There is no doubt that online shopping is growing in popularity. Every year more and more people are logging on to shop and save money. As the number of users has grown, the e-commerce industry has itself expanded, incorporating new features, tools and social networking sites to reach even more people. While the increase in popularity is good news for retailers, it also means that competition among merchants to attract consumers and develop customer loyalty is only going to get more fierce.
The question you must ask yourself constantly as a retailer these days is simple: as part of a burgeoning industry with so many players, how do I continue to separate myself from the competition?
Customer service is obviously paramount to this question. We covered the holes many online retailers have in their customer service offerings a few weeks ago when we reported on the E-tailing Group’s study of online customer service.
Part of solid customer service is communicating your commitment to good business practices to potential consumers, and that’s where certifications come in. Increasingly, more shopping portals and comparison engines are recognizing reputable retailers and merchants with these kinds of certifications.
One such example is the SortPrice SCM program from Sortprice.com. The company adds a “Sortprice Certified Merchant” (SCM) seal to the product listings of retailers that fulfill Sortprice’s criteria for outstanding service—including accurate and up-to-date pricing information, multiple shipping and payment options, and reliable and convenient customer service options for shoppers. These retailers also can add the SCM seal to their own homepages to promote their recognition as a merchant that is serious about hassle-free shopping and real savings.
TheFind.com also runs a similar program called UpFront. Participating merchants affix an UpFront button on their homepages that gives consumers quick access to vital information about the retailer, such as contact information, how long the business has been around, and any special information about pricing and shipping options.
The value of these kinds of programs is pretty obvious. With consumers inundated with online shopping choices, they can afford to be picky about who they purchase from. Many of them may still also be a bit wary of shopping online and thus will avoid merchants they don’t know too well or that seem to run less-than-legitimate operations. If they come across a site that has been rewarded for strong performance, not only will it put their minds at ease, it also increases the likelihood that they’ll buy from you now and then again in the future.
As a retailer, you simply cannot afford to not be a part of these kinds of programs when they’re offered by your online partners. We’ll go a step even further and suggest that you prioritize listing with comparison engines, like Sortprice and TheFind, that have them. If you need to make upgrades or improvements to your site and technology to qualify for them, you should do so. The cost is worth it in the long run.
For merchants operating in smaller markets, you can also establish yourself with local partners to even further enhance your reputation. Join your local and state chambers of commerce and register with the Better Business Bureau near you and make sure you advertise and promote your relationships with bothclearly on your site and marketing materials.
In short, anything you can do to convey to consumers and potential customers that you take their shopping experience seriously—on everything from selection to security to service–will go a long way towards separating your operation from your competitors.
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