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Use Web site to mimic storefront

As you already know, people are buying outdoor furniture and accessories by the millions online.

A simple search on Google reveals more than 9 million Web sites that cater to this industry alone. More than half of all people browse for ideas on the Internet before they hit a store. Once they're in the store, they tend to roam their hands over the fabrics and lounge on the chairs to decide if it fits their ideal for an outdoor living area.

How do you make sure that once they find your Web site, the next logical step is walking through the doors of your store? Try these suggestions for a Web site that welcomes.

1 Make your Web site professional, non-cluttered and visually pleasing. Think of it this way: Picture your customers walking into a dingy, neon-lit store with posters that scream Buy Now! or On Sale! everywhere they turn. Heaps of furniture are carelessly tossed onto the showroom floor and boxes seem to multiply as customers attempt to walk through the aisles, which lead to nothing but dead ends. Feeling anxious and confused, your customers leave the store. Sounds exaggerated, but this is the feeling many customers get when they are asked to view different retail sites. You want your online presence to mimic the same experience they'd have in your store so they marry the images in their mind. It's not only cohesion of your brand, it makes the shopper comfortable.

2 There are two reasons people buy: good feelings and/or solutions to problems. Does your Web site reflect either of these regardless of where someone enters your site? Comfort breeds good feelings, as well as identifying with the brand, feeling like they're not being sold to before they're acquainted with you and believing they're making a wise purchase. Providing a solution to their problem and making it worthwhile for them, garners repeat customers. Does your site offer discounts, popular categories and suggestions for how to decorate an outdoor space? How about guaranteed shipping, pricing and materials/maintenance? If these questions are answered upfront, you've started to build trust.

3 Build customer loyalty on your site and carry it through once they walk in your store. Reward them for visiting your Web site and for shopping with you by making them feel valued. Give them special promotions, gift certificates for non-competing stores and extra service that sets you apart from everyone else. If possible, track your customers so you can refer to them by name.

4 Get closer to the customer by engaing them on your site. Have a questions and answers section on your site where they can have contact with a “live” person or have a place where they can post questions, concerns or decorating issues. Exchanging ideas provides them a personal connection with you before they walk into your store and, once they physically visit you, they feel as if they already have a relationship. It reinforces the comfort connection.

5 Market to customers so they can relate; don't market to them so they adopt a cautious stance. I visited a car lot recently to look around and I had no less than four salespeople approach me trying to make a sale. Online marketing can be a lot like this: pop-up ads, flashing banners, buy now icons. If your site is loaded with annoying marketing, take it down immediately. Your shoppers are savvy. They want the best deal they can find on an easy-to-use Web site that uses content descriptions and clear images that don't overwhelm the senses.

Your Web site is an extremely efficient and effective marketing tool with the potential to win you a lot of business. With more and more people relocating to warmer climates, turning online browsers into customers is encourage them to come closer to you through your Web site, not to run in the opposite direction.

The homepage of Apenberry's Web site keeps it simple, welcoming visitors and giving a brief overview of the specialty retailer's history, complete with important information like its address, logo and other points of interest.

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