According to recent research conducted by eBay, online retail in Australia is forecast to grow a massive 40%, reaching $33.8 billion by 2012. While only a predication, it is certainly a sign of the times and cannot be ignored by Australian retailers who need to step up and take advantage of this growing market of customers. And with silly season just around the corner they need to act fast if they want to capture the hearts and the wallets of Christmas shoppers.

However, while the local market is hotting up, global competition is fierce. PayPal released some figures recently that revealed 40% of all online spending in Australia is being spent on overseas websites, particularly in the US. So as competition increases in this space, on the local and global front, Australian retailers need to raise the standard of their online service offering, measuring themselves up to a global benchmark as well as keeping an eye on local competition.

So what can you do to make sure your website offers an experience that will keep Aussie shoppers purchasing locally and turn browsers into buyers?

Strategy: you need a clear strategy and it must be incorporated into your business and marketing plans – ‘build it and they will come’ is not a strategy for success. You wouldnt expect a new physical store to bring in business without some sort of promotion and the same goes for online.

Experience: a user interface needs to be easy to navigate to provide a positive user experience. Targeted search, simple menu structures and clearly labelled products are some of the basic ways you can turn a browser into a buyer and encourage repeat purchases. Your interface should instinctively prompt a call-to-action, encouraging the visitor to either make a purchase or provide users with the information they need to kick off the purchase process.

Look good: we all know looks aren’t everything, but creating a clean, clear and professional design to mirror the aspects of the current offline business (if there is one) and appeal to your target market is very important.

Be there for your customer: your website should provide all of the information your customers need to purchase, as well as a ‘help’ section with frequently asked questions and clearly displayed contact details should they wish to speak to a customer service representative. If possible, provide live chat during business hours. While not all visitors will read extended descriptions some do, so thorough information needs to be on offer to assist the sales process.

Stay in touch: reach out to customers regularly by providing the opportunity for existing customers and new visitors to sign up for newsletters, subscribe to blogs and undertake personalised direct marketing campaigns via email to keep them informed on new products, promotions and other news.

Purchase and return options: offer a wide range of secure payment gateways, BPAY, PayPal, credit card and invoicing for regular clients, along with documentation for purchase records. Offer an exchange card with purchase allowing receivers to return online or in-store.

Be transparent: provide highly visible security measures and privacy policies and clearly state delivery guarantees and returns policies. Use of SSL (which enables the encryption of sensitive information during online transactions), known and trusted payment gateways and clearly displayed privacy policies to increase trust and credibility in your organisation.

Provide incentives: add value online by offering seasonal promotions, sales or bonus add-ons with purchasers over a certain amount and integrate online/offline promotions where possible. Offer free or express delivery for frequent shoppers or members and provide tracking capabilities on products ordered, including estimated time of arrival.

Keep up-to-date: customer-driven changes in ecommerce technology are occurring constantly and online retailers need to keep up with the times making sure your platform is speedy, efficient and secure. It is particularly important to make sure your website can cope with increased demand during peak periods.

Online retail is fast becoming the most sought after competitive space, consumers of today demand fast-paced and high quality customer experience and if they dont get it, theyre just a couple of clicks away from the competition. The key message – if you dont keep up, youll get left behind but if you get it right, visitors will vote with wallets and in business it’s hard to argue with profitability as a key measurement.