More and more people are purchasing good and services online. A recent Forrester Research study was released showing a 5-year U.S. Online Retail Market Forecast -- the numbers are astounding. Needless to say, selling products online is a massive distribution channel for nearly every company, but just having a “shopping cart” is not enough -- your e-Commerce website should be customer experience focused.

U.S. Online Retail Sales Forecast

Consumers have become much more comfortable and accustomed to making purchases online. The adoption curve has already started a sharp climb to the right, and the expectations are for this trend to continue. Here are some highlights from the Forrester Research study:

  • U.S. Online Retail Sales is expected to reach $248.7 billion by 2014
  • The market is expected to grow at 7+% per year through 2014
  • e-Commerce sales are forecasted to represent 8% of all retail sales in the U.S. by 2014
  • In 2009 alone, 154 million people purchased goods or service online

So what are the best ways for companies to effectively sell products online? Here are a few key areas to consider to help drive consumers successfully through your website to make a purchase.


Know your audience. What are their consumption patterns? What type of messaging is most appropriate for your audience? Your website (ideally, a content-management-system-driven website like Sitecore CMS), should have rich, relevant content immediately available to them that speaks directly to their wants and needs.

It’s crucial to understand who your audience is. Once you have done so, creating personas with detailed characteristic traits are extremely helpful to craft messaging for your audience. Do you know your audience? Their demographics? Here are some high-level metrics on the largest groups of people shopping online (Source: Vertis Communications):

  • Woman represent 61% of total online dollars
  • Men 18-34 represent 24% of total online dollars
  • Woman 50+ represent 23% of total online dollars

Product Catalog

Organize your products in a manner whereby they can be found easily and logically. Best Buy, Amazon, Dell, and Disney Parks all do this well, to name a few. Here is an article I recently wrote that can help with information architecture ideas to help structure your website so that users can find content more easily through searching and browsing.

When it comes to e-Commerce package selections, one of the most important elements in the decision criteria should be management of the product catalog. The majority of what you are paying for with an eCommerce solution is the product catalog. It’s easy to use, and integrating with product cataloging tools makes managing your e-Commerce site tremendously easier over the long term. Add-ons like tax and shipping rate tables, currency variants and payment gateway integrations, although important, should weigh much less on the benefits scale as most platforms now have all of these built-in.

Track Analytics

How well are your online promotions and campaigns doing? Are you getting the conversion you hoped? Knowing what conversions are working, and where they are failing, is important to be able to adjust placement/positioning.

In that same Forrester Research study, forecasts were made around how many U.S. retail purchases were “web-influenced,” meaning, the dollar amount of U.S. retail purchases that were influenced through product research, opinion-finding, etc. on the web. By 2014, Forrester Research forecasts that $1.4 trillion of U.S. retail purchases will involve web-based influence -- WOW! Why not capture some of those sales on your website? If buyers are compelled enough to research on the web to make a purchasing decision, your website should be able to convert that interest into an online purchase. Successfully tracking analytics, conversion points and abandons can really shed some insight on what on your website is working, and what is not.

Leverage the Web-Influenced Retail Sales Trend

The major reasons people shop online are convenience, value and greater selections -- what’s more convenient than confidently clicking a “buy now” right after you’ve completed your research?

Purchasing Patterns

Track your customers’ purchasing patterns so that you can deliver them personalized product suggestions based on what they like and what they already purchased. For example, if I purchased a TV from your site last week, I would probably be unlikely to buy another one this week. But, I may be very interested in purchasing a Blu-ray player, a surround sound system, a universal remote, etc.
To elaborate a bit more on this, you have two opportunities to deliver this service:

  • During the initial checkout -- using the example above, if I have a TV in my cart, and am ready to purchase, you should provide useful cross-sells for that product: extended warranty, necessary cables, wall mount that “fits” the TV, etc. This increases your chances to sell more of your products as well as provide a useful service to your customers in making sure they are not forgetting something necessary to start enjoying their purchase sooner.
  • On subsequent visits -- this was outlined above. Most people are not going to buy a TV two weeks in a row, but other complimentary products might go well with that new 100-inch TV you just bought! There’s no reason why your website cannot become a virtual assistant for your organization. Imagine getting the message: “Welcome back Pete, we hope you’re enjoying that new TV! Check out these other products that would go great with…”

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