This past weekend marked the first Saturday in nearly three months I didn't have something scheduled. To celebrate, we decided to take the kids to meet their grandparents for lunch and then to spend an afternoon playing in the fountains at our local mall. The mall is set up almost entirely as an outdoor "strolling" retail center. Nestled in among the shops and restaurants are several outdoor fountain areas where families are encouraged to bring their children to play.
As the kids splashed around and I sat on a park bench in the shade with my husband and in-laws, I found myself thinking. We'd come for the free fountains, but had already dropped $75 on lunch at the mall. As I took in the environment and noticed the little "extras" the team at Easton had added to make the fountains more appealing for families, I couldn't help but draw an analogy between what Easton Towne Center was doing and what Web 2.0 allows online businesses to do.
Give Them the Tools to Improve Their Visit
One of the things that struck me about the fountains at Easton was they didn't simply turn on the water and leave. Easton took things a step further and provided parents with the "tools" they needed to make their visit more pleasant. Five days a week from 10am to 4pm, there's a towel stand next to the fountain. Now you might see it and think "what a great way to make an extra buck" but Easton provides use of the towels for free. It's a fantastic add on that makes it much easier to use the fountain. The fountain area also includes quite a few beach balls for the kids to throw around and play with in the water.
They don't stop there though. The Easton towel stand also has a giant cooler full of juice boxes which they happily hand out to children for free. I had no idea either of these services were offered when we decided to go, but it sure was nice not to have to schlep home a wet towel and since I'd only brought water, the kids were big fans of the juice.
The fact that Easton armed me with "add-ons" that made my visit more enjoyable makes it all the more likely I'll return again down the road.
Think about what you can add to your web site that will make your customer's experience a little better. Can you give them the ability to create a wish list? Can you include video of your products being used? Do you allow them to offer user reviews or ask questions they can't find the answers to? Do you give them one click access to email a product to themselves or add a reminder to their Outlook calendar to come back and purchase it at a later date?
Visitors are coming to your site for the first time for a reason. What you give them while they are there is what helps determine if they come back again.
Create a Safe Environment
The first thing I noticed about Easton's fountain area was the gate. The entire area is gated and there are only two ways in and out. One entrance features a locked gate that takes even an adult a few moments to open and close, meaning a small child can't bolt out of it and vanish into the crowd. The second entrance is open, but is on a less traveled sidewalk and is "blocked" by the towels and juice box stand attendant I mentioned earlier. Chances are slim your child can sneak past this gate without the attendant noticing and stopping them. This makes it far less stressful for parents to bring small children to the fountains to play.
For children who don't want to play in the water, the gated area also features a large grassy knoll and a make-believe land flush with train tracks and three or four different trains hauling tiny animals and imaginary cargo. Both areas serve to capture the attention of water-shy kids while still keeping them safe within the confines of the safety gates.
When it comes to your web site, you need to do the same thing. Your visitors need to feel safe spending time on your site, or they'll leave and not come back. If you're a very small business and haven't yet built a name for yourself, it may be a good idea to offer PayPal and/or Google Checkout options. I'm not always willing to trust my credit card number to a shop I've never heard of. I'm more than happy to run things through my PayPal account though, as I'm confident PayPal will help secure any losses.
If you've added social media style features or consumer reviews, it may mean making sure you're moderating or at least reviewing the comments and reviews. No one wants to stumble across porn ads while reading reviews on a small business site.
Captured and Happy Audiences Buy Things
Now, you might be thinking that's a lot of time, planning and expense to go through in order to add something to your site that may or may not result in sales. After all, you aren't directly earning income from the addition of these types of tools.
That's true...there are plenty of people who head to the fountains each day at Easton and never spend a dime during their visit. But there are also plenty of people who do. The fountain is strategically positioned. It's just outside the AMC 24 plex Movie Theatre and it's flanked by Pottery Barn Kids, the Discovery Store, Build a Bear Workshop and California Pizza Kitchen. In fact, I saw quite a few families toting build a bear boxes as they claimed a bench and stripped their children of shoes and socks.
We fell into that category as well. We decided to meet Greg's parents for an afternoon at Easton so the kids could play in the fountains for the first time. Of course we decided to head over early and have lunch at Red Robin which suddenly meant our "free" trip earned Red Robin and Easton $75 by the time the six of us were done. Not a bad up sell off a "free" attraction.
Which is exactly when I realized how many web sites successfully do the exact same thing.
The Intentional Sale verses the Impulse Buy
There are two key ways people make purchases. We either head on to the web or to the mall with a specific purchase in mind or we go "window shopping" for entertainment and find something we simply can't live without. Intentional sales tend to follow the keyword buying cycle when it comes to web sales. Sure Web 2.0 tactics can help increase the likelihood of a purchase by helping people through the process, but where Web 2.0 really shines is on pushing the impulse buy.
Two of my absolute favorite web sites are Amazon and Etsy. These are also two sites that are absolute masters at Web 2.0 techniques that push impulse buys. Amazon is an absolute leader when it comes to user reviews and "also liked" options. I could spend hours in the books department typing in the name of my favorite book and then following the "you might also like" options to create a wish list that includes dozens of new books.
Etsy offers up quite a few features that create a true window shopping experience and drive impulse buys. Two of my favorites are the gift guides and the "Pounce" options. Gift guides are hand selected by Etsy editors to show off the best of the best in different categories.
Pounce listings show what's being purchased in real time or what is being uploaded in real time. Features like these draw me in for entertainment and time killing purposes, but also have the effect of convincing me I need to buy a sassy apron, need to use wall decals when I redo my daughters room and that I must buy super cool magnets to liven up my fridge.
The point here is not that you should all send me gift cards to Etsy (or that Etsy should hire me as a spokesperson), it's to show you the benefit of taking your site beyond a simple "click and buy" interface. Find ways to encourage conversation (reviews), to showcase new products (gift guides), to encourage up sells (you might also like) and to encourage repeat visits (always something new) and you should see a nice difference in both traffic and sales.
Learning to Capture Both Types of Sales
Most small businesses take the time to think about those intentional sales. They're learning how to optimize their sites to capture searchers. They're purchasing paid search ads and perhaps even banner ads to catch people's eyes. They might even be looking to social media as a way to build brand equity and to learn more about their customers.
What many are missing however, is exactly what Easton has captured with their fountains. For many sites, selling isn't just about appealing to the person who already knows what they want to buy. It's about using the new tools offered by Web 2.0 to drive repeat window shopping traffic; to capture an audience of people with money to spend but no idea what to spend it on.
You may have your search engine marketing and social media campaigns up and running and doing just peachy. But what are you doing to capture the dollars of everyone else?
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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