General News

The Ideal Online Store

By: Arthur Goldstuck

It’s the season to be shopping online. South Africa is headed for its first e-Christmas, when a serious number of people will do a serious proportion of their gift shopping online. But for many, it will be the first time they shop online. If not, it may well be the first time they’ve shopped online for their festive season gifts.

The question that is uppermost in the minds of many of these shoppers tends to be simple yet complex: how can I make sure I’m doing the right thing in the right way at the right place?

The online retailers have the converse question: how can we make sure we meet our customers’ needs?

Call me presumptuous, but I will try to answer both questions in a list (which is not necessarily complete or final) of what I would ask someone who wanted to know how to go about Building My Dream Online Store.

1. The ideal online retail store allows me to browse before I register. I don’t have to show my ID when I walk into a normal store, so why should I online?

2. The ideal online store shows its main product categories, most popular items and special offers on the front page, so I can begin shopping in only one click. Don’t make me click again merely to enter the store, because I expected to enter when I typed in the site’s address.

3. The ideal online store is big on information and small on graphics. If it takes a minute just to get to see what you’re selling, I’m already somewhere else where it takes 10 seconds.

4. The ideal online store lets me know who and what is behind it. If the “About Us” page tells me that you have fifty years combined experience but you don’t tell me who you are, I’m out of there. If you have the might of the nation’s largest retail chain behind you, but you somehow forget to mention it, I’m out of there.

5. The ideal online retail store goes out of its way to explain just how safe and secure it is to shop on the site. It uses the latest verification systems, the most sophisticated virtual shopping carts, and it doesn’t compromise on security. But it doesn’t make me jump through hoops to get it to work. It is secure, but it is also simple.

6. The ideal online retail store let’s me pay in the way that makes most sense to me. So if I don’t have a credit card, I can make a bank deposit or electronic funds transfer. It may even allow me to use a debit card or loyalty points from the major rewards programmes, but I don’t expect miracles there.

7. The ideal online retail store gives me a variety of delivery options, including the Post Office, and a choice of urgent or less urgent courier options. One size does not fit all.

8. The ideal online retail store offers a gifting service, meaning it gives me the option (even if at a cost) of having the purchase gift-wrapped, with a personalised message to the recipient and a delivery address other than my own.

9. The ideal online retail store confirms by e-mail receiving my order and payment.

10. The ideal online retail store confirms by e-mail when it has sent off my order.

11. The ideal online store allows me to contact a human being. At the very least, give me a phone number I can use for enquiries or follow-up. Even better, give me the number and the name of a person or department I can contact. Just because I’m using a computer doesn’t mean I don’t need the human touch sometimes.

12. The ideal online store does not try to fob me off with a form when I want to send e-mail. That works for some purposes, like trying to collect information about type of complaints or product preferences. But mostly, it alienates me, as I have no idea what happens to the form, who gets it, or what they do with it. Sure, leave the form there for those who don’t mind, but the rest of us want an e-mail address that also tells us who (or what) is going to read our messages.

13. The ideal online store is not ignored by its physical counterpart, and vice versa. If you have a physical store, let me buy online and collect in the store. Market online specials or new additions or improvements to the web store in your physical store.

14. The ideal online store makes sure that the call centre number is very prominent on the site, and that everyone in the call centre is fully trained, down to finest detail, with regard to what usually happens and what can happen on the website. What’s that? You don’t have a call centre? Oh, you thought online retail was only about having a website? I’ll tell you what: shut down the website, send back the stock, and go back to the drawing board. Come back when you’re serious about wanting customers.

Arthur Goldstuck is an award-winning author and journalist, and is managing director of World Wide Worx, which leads research into Internet and mobile communications in South Africa. Visit his urban legends blog at http://thoselegends.blogspot.comand or his business blog at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *