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By Justin Talerico

The fact is that most online retailers don’t really sell anything. Of course, plenty of you conduct sales transactions, but for the most part you just present a product and hope someone buys it. There’s no real selling strategy involved.

A selling path for an online retailer is a series of screens where, unlike a random-access web site, the consumer’s choices are limited, controlled and purposeful. Each screen is an opportunity for you to: (1) ask a relevant question; (2) get an honest answer; and (3) move your customer closer to a better sale — better for them and for you. The screens in these paths are crafted to work together to win a consumer’s trust, build selling propositions and ultimately result in a retail purchase decision and transaction. Think of it the same way you think of directing foot traffic in your store or directing eye movement and message in a direct-mail piece. If you left either of those examples to chance, very little would happen.

But, most retail web sites remain random access. The consumer’s choices are presented in a likely haphazard manner that begs the question: “Where do you want me to click?”. In that scenario you have little control over the course of the sale. Real selling takes place when your consumer gets moved purposefully through your site from point to point, buying in at each step and getting more and more personally involved along the way. The challenge is balancing your consumer’s expectation to control her fate with your need to manage her behavior.

Consider the following nine guidelines for crafting retail sales paths that convert:

1. A web sales path should not exclude choice
There should be one, main, incredibly obvious and clear “next” type of choice, but a couple of other options should also be offered. It must appear as though the input your consumer is giving is affecting the results of her efforts. If your selling path is simply click-click-click, you’ll get no consumer involvement, no early buy-in and you’ll be no closer to selling her at the end of the path than you were at the beginning.

2. Exude speed and efficiency
Make your first screen short and punchy. (Really you need to make all of your screens short and punchy, but make the first one extra short and extra punchy).

3. Get smarter at every click
If your consumer needs to make choices, have her make choices that give you more information so you can narrow the selling message. Let her choose features she’s looking for, accessories that interest her, colors she likes, etc. Make it all about her, and make the questions smart enough that you learn something valuable in the process. Down the road, you should be using the knowledge you gain to help retain your customer through highly targeted and personal online direct mail.

4. Be clear and don’t ask unless you need to
Each choice your consumer makes should impact her next set of choices or certainly the outcome of the sale. In other words, don’t ask her anything that’s irrelevant.

5. Stay focused
Don’t distract your consumer. In other words, don’t tell her anything she doesn’t need to know to make her next choice or her purchase decision. The bottom line is to give her the big picture, big selling propositions and make her click for the details as she wants them.

6. Don’t ramble or waste her time
Limit the number of screens in your path and make your point succinctly on each screen. For simple products, make your case in three steps. For complex products, wide product lines or high-ticket products, go to no more than seven steps.

Article courtesey of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Justin Talerico is Chief Usability Officer at i-on interactive, www.i-on.com.

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