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Building Repeat Business

» Keeping the Customer Satisfied

We’ve all heard it before, but that’s because it’s true. It takes a lot less money to keep an existing customer than it does to find a new one. Repeat customers are the bedrock upon which successful retail businesses are built — real world or virtual.

You have certain expectations whenever you walk into a retail establishment. Neat, clean, no long lines at the checkout — reasonable expectations. Visitors to your site also have expectations and if those expectations aren’t met, those visitors are outta there. On the other hand, if you exceed your customers’ expectations, you’ll build repeat business. Your site will be bookmarked on a few thousand computers. Sweet.

So, how do you build repeat traffic? Here’s how.

Quality Products & Good Prices
If you’re selling junk, don’t expect too much repeat traffic. Consumers don’t like wasting money on junk. However, if you sell quality goods at low prices, you will build repeat business because everybody likes a bargain.

To start, your product descriptions should be 100% completely accurate. It’s fine to add a bit of salesmanship to the description, but the facts must be clear and unambiguous.

This’ll help you in two important ways. First, accurate product descriptions set consumer expectations where they should be so they won’t be surprised, or worse, disappointed, when they open your shipment. Second, accurate descriptions cut down on product returns — a time-consuming, unprofitable, loathsome chore.

Pictures are also important. Visitors can’t pick up the product, feel it for heft, check the durability factor or smell the lovely bouquet. Pictures help sales — a lot.

Homepage text should highlight your low, low, LOW prices. Let first-time visitors know that there are bargains to be found within these pages.

Push the product, but that’s just the beginning.

Convenience
If your site resembles the labyrinths of “Doom”, forget about repeat business. Too many e-tail sites require a roadmap and GPS technology to navigate. Dead end paths. Confusing link descriptions. Difficulty finding the desired product. A mind-boggling checkout process. Any of these will send astute buyers (the ones you want as repeat buyers) heading for the next site on Google’s SERPs.

Easy-to-understand, user-intuitive navigation is an absolute must. All links should be large, with a clear text description of where the link takes the visitor. The world’s a busy place and you want your visitors to move through your site and to the checkout ASAP. No-hassle navigation is a good place to start.

But don’t forget the little things. Don’t choose a type font with a lot of curly-Qs and froo-froo. It may be a design element, but it’s a turn-off to many readers. Instead, select an easy-to-read type font — Times New Roman or Arial, for instance.

Lose the small print. All text should be large enough for anyone to read. Remember, at least some of your visitors will have vision problems, so keep it big.

Another convenience on-line buyers expect is a super-smooth checkout. Many sites offer a one-click checkout option for return buyers. Simply put the items in the shopping cart, go to the checkout and click. The order is placed and you’ve got another repeat buyer.

Virtually every pixel of your site’s skin should be dedicated to delivering convenience to every visitor who stops by.

Security
Without it, you won’t make many sales in the first place. To accept credit card orders, your site must be encrypted and that fact should be advertised throughout the site.

Confidence
Confident visitors buy. Yes, site security is an aspect of confidence building, but so are the site’s look and feel, the text, the images, the money-back guarantees — all of these instill confidence and trust in first-time buyers.

Service
Good, follow-up customer service is essential to building your repeat customer base. So is pre-sale customer service. Tough to do? Not at all.

There are two ways to approach customer service: a telephone (toll-free, if it’s in the budget) number or an e-mail address. The e-mail query model is certainly a lot less expensive than maintaining a toll-free telephone number.

But when customers have a problem, the quicker you fix the problem the more satisfied that customer is going to be. Your good reputation for quality customer service will keep customers coming back.

And, if a toll-free number isn’t in the budget right now, at least provide a telephone line to your complaint resolution manager (which may well be you!)

Friendship & Community
Buying on-line is convenient, no doubt about it. But it’s also an impersonal transaction with no opportunity to exchange pleasantries or to learn more about the people buying your goods or services.

Many e-tail sites now host their own blogs — a community bulletin board for the like-minded people who visit your site and buy the things you sell. Blog entries allow customers to exchange information, share personal product reviews and help you identify problem areas that need attention.

Regular product updates and advanced notification of “preferred customer” sales make buyers feel like a member of your business family. Indeed, they are.

Fresh Information
They may not make a purchase on their first visit, but if you give them a reason to come back (again and again), eventually some of those visitors will be converted to customers. And some of those will become repeat buyers.

Now, fresh information doesn’t mean another layer on sales hype. That’s not going to bring visitors back. But good, solid, engaging, useful information will.

There are a number of ways to accomplish the goal of keeping your site fresh.

First, add an archives link to the home page and fill it up with informational content. “How-to” articles related to the products you sell. If you sell craft supplies, write up some introductory prices on the fun of needlepoint or the stress-reducing features of knitting. These articles can certainly sell your products or services, but they must have good information, as well.

Heavily promote the fact that the archives are updates regularly and visitors should stop back for new information. Your site will be bookmarked by at least some of your visitors and, if the information is well written and helpful, you’ll be surprised at how much repeat traffic you’ll get.

Another way to go is with a weekly or monthly newsletter — a freebie delivered to subscribers’ email inboxes on a regular basis. You can write it yourself or hire a freelance writer to do it for you. Again, avoid sales hype and provide good information. A newsletter is a great way to keep your business in front of those web users most likely to buy your products.

Other Features
There are lots of other features you can provide to turn the one-time visitor into a life-time customer.

Make RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds available to your visitors. These feeds will deliver relevant information from all over the web to visitors who sign up through your site. Now, instead of having to search for information on model boat building, your site’s RSS feeds deliver articles on the hobby to every enthusiast who signs up.

Free e-book downloads are another tool used by many sites to build repeat business. These books are downloaded by potential customers. They read the information, the directions, the how-to. Then, they log back on to make a purchase based on the information provided in the free download. Let’s face it, people love free stuff.

Useful links are a much-appreciated courtesy. If the visitor doesn’t find what s/he is looking for, you provide a path for additional on-line searching.

Flash animations are useful for certain sites. For example, one site that sells a table-top golf game, provides a complete, on-line video showing how to position the club in the plastic golfer’s hands, how to create a realistic course on the kitchen table and, of course, lots of footage of family fun.

Call In The Professionals
On-line technology is dynamic. It evolves quickly. SEM strategies must be routinely adapted. If you don’t know the basics of site design, site optimization and market expectations, you would be well-served to call in the pros.

A good site design and SEM firm will quickly identify missed or under-utilized opportunities, develop low-cost-high-impact features to keep visitors coming back and even restructure your site to improve visitor confidence.

No doubt, it does cost less to keep an existing customer than to make a new one. So, call in a search engine marketing pro and build your repeat buyer base.

In the process, you’ll also be building a successful, on-line store.

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