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The Customer is Always What?

Shop Assistant showing her customer a dress

The age old retail adage ‘The customer is always right’ seems to have become pretty rare in practice these days. I’m sure there are a fair number of you out there that have had, shall we say, ‘problems’ with all sorts of product and service providers when you’ve felt unfairly done by. And conversely, I’d say most of the business owners out there have had customers that were unhappy with the way they’d been treated, so we know how difficult it can be to suck it up sometimes and give in to a difficult customer to keep their custom. However, it’s not only when difficulties arise that we focus on what our customers want.

In a retail environment, your shop layout, the music you play and the very products you sell are all specifically chosen to connect with your target audience and make them feel like they’re somewhere they belong, somewhere they’re welcome. So we’re going to use the analogy of a clothing store to explore this concept in relation to our websites.

The Shoes

Now, this may seem rudimentary, because the products you sell pretty much define your business, and it’s the same with services. You’re thinking that if you don’t have this sorted out by the time you come to build your website, you’re going to be laughed at. However, if you have a business that exists outside the internet, you need to consider the possibility that people that come to your website will be after something slightly different, or slightly more focused that what you offer in your shop. A perfect example is a client I’m working with at the moment that runs a fishing tackle shop. You walk into his store, and you are literally surrounded by thousands of different products, from rods, reels and lures to high-tech fish finders and navigation equipment. However, we’re talking about what to put on his website, and he knows that putting all of that on the site is simply not an option. Not only is it a mammoth task, but fishing rods are hard to ship, and people have local fishing shops they can buy them from cheaper. Where he can compete though is in the specialty lures market. These more expensive lures are much harder to come by, so by selling them over the web he can reach customers all over the world.

The Shelves

After you’ve decided what type of shoes you’re going to sell, the next thing you’re going to need to look at is way you display them, so think shelving, think shop layout, or, to bring us back to websites, think site navigation.

The temptation is to simply lay out your information in a way that reflects your company, but this makes little sense for the vast majority of websites out there. As an example, you don’t often walk into a shop and see a booth dedicated to the shop’s history directly in front of you followed by someone ready to describe their line of clothing to you. What you see is all their products laid out in simple groups. The people that come to your site will be looking for different sorts of information, which you can group together to put everything they might want to know at their virtual fingertips. And if they’re looking for different sorts of information, most people are prepared to make more than one click to get there. No-one walks into Target expecting to take two steps to get from Men’s underwear to babies clothing, because it’s not an obvious step to take.

Another huge improvement can be made to most websites by remembering one simple fact: navigation doesn’t end with your main menu. Menu navigation is good, because it generally provides links to all pages from the one place, which makes sense, and is perfect for people that come to your site all the time, as they know exactly where they want to go, and they have a simple way to get there. However, you need to consider all the visitors to your site, and hopefully, this will include a reasonable percentage of new visitors, that don’t know that your webpage about the crèche facilities for employees is listed under Company-> Employees -> Benefits -> Crèche.

So what we’re talking about here is using the body of your site (where the main content is) to provide links to other pages that are related, or would likely be of interest to the user. You could have a defined area that is headed “Related Links” and contains just that, or you could simply use some eye-catching graphics or photos to get people moving around your site. This is going to take a little bit more thought to get right, but the results will almost definitely be an increase in the number of different pages people visit on your site.

The Soul

The music in your shop, along with the colour of the paint, the design of your shelving units and register area all create an emotional connection with your customers. It’s the same with your website. The colours and fonts you use, as well as the images and graphics you choose to enhance your site are all there to relate specifically to who your visitor is, or thinks they are. The more you do to relate to your customers, the better, but be careful with this, not every surfer can design a pair of boardshorts, so you may be better leaving this up to a designer.

The Staff

Finding good staff can be tough, really tough, because in a retail environment they are literally the face of your business, and their behaviour will directly affect a customer’s decision to buy or walk the hell out of your store, never to return. But on the web, you don’t have staff, so you have to rely on your text and the functionality of your site to endear your visitors enough to make a sale. Your text not only informs users of your services or your product specs, it informs your users of the type of company you run, through your use of language. So if all that’s on your site is cold, ‘professional’ copy that informs but doesn’t relate, you may make a sale, but a relationship may be further away than you hoped. But all is not lost, even the retail assistant with no personality can make a sale by being helpful. If you offer the kind of functionality that makes it easy for your customers to get what they’re after, or if you offer something they can use, you’ll go a long way to helping your chances of return business.

The Sale (or the Summation)

In a retail environment, businesses succeed by creating a positive ‘shopping experience’, which they do by putting all the pieces together so a visit to their store will stay in the memory of their visitors. On a website, the idea is the same; we should consider everything that’s going on so that the people that stop by will remember our site, and want to return.

With a website, what goes on there is determined by your purpose, but the how should be completely determined by your users. Don’t get so caught up trying to tell people who you are that you forget who they are.

Jason Harper

[1]: OK, so you see a lot more videos on the web these days that introduce and discuss various aspects of a company or product, but to be perfectly honest, they’re kind of expensive, and just out of reach for the majority of website owners. So here, we’re concentrating on helping everybody ;-)

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Jason Harper

Jason Harper

Run Web Design is a Geelong based company committed to providing businesses with a complete, professional web site development service.

With services covering all aspects of web site development, including website design and construction, search engine optimisation, domain registration and web hosting, and online advertising advice, Run Web Design is able to provide clients with a web site that works for their business.

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Marathon is Run Web Design's webzine containing information and articles on Website, Internet and Business related topics. Also included are some websites from around the world that are making some noise.

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