Posted by: Tamela Adamson-McMullen
Given the reach of the Internet, it’s no longer a given that the first impression customers have of your store is when they walk through your doors. Nowadays, first impressions increasingly are being formed online.
Of course, some websites are better than others. Al Kinnear, president of Bigeye Productions, a cutting-edge website design and development firm, said there are a few basic elements that every successful website should have.
Chief among them is a domain name that works with the business name. As an example, one of Bigeye Productions’ paint-store clients is the multi-store Hirshfield’s, based in Minneapolis.
On the site itself, it’s important to include the store’s location, phone number, hours of operation and key contact names, and maybe driving directions as well. Jeff Lien of Hirshfield’s said he can tell from tracking the website’s hits that a lot of browsers are there to find out about store locations and hours of operation. For that reason alone, dealers need to be on the Internet, he suggested.
Cameron Krause of Monarch Home Decorating Center, a three-store operation in Washington, D.C., reported that after finding the store’s website at , browsers tend to click on the “About Us” page to access store information. On that page, they also find exterior photos of each store, “So customers recognize us when they get there,” she said.
Another element of a successful website is a strong home page that grabs and holds browsers’ attention long enough to direct them elsewhere on the site. Kinnear noted that most browsers are off the front page after 25 seconds. The front page, therefore, needs to load fast and then quickly lead browsers to other pages on the site. “I think in the old days people used to stick around on the home page and absorb it,” Kinnear said. “But if you watch people now, it’s ‘click-click-click-click-click.’ ”
In addition to grabbing browsers’ attention, Krause said Monarch’s front page was designed to suggest what customers will find when they visit a Monarch store. It includes a top menu to appeal to both retail and contractor customers, with pages leading to decorating and color topics as well as to a contractor credit application.
Kinnear likes the look of a clean home page that’s easy to navigate, but he stressed that “less is not more” when it comes to websites. “A browser’s ‘click’ needs to be worthwhile,” he said. “You need to provide enough information to help them make a decision‒whether that’s to contact you, to move to another page or look up links to a manufacturer’s website.”
Dealer’s websites at the minimum should include a general listing of products, a “what’s new page,” a listing of services and text about the service commitment of the business. Kinnear stressed that it’s also important to have a tab for “green products,” since this is a hot topic for eco-minded consumers.
Of course, maintaining an informative website isn’t easy to do. Putting up a new item or two only takes a few minutes, Lien said, but Hirshfield’s site is so vast that items are changing all of the time. Still, “We try to update (the site) as much as we can,” he reported.
Whether you tap someone on staff, hire an outside firm or do a combination of the two, it’s critical to keep the site dynamic.
One of the easiest ways to keep a website current is through social networking. Retailers increasingly are using Facebook, Twitter and similar networking phenomena that link customers to their sites. Many also are creating interactive blogs that offer a way for consumers to subscribe via an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed.
Whatever the tactic, the main goal of any blog or website should be to help retailers put their best foot forward. And retailers increasingly over time are using cyberspace to do exactly that.