Getting Customers to Buy from Your Site: Hint—Clicks Don’t Count
by Thomas Woll
One of the great mistakes people made with Web sites in the early ’90s is that they became enamored of counting clicks, at the expense of counting dollar sales and looking at profits. The theory was that if you had enough clicks to your site, enough traffic coming to it, then surely sales would follow and all would be right with the world.
Guess what? The theory was as flawed as any ever put forth. Web site owners spent inordinately on setting up elaborate sites and on marketing those sites to get people to visit. But the fact that people visit doesn’t mean they will buy.
If your goal is—as it should be—to convert visitors to buyers, don’t count clicks; count sales, and make sure that your sales are profitable ones. In other words, analyze your customer base and your sales to make your Web site a profit center.
Seven tactics will help you get potential customers to buy via your site once they learn about your product and get to the site.
1. Make Your Site Sticky
The best sites keep visitors stuck to them by presenting appealing offers and features. The longer you can keep a potential customer on your site—reading your marketing copy, and going from page to page and product to product—the more likely you are to make a sale. This is one reason you need a professional Web site designer. The fonts you use, the layout you have, the buttons and tabs you create, and the links that take visitors from page to page can all help make your site sticky.
One of the best ways of making a site sticky is providing a great deal of information about your book(s) and author(s). Creating separate pages or even separate sites for different books makes sense because the more potential buyers know about a book, the better informed their buying decision can be, and the more satisfied they are likely to be with their purchases.
Think in terms of offering look-inside-the-book sections that include the table of contents and selected chapters, along with illustrations and an index if they’re included in the book. And always put a book’s cover on your site. This is a visual medium, after all.
A “Contact Us” page is important for stickiness too, because customer service is critical in our electronic age. Provide a street address, phone number, and email address(es) for people who want more traditional customer service, and maybe even offer a live chat with a customer service rep; sometimes an old-fashioned conversation between real human beings works best.
Other ways to make your site sticky include:
•Infuse it with interactive blogs, RSS feeds, Atom feeds, quizzes, contests, and the like
to get your visitors involved.
•Offer a newsletter visitors can sign up for. (This has the added benefit of allowing
you to capture vital demographic information that you can use to refine your
marketing and sales pitches and build your database.)
• Post information about upcoming author appearances and let people sign up online.
• Provide an excellent search tool so visitors won’t get frustrated and leave.
•Keep the site vital and fresh by frequently adding new features, new content,
and new offers.
2. Consider Competitive Pricing
In today’s bookselling world, the 800-pound gorilla that everyone competes against is Amazon.com. But you need to be concerned about every other e-tailer and every bricks-and-mortar retailer as well. So ask yourself both how you can work with customers that resell your books and how you can compete against them.
Some publishers believe that they must support their key reseller customers by not competing with them on price. What these publishers forget or ignore is that plenty of others are competing. Now that anyone with a cell phone can scan a book’s bar code and find the vendor selling that book at the lowest price, what’s a publisher to do?
There are two reasonable alternatives.
You can create offers with added value by offering a book at full price and another product at a significantly reduced price, or free, with every purchase. This effectively gives the customer something extra while maintaining your “noncompetitive” price. The extra product can be a book, some other product you create or sell, an e-chapter that you give away free, a poster, “bonus dollars” customers can spend later on products of their choice, or something else. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity. Be aware, though, that a price-comparison site won’t pick up an “added value” offer. It keys in on the selling price.
Or you can take a more aggressive position, on the theory that when you are acting as a vendor you need to meet the competition, just as every other vendor does. This means pricing your products either at the low end of the competitive pricing scale or somewhere in the middle.
There is no easy way to determine which of these strategies is best, but more and more publishers, large and small, are offering discounted pricing at their Web sites, choosing to compete against the large chains and e-tailers that are taking market share and demanding bigger discounts for themselves.
Will this hurt the publishers’ relationships with their reseller customers? It probably will. At the same time, wholesalers and retailers know that the more books are sold, the more reading is encouraged, and the better the results are for the industry as a whole.
3. Make It Easy to Pay
If you want customers to buy from your Web site, you need to give them an easy way to do that. This means you need to accept credit cards or use a payment service such as PayPal to facilitate transactions. Some customers may want to send you a check, but they will constitute a very small percentage of your total customer base.
4. Focus on Fulfillment
Quick fulfillment is the standard set by the giant e-tailers—a standard that most publishers haven’t met. Before Amazon.com came to town, bookstore customers were often told that it would take weeks to get a special-order book, which meant that the bookstores were, in effect, turning away sales. And yet the bookstores were only reacting to the time frame set up by publishers and wholesalers.
Today, as every publisher knows, most books are available from the big e-tailers virtually overnight. Because the bar has now been set so high, you need a fast, seamless flow from order taking to order fulfillment, whether you pick and pack yourself or use an outside service. If you don’t fulfill orders quickly, you won’t get repeat customers.
5. Provide Excellent Customer Service
Nothing is more frustrating to consumers than having a problem with a product and being unable to get answers. Publishers have historically been very good about taking defective books back and providing attentive customer service. In today’s world of instant gratification, this becomes even more important.
You need to maintain not just high standards for resolving customer questions and complaints, but the highest standards. That means you need to respond to your customers’ questions and complaints within 24 hours.
Include a “Customer Service” button on your site; make it easy to find, and be sure to provide a phone number people can use to ask for help. The better your customer service, the more likely it is that customers will return to do business with you again.
6. Keep Costs Proportional to Revenues
Web site selling is pretty low cost in and of itself. Once your site is up and running, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to maintain it. But you do still need a good handle on your editorial costs, on your cost of goods (royalties, paper-printing-binding, development costs, freight into your warehouse), and on your costs for sales, marketing, warehousing, and fulfillment. Because you never want to sell at a loss, you need to be sure that your costs are in line with your revenues, and that the net result of sales on your site, as well as elsewhere, is a profit.
Unfortunately, publishers often overestimate sales via their Web sites. Remember two things: the Internet contains literally hundreds of millions of sites, and a good response rate in traditional direct marketing is about 3 percent. On the Internet, unless your target market is extremely well defined, your response rate is likely to be much lower. In fact, it’s apt to be less than half of half a percent, or about .0025.
7. Support Products with Reviews
Research indicates that people who buy online tend to trust peer reviewers over professional reviewers by a margin of six to one. Companies such as Zagat, Amazon, Yelp, CNET, Rotten Tomatoes, and many, many others have made reviewing products simple and fast, with the result that most products found on the Web are also reviewed on the Web.
This being the case, you need to get every one of your authors and all their friends, neighbors, uncles, and aunts to post reviews of your books on every possible site, including social network sites. These reviews are important for the success of your books, so don’t be shy about asking authors to participate. In fact, demand that they do.
Thomas Woll is president of Cross River Publishing Consultants, Inc., which helps for-profit and not-for-profit companies with all facets of trade, professional, and direct-response publishing. This article is derived from his book Publishing for Profit: Bottom-Line Management for Book Publishers, just out in a fourth edition from Chicago Review Press (chicagoreviewpress.com). To contact him or to learn more about CRPC, visit pubconsultants.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.