Remember the promise of Internet retail, where you could access a world wide audience and offer thousands of products at incredibly low costs?
Now read the sentence above and picture in your mind exactly what this means. Can you put a face on a world wide audience? Can you see thousands of products, or just thousands of boxes stacked high in a warehouse?
Even if you can, your customers cannot. It is proven. Offering thousands of products to faceless people yields no sales. Now look around the Internet and guess what you find? Perfectly intelligent people are making the same mistakes over and over, then blame the Internet for their lack of sales.
As the old saying goes, those who don’t learn from the past keep repeating the same mistakes. This is part of the confusion of Internet retail and it is also the key to your opportunity. Consider the experience of a retail store, how it is designed to introduce the customer to the products and how this can benefit you.
Give them one product and a comfortable place to view it
If you have ever been shopping for apparel in the United States, then you already understand the design of an effective retail system. For years retailers have been testing the placement of products, where to put the best pulling products and how to introduce you to the overall purchase.
For example, take the experience upon entering an apparel store. Usually you have about 5 to 10 feet of open space after entering the door, like a walkway to the store, immediately available before you start seeing products. For years retailers tried to pack products into this entry point, figuring that people would want to buy most upon entering.
Now you have an open entry point with one specific product line. Here's why:
1. Retailers discovered that customers entering the door were in need of relaxation. Coming from a busy highway or parking lot, rushing around with friends and family, the customer simply needed some time to orient themselves. The open path is a place to greet the customer, not overwhelm them.
2. Customers who did stop and look were disturbed by other customers brushing up against them, talking, and speeding by. It was like shopping in a busy tunnel; all the noise and commotion irritated people.
3. Retailers discovered that placing one product line at the end of this entry path helped introduce the customer to the buying process with a suggestive lead item. For example, I go to Men's Wearhouse to buy a suit. Upon entering the door I have my open entry point, and at the end are a selection of ties. Ties are the lead product for the entire suit; if I see a tie I like, the salesman can then guide me to the suit that fits that tie. Or if they offer a pair of shoes, we can then proceed to tailor the entire suit to those shoes. The entry point gives the customer a place to start the buying process, introduced by small, low price products (i.e., lead items) which they like.
4. The entrance to your storefront is a critical place to create comfort and give people specific products to buy. Ties, and shoes, lead to the suit. The small decision leads to the bigger buy, by gradually working the consumer into the right state of mind. It is a passage to the sales process.
How to offer products and get people to buy
Imagine if you could take the same lessons learned in retail and apply them to your online storefront. Instead of a huge physical store, you have an entry point called a Web Page. Most people crowd this page with products, and force all their visitors to first go through this entry point, or home page, to enter the site.
They design the whole customer experience around that home page. It is crowded with products, and since everyone has to go there, the Web Page may be slow to open because of traffic. They are making the mistakes of retail, and ignoring the consequences.
Customers come to your store for a variety of reasons; they come based on the season, based on a life event like a birthday, or even just to browse. Each one of these people wants a specific entry point, a specific Web Page with a specific product, to introduce them to everything you offer.
You have a choice; do what the majority of people are doing (which fails), or create an entry point and process for your customers to get comfortable, and to buy.
You can be different. Now that you know the real secret of retail, apply what you have learned to your online storefront. Focus your customer on that specific product, like Men's Wearhouse focused me on the tie, in order to buy the whole suit.
Patrick Anderson founded Active Marketplace and is author of Right On The Money, from which this article is excerpted. The book is no longer available.