10 surefire ways to make a well designed website work for you.
Today, you need a website if you have a physical storefront— preferably with the ability to sell your wares online. If you find the thought of setting up a website and e-commerce intimidating, you’re not alone. David Valentine, founder of the marketing and advertising firm Rethink Creative, says 90 percent of his business clients felt the same way before working with his company. But we’re here to help. Western Lifestyle Retailer spoke with Valentine and Carlos Baldominos, e-commerce manager for Pinto Ranch, a high-end Western retailer specializing in boots, clothing and accessories, with four brick-and-mortar locations. They recommend 10 things to consider when building your own digital storefront.
1. Establish Your Own Internet Real Estate
Valentine says having a website versus just social media accounts means that you won’t be subject to the rules Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are notorious for imposing on businesses.
“At any time, any of these free channels could demand money for your visibility—they can and they do,” Valentine says. “You don’t really own your likes, you don’t own your Twitter followers’ [information]—but you do own your website. It’s the only place where you can offer a great, controlled, branded experience for your customers.”
2. Extend Your Brand’s Presence
In Valentine’s words, your brand can be defined as “a desired perception.” Even if you have a small boutique storefront, you want your customers to have a certain type of experience and lasting impression of your company and your shop.
“Just like you set up the physical location and design of your store to reflect your company’s brand, there are digital elements to a website that allow you to convey those same values,” Valentine says.
Pinto Ranch has had a website with e-commerce since 2004, and Baldominos helped launch the latest version in August of 2016. The website for Pinto Ranch was carefully designed to make the user experience match Pinto Ranch’s high-end Western style and values.
“We ask our [in-store] customers how they found out about our brand, and most of the time, it’s because they’ve seen an ad or they were Googling and they found our website,” Baldominos says. “After checking out our website, they wanted to come to one of our physical stores.”
Without a website, potential customers don’t get a sense of your store’s style, inventory or shopping experience.
3. Expand Your Customer Base
“A lot of businesses believe that their customer service and knowing their customers are their greatest assets, but if you have a great e-commerce site, you’ll find you can transfer that value to the digital space,” Valentine says. “You can provide excellent customer service online, too. It’s a beautiful way to thrive in both the brick-and-mortar space and online.”
“Your lifeblood comes from not only keeping current customers, but also from acquiring new ones.” – David Valentine
Baldominos says the Pinto Ranch website serves the physical store, and vice versa. Features such as a chat function allow staff to interact with online customers in a way that fits with the company’s customer service values.
“The online store introduces our brand to shoppers who don’t know about Pinto Ranch, and it is the first step in the Pinto Ranch experience,” Baldominos says. “The physical store also helps promote the online store.
“Customers who already know us use the convenience of online ordering, and travelers visiting the store know they can shop with us after they return home.”
Valentine says including testimonials from happy customers on your website is another valuable feature.
4. Avoid Poor Online Content
A poorly designed site gives the wrong perception of your store. Avoid incomplete content— the dreaded “under construction” message visible anywhere on your site, for-sale items that are no longer offered, incorrect hours or phone numbers listed, or employees listed that are no longer with your company. These oversights send an undesirable message about your brand and give a bad impression of your store. Keep your website updated and with active content; check it often for technical glitches that interfere with visitors’ experiences with it.
5. Simplify Purchasing and Inventory
Valentine says integrating e-commerce to your website gives customers more options to purchase from you. For example, if a customer visiting from out of town selects a large item that won’t fit in a travel bag, you can easily satisfy your customer and encourage the sale by offering shipping—something already built into a good e-commerce system.
Payment processing services like Shopify or Square allow businesses to house all inventory information for online and in-store products in one system. Whether a customer purchases online or from your store, you’ll always know how many of that item you have in stock.
Pinto Ranch offers real-time inventory information to online shoppers—you can instantly see in which of the stores the items are available. Bridging between social media and the company site, the company has also integrated its e-commerce with Instagram, so customers can buy directly from the photos they see on Instagram.
6. Earn Sales on Multiple Fronts
In the age of giant online storefront Amazon, many consumers like to compare prices and features online before they ever venture out to a store. Having a smoothly running e-commerce element on your site allows you to quickly inform your customers, who will then make a more educated purchase either online, or in your store.
Baldominos says e-commerce comprises about 12 percent of the company’s total sales— up 10 percent from the previous year.
“Our website is really important because in addition to sales online, customers that are uncomfortable ordering online will visit one of our stores to try on boots and feel the clothes,” he says.
Valentine says many smaller retail stores are worried about Amazon’s effects, but the biggest takeaway he sees from the mega company is the consumer’s desire for free shipping.
“No one wants to pay for shipping anymore,” he says, and stores need to work that into their pricing.
Drop-shipping straight from the manufacturer is another way to capitalize on your e-commerce platform. Offering certain items on your site as online exclusives, Valentine says, is a great way to increase options for your customers, without adding the inventory, “You aren’t paying for the product up front and it’s not taking up space in the back of your store—you are literally just having more products available for your users,” Valentine says. “So if a customer comes to you and asks if you have a certain item, but you don’t have it in your store, if you have it on your website, you can just ship the item to them.
“You may not be able to stock that item on a regular basis, but if you have a drop-shipping agreement, you did not lose that sale.”
7. Generate Content for Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization means your site has built-in features and strategies that improve how it is found by search engines like Google. Valentine says consistent, targeted content generation—blog posts, podcasts and videos—can drive customers to your site through key words and hyperlinks. If you combine regular new content on your site, getting your content to appear on other sites (such as fashion or design blogs) with great content on your social media platforms, you’re well on your way to optimizing your visibility on search engines.
“The largest portion of Google’s search engine optimization algorithm is content creation such as blogs, podcasts and videos—25 percent,” Valentine says. “Twenty-four percent of the algorithm is social media stats. So 49 percent of your Google algorithm is content creation and social media, posted on a regular basis. Google AdWords makes up 6 percent of that algorithm.”
Valentine theorizes that putting the money you would spend on Google AdWords toward hiring someone to produce good content on your own site and social media will yield a far better return on your investment. If you’re working on your own, you can start small— with a blog, for example—and build a bank of content before publishing it on your site.
Pinto Ranch has a blog, and Baldominos says this element has brought new email subscribers and visitors to the business because readers don’t want to miss a post.
“The blog allows us to educate our customers and expand on the unique aspects of Western life,” Baldominos says. “It’s gotten excellent feedback.”
8. Use Online Marketing for a Measurable Return on Investment
Many smart companies send promotions by email to previous clients. If they can buy online, you’ll tap into that impulse buy tendency and make some additional sales.
Valentine says online marketing and advertising done right can not only give you increased online exposure, but you can also measure your true return on investment and even increase foot traffic in your store.
9. When in Doubt, Hire a Professional
Pinto Ranch’s site was originally designed inhouse, but with the current version the Western retailer worked with a professional web developer to migrate to an enhanced e-commerce platform.
This latest iteration includes custom features, such as the ability to aggregate Instagram photos that customers have tagged wearing Pinto Ranch products. This allows website visitors to see the clothing on real people—a feature Baldominos says has been really popular for customers.
Another feature introduced in the company’s site is a powerful search engine that can anticipate what types of products the user might want to see next. It determines users’ preferences and helps predict other items they might like.
Baldominos says the “review” feature has been really influential for online shoppers. “When an item has a review, we can see that the product sells much more,” Baldominos says. “People care about what real people say about our products and [that makes them] more confident in buying.”
Building a site by yourself can work, but if you’re not versed in web design, Valentine says you’ll probably struggle and achieve less-than desirable results.
“You get what you pay for,” Valentine says. “I recommend paying a professional. There are thousands of affordable web builders across the country and the world that can build you a site for a great price, and then you can have a better branded experience, easier workflow and you can really achieve your goals.”
10. Design with Purpose
Valentine says regardless of the developer you choose, you need to make sure you address two questions before you begin work on a site.
“First, what is the desired perception you want for your brand; and second, what is the goal of your website?” Valentine says. “If the goal of the website is to get more customers, for example, you need to have a website that is built to drive e-commerce. If you’re building a site to attract more foot traffic, it’ll probably have a different look.”
Your goal affects the website development and payment platforms you choose, Valentine points out. He recommends “if you’re going to do an e-commerce site on your own, go with Shopify; it’s the best commerce-focused platform out there.” However, if your focus is “SEO and visibility, and e-commerce is secondary in your mind, then SquareSpace is the way to go.”
Another benefit to hiring a professional web developer is giving your branded content and logo a cohesive look across platforms. Valentine says the simpler and clearer your message is—through content and aesthetics that work together—the easier it will be for your customer to respond the way you want.
Whether you decide to hire a professional or strike out on your own—Valentine stresses the importance of having a good website for your business.
“I implore every business owner to take your digital assets as seriously as you take your storefront and the products you buy and sell,” Valentine says.
MEET THE EXPERTS
The CEO of Rethink Creative Group, a marketing and advertising firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Rethink Creative specializes in working with growing businesses to increase their revenue by creating quality online content.
The e-Commerce manager for Pinto Ranch, a premier purveyor of fine Western lifestyle apparel, boots and accessories in the United States. Pinto Ranch has four locations: Houston, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Dallas, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Originally published in Western Lifestyle Retailer Spring 2018 issue.
Story and Photography by: ABIGAIL BOATWRIGHT – a freelance writer based in Texas.