimulate sales and increase store traffic.

10. Provide tips and handy home improvement hints. Maybe try using the North American Retail Hardware Association’s PlanItDIY video series.

11. Show the social media logos which you participate in, including Facebook, etc.

12. Provide links to other useful sites which visitors would enjoy or appreciate.

Those are just a few of the elements that should be included in a website to make it both interesting and valuable for viewers.

Refreshing site content

To maintain interest in a site, retailers need to change content on their sites on a regular basis. But how often should this be done? It could be once a week or at least every two weeks and may include changing news items, pictures, descriptions of new products or upcoming sales etc.

Retailers also need to evaluate the effectiveness and appeal of their sites. The way to do this is by using a service like Google Analytics. Virgil Cox of Cox Hardware in Houston, Texas, recently advised a group of fellow retailers on this subject.