The Top 7 'Best Practices' for Travel and eCommerce Sites

If we look at some trends in web design, functionality and usability when it comes to eCommerce, we'll find a lot of them tie back to the customer.  Make the experience great for the customer and you'll sell more. Make items or products easier to understand, and you'll sell more.  It's common sense, but many sites struggle with the right mix of usable features, understandable benefits and great value.

Here's my list of the top Best Practices any digital marketing team should throw on the front burner during a re-design or strategic development:

1.  Invest in quality visual and copy elements.  For travel sites especially, customers are doing SO MUCH RESEARCH before they buy.  Assume that they're going to hit all of your competitors for price. What's going to keep them on your site longer and give you more chances to sell? Content. Take the time to develop great descriptive copy-- not just fluff, but useful insights about the product or destination-- so that readers can get intimate with what you're selling.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, and video is worth a thousand pictures.  The more visual and exciting you can make the product appear, the greater chance of conversion.   For travel sites, if you're just licensing content from a 3rd party, what is making your site stand out?  For products, if you can show me the item in different uses--- not just from different angles-- I'm going to be more engaged.

2. Social Selling is not a myth. Be Social. There is certainly a line between being social and invading a customer's privacy, but finding that line, and approaching it, will help with conversion.  The more interactive and 'share-able' your products are, the more likely that you'll benefit from increased awareness. However, Social Proof is a powerful mechanism, and influencers can change behaviour without even knowing it.  Make your products easy to share, easy to comment on (and by easy, I mean either wide open and moderated or Login with Facebook, Twitter, Disqus, Google, etc), and easy to keep track of (wishlists, pin to pinterest, etc).

3. Mobile is next. If you're not there now, get it in your plans!  If I had my way, every website would be optimized for mobile.  People use their phones and tablets for so much these days that building only for a 'desktop' experience is like letting half your customers walk out the door. A friend from Google told me today that 20%+ of searches are happening on mobile devices. Sure, we hear a lot about 'Showrooming' these days, where savvy customers will use a bricks and mortar store to browse and then buy online.  The funny thing is that if that store had a fantastic mobile experience-- and by fantastic I don't just mean mobile web, but also thinking about tailored or custom mobile apps, mobile wallet, mobile offers, mobile loyalty and mobile payments--- if they had all that, why would anyone use a different site?  If on top of that great mobile experience a layer of social and location data were applied--- customers would be ecstatic.

4. Service and Support will make or break the customer relationship. Put the tools right on your site. Things like live chat, toll-free Click-to-call (another mobile feature...), amazing self-service tools and FAQs that work; these are what every site that is selling something needs.  A web form on the 'contact-us' page doesn't cut it.  Depending on the size of your brand, you may need a whole team dedicated to social customer service, because people are going to have issues with you, and to our dismay, they will take to twitter sometimes before they find the live chat on your site.  The key is to be nimble, and accessible. The customer doesn't care that implementing site features is hard for you, they just want you to solve their problem as quickly as possible.  It's basic.

5. Pre-sell your offers from a benefit perspective before the cross-sell and up-sell happen.  Give customers a chance to understand the offering available before they have to make a buying decision.  For a travel website, these are things like insurance products, rental cars, hotels, etc.  Soft sell the availability and benefit of these additional services so that when it comes time to buy, they look no further.  In retail, this can be as simple as putting 'Free Shipping' somewhere that follows the user through the experience.  When they go to a competitors site and don't see it (whether they do it or not) you're going to make a better impression.

6. Offer a non-traditional way of searching (retail) or booking (travel) to give the customer options.  Most retailers have a set and traditional hierarchy: Ex. Mens, Womens, Kids.  But taking a different approach, like recommending items based on activity: Ex. Outdoor Fun, Working at the Office, Home with the Kids-- something non-traditional can both set your brand apart from your competitors, but also help your customers discover items they may not have found.  What data is available? Do you have data on purchase path, customers who bought x like y, and that sort of thing?  How are you using it to shape the experience of the next customer, or even easier-- the returning customer!

7. Gamify the experience to simplify it.  Did you know that a simple progress bar is considered a game mechanic? There are many, many tactics that you can use to gamify your site and the buying experience of your customer, but most importantly, evaluate each element for simplicity.  If the game mechanic doesn't add value, simplify the experience or increase conversion, don't do it for the sake of doing it.  (Sites that give unnecessary badges--I'm looking at you here!)  Often, the simple elements like progress bars, star ratings, etc-- the ones that have been proven on billions of transactions from the likes of Amazon and others---these are the tactics to incorporate.

What are some other great things that those in marketing, specifically in charge of ecommerce, travel booking and the like, should pay attention to?  At the end of the day, the goal is sales, but if you're only measuring one thing, you're sure to miss a few other important things.