What can you do in 2010 to improve the performance of your online retail presence?

How can your online shop be improved, tweaked and refined to deliver even better results than last year?

Try these six suggestions on for size!

1. Stop using Flash

I know I sound like an old grump when I keep on about this but seriously, when are people going to stop using flash in ecommerce websites? The positives are tediously obvious – it looks great and your marketing dept will love it. However, the negatives are immense: it doesn’t rank in search engines, it breaks all navigation and usability web conventions, it’s expensive to edit and alter and almost impossible to perform any sort of AB testing. Get your design and layout even slightly wrong from the word go and you’re pretty much stuck with it. It simply isn’t worth it, and with advancements in Javascript and CSS 3, it’s also pretty unnecessary. There are some brilliant effects possible with these more flexible code languages (check this example).

2. Do more testing

We’re all guilty of not prioritising testing enough but there really is no better way to find out the truth about your online store. Usability guru Jacob Nielsen has carried out some fascinating studies that show 85% of development or design flaws will be picked up by just five separate usability tests. FIVE! That’s it! So get five willing (or bribed) stooges and get them to run through basic functions of your platform – purchase a product, contact customer service, etc. The results are always illuminating and often shed light on previously hidden flaws and unforeseen problems.

3. Develop a social media strategy

If 2009 was the year brands were switched on to the potential of social media, then 2010 must be the year they start to realise they can’t just launch into it blindly with no tangible objectives. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are now a derelict wasteland littered with the e-corpses of poorly executed fan pages and feeds promoting retail brands or products. Just ‘getting on there’ isn’t enough – you need to have something to say and be prepared to invest in saying it. You also need to ready to hear criticism and ready to respond positively. Above all else, have some idea of what you want to achieve and set tangible objectives. You can’t hit your targets if you have no idea of what they are. Remember, don’t get hung up on shiny new technology. Start thinking strategically about your presence on the social web and you’ll see far more success.

4. Increase your range

You will sell more products if you stock more products. This should be tattooed on every ecommerce manager’s eyelids. It’s so basic and yet so often ignored. When we increased the range of one of our clients last year to include a large US supplier they saw an almost overnight doubling of revenue and conversion from pretty much the same traffic base. In terms of ‘bang for buck’ it’s by far and away the most effective thing they did all year.

5. Develop a proper email strategy

When we engage a client it’s always fascinating to see how much time, resources and money they are prepared to invest in design, development and build of their platform, but how little they want to invest in email marketing. Fascinating, because an intelligent email strategy is without doubt, unequivocally, the single most effective way of driving revenue and customer loyalty. This doesn’t mean just blanket spamming your database, but carefully targeted messages based around buying habits, demographic information and personalised content. Any web agency worth their salt should be tracking all on-site behaviour (if they’re not, sack them and get one that does) and this ‘passive profiling’ is the best way of finding out what your customers want. Using this to engage customers in a personal way via email will reap huge rewards for you this year.

6. Just do it

For all those who haven’t entered the ecommerce world yet, now is the time to do it. Don’t hesitate, stop procrastinating and ‘planning’, get started and you’ll learn more about your brand and your customers in months than you would do otherwise in years. Make 2010 the year when you actually keep to your resolutions by making resolutions which will bring real, genuine, tangible rewards so you are celebrating this time next year with a nice, fat annual bonus!