The sheer variety of available products can be overwhelming to someone who is assigned to purchasing office breakroom supplies. Employees given that task often have a multitude of other job responsibilities. If you want to capture their attention in the harried office environment, you have to do it with your website.
Without the ability to touch, hold, smell, taste or otherwise handle the products in which they are interested, potential customers have only your website with which to interact. You will have their attention only for a short period of time, and you need to make an impact. Don't make it a chore for them; make it an experience. We have seen operators enjoy great success implementing the following website business practices:
Increase sales depth with related products. We often hear from operators that their goal is to increase a customer's average order size. If you are looking for opportunities to sell additional items, consider promoting related products.
A great way to upsell is to show your customers other products they can buy alongside the one they are currently viewing. This will encourage them to purchase more than one item at once.
Customers like related products because they are reminders of what else may be needed -- stirrers to go with sugar, for example; hot cups to go with coffee; or a new bottled iced tea to go with breakroom snacks. This is a logical website addition, because someone who is going to buy the original product may easily be influenced to add these other products to complement their original purchase.
OCS operators like related product promotions because they increase per-customer sales, boost profit and offset delivery charges, which are disproportionately high for small orders.
Increase a product's desirability with images. We have become a visual culture. Pictures of your products make them seem more tangible and "real" to your customers, and so are powerful sales tools.
First-generation OCS e-commerce sites typically display small, grainy images -- or even worse, none at all. This will mislead customers, often leading to a disgruntled return. High-resolution images are extremely important on your product detail pages. Take advantage of enhanced, extra large and alternate images offered by your e-commerce system. Depict your product either in use or in an appropriate environment. Provide more details with images of the nutrition facts. Be creative and you will see results.
Describe your products for your customers, not yourself. The most successful sales copy focuses on the customer. Too often, business owners neglect this simple platinum rule. Look carefully at your sales copy. Do your product descriptions contain abbreviations and vendor codes that only your own internal staff can understand? Take advantage of enhanced product descriptions within your e-commerce system -- don't feel limited to the descriptions stored in your office inventory system. Enhance product appeal by including YouTube videos and links to product PDFs, among other resources.
A common practice is to just copy and paste from the manufacturer's brochures or website. This is a mistake for two reasons. The first reason is that search engines penalize duplicate content; if you have the same product descriptions as dozens or hundreds of other websites, search engines do not know which should rank higher, and sites will frequently drop in the rankings as a consequence.
Another very important reason for writing or editing the descriptions instead of just picking up the manufacturer's text is that it will tend to focus on the features or technical specifications of a product, whereas if you're going to make a sale, you need to focus on the benefits.
Referrals from social channels beat referrals from search engines. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus may or may not help you sell your products -- but if that's where your customers are spending a good part of their day, maybe you should be, too. The communication on these sites can help OCS operators keep in touch with customers, make announcements or spotlight new merchandise and promotions.
One pitfall that many new social media endeavors encounter is pushing for the hard sell instead of providing valuable content. Sometimes it is good to share the great deals you have in your online store -- your loyal customers and social connections will certainly appreciate what you are offering at a lower investment -- but consistently pushing discounts through your social networks will eventually lose the attention of your community. You need to provide relevant, interesting and fun content to your following to keep things fresh and useful. If you are in the vending world, you might show a video of someone using a cashless payment option at one of your vending machines. Think about what is going on in your sector in order to share interesting, useful and interactive content to support your own products and offers.
Stock availability notifications help retain customers. Shoppers who find that an item is unavailable to buy are likely to form a bad impression of an operator, and seek to purchase that item from a competitor. What is the best way to handle this problem?
The drawback to not displaying out-of-stock items is that customers may not know that you normally have the item, and so they might not come back to check. You can offer to contact customers when the item is back in stock. Stock notifications not only can keep your customers from shopping elsewhere, but also an give you the chance to start communicating with interested customers.
Customers may be happy with a similar alternative to the item that is unavailable, so suggesting such product options may be enough to satisfy them -- and get them to buy something else. E-commerce systems that offer a "related products" feature make this easy to do.
Help them find it with intelligent search suggestions. Since the goal of the site search is to help your customers find what they are looking for, you can improve the process by suggesting terms that will help them to get the best results from their searches. These suggestions are used by many search engines and some e-commerce sites have implemented this feature for their site searches as well. The customer will start typing and suggestions will appear with the intent of giving them a better chance of using the right term or phrase to get the results they want.
This feature also has the side benefit of allowing your customer to see more of your product line. Consider a customer who typically purchases the same blend of decaf coffee with each order. With search suggestions, typing "decaf coffee" will bring up a list of all the decaf coffees that you offer -- many of which the customer may not have known were available from your operation.
An intelligent site search feature that suggests products as users type is an excellent and helpful feature that can prevent your customers from making queries that return no results, or irrelevant ones.
Guide them to making a decision with product filters. While some customers will arrive at your e-commerce site with a clear idea of what they need for their breakrooms, others will prefer to browse, so it is important to accommodate that user behavior, too, and make browsing for products as easy as possible. Additionally, providing product filters may coax customers out of their narrow purchasing patterns, turning them into "shoppers" who will browse your product line in greater depth.
There are some important considerations when using the filtering capability of your e-commerce system.
Ensure that your filters show customers that they are making progress towards a purchase decision. This can be done in a number of ways, for example by showing the number of products available for each available filter, and that this number decreases with each selection; or by showing that the filters available are reducing the scope of the search and becoming more specific.
Make sure the filtering options suit the product type. Filtering by roast is entirely reasonable in searching for ground, pod or whole bean coffees, but makes no sense for breakroom essentials like cups and paper products. The bottom line is that, if well-designed filters help them find what they are looking for quickly and easily, then your customers are more likely to add items to their carts.
Putting it all together. The next question operators typically ask is, "How successful will be I be if I take these measures?" Our standard answer is "You get out of it what you put into it." Making all of these features available for use to their full capability can be a significant undertaking for any operator. While the effort required to properly implement these features across your entire product line -- not just a handful of products -- can be extensive, the payoff is immense. Your customers will notice the time you put into building and maintaining an online store in which they could have great confidence. They will return more often, order a wider range of products and refer other customers. Guaranteed.
CHRISTINE GRECCO is a Web enthusiast who loves all things technology and design. She is currently the director of Web development at OCS Access, a 10-year-old tech company based in Denville, NJ. OCS Access develops interactive products for vending and OCS operators. For more interesting tips like these, follow on Twitter, @ocsaccess.