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What your virtual front door tells customers

Your web site is as important to your business as your brick-and-mortar establishment. It reflects who you are, what you sell and why you're different from everybody else. Distinguishing your products and branding yourself affects people — consciously or unconsciously — to buy from you or walk away. Without realizing it, you may already be losing them with your Web site. Are you showing any of the following faults?

Lack of Product Knowledge

In person, when a customer asks a question, are they met with a blank stare, a "let me find out and get back to you" or lots of information? You already know the more your staff knows your merchandise, and how it can relate to the current situation, the easier the sale will be. Handling this transaction on your Web site is no different. Ensure they can easily find the information they're looking for about all your products and where to ask if they need more help.

Poor Store or Web Site Experience

If the lights are too bright, the bathrooms are dirty, the furniture is too dusty/dirty, and the store has too many handmade signs (or signs that look unprofessional), chances are the shopping experience is not one people want to repeat. The same goes for your Web site. If it's hard to navigate, there isn't a good use of white space and the words are too large, and the site doesn't reflect the experience they had in your store, you may have lost them to someone else.

Bad Content — on the Web site and in the store

Out-of-date content, old pricing, old signage, old merchandise ... these are all things that keep the experience from being a great one in your store, showroom and online. Updating your Web site often helps ensure the search engines keep crawling it and customers keep checking back often.

Not Knowing Your Competition

Squeeze in an hour (or have someone close to you squeeze in more than that) to find out what your competition is doing, how well they're doing it and how you can do it better. What do you like best about their site and what do you wish you could add to yours? Look at all the sites you like in every genre to gauge what is new for features and functionality. Your customers tend to stay very current and they expect you to do the same.

Wrong Product Pricing

Are you too expensive and not competitive? If you post your pricing on your site, know where you place in the mix. Tell your potential customers why they should shop with you and what they can expect for their money. Not everyone "price shops."

Terrible Customer Service

The saying goes, if people don't like you, they will tell others, who tell their friends, who tell their grandmothers. If someone has a bad experience with you, they won't take out a billboard in the middle of town, but they will do something worse: blog about you. Ensure your customer service is top notch.

These six points are easy to repair and can help evoke your customers' positive emotions toward you. Simple remedies equal larger sales.

From 15 years experience in the retail market space, Suze Bragg provides tips and discusses issues of retailing online. She's a blogger for expertbusiness.com, a freelance writer for Casual Living and Home Accents Today magazines and a consultant and strategist, helping small businesses succeed online.

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