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April 02, 2012

Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Homemade Website

The future of ecommerce looks bright, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Despite a gloomy economy, Americans are spending more than ever online and show no signs of slowing down.

Some of the report’s most useful findings:

  • Americans spent over $200 billion online in 2011. That number is expected to increase to $328 billion in 2016, which is a jump from 7% to 9% of overall retail sales.
  • In 2011, 167 million American consumers (53% of the population) purchased something online. That number is expected to grow to 192 million (56% of the population) by 2016.
  • Consumers’ average yearly online spending will increase from $1,207 per person in 2011 to $1,738 per person by 2016.

What’s driving the growth? Current shoppers are spending more and new shoppers are enticed online by a flood of innovative shopping technologies. Online loyalty programs and flash-sale websites appeal to the frugal, while the rise of iPads and other mobile devices make impulsive shopping a breeze.

There’s also a shift in mindset: Shoppers now believe the best promotions are found online. More than 70% of holiday shoppers said they purchased their gifts online solely because they believed the internet had the best deals.

Yes, these stats are fascinating, but they’re also motivating. If your ecommerce strategy isn’t top notch, then you’re missing out on one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.

Wondering where to start? Take a good, hard look at your website. Is it attractive? Well designed? Does is connect users with products in an efficient, intuitive and fun way? Is it easy for you to use?

Ten years ago, building a quality ecommerce website took either a lot of money or a lot of technical know-how. Today, businesses can use any number of open-source platforms to whip up a complex, yet relatively inexpensive ecommerce site. But just because you can build it yourself doesn’t mean you should.

Websites are too critical to your business to just throw together, DIY-style. While it may be perfectly functional, the quality of your website is a direct reflection of the quality of your business. If you have the same cookie-cutter design as even one of your competitors (or even worse, some kid with a blog), your customers won’t take you seriously.

Custom designs are always going to cost more, but the result is a website that’s been designed to drive real business for you. You’ll have a team of information architects, graphic designers, coders, developers and project managers by your side to ensure your website is an effective representation of your brand.

When looking for a design team, shop around until you find one that’s a good fit your business. Ask to see similar websites in their portfolio and make sure they can point to case studies for successful projects they’ve completed for other clients.

Don’t rush—a good design process takes time. Once you’ve found your design team, you’ll meet with them to make sure they understand your business, your competitors and your goals for the project. Then, they’ll create a blueprint of your site, laying out the navigation and functionality. After the details are agreed upon, the coders and developers will build it to spec and work out all the kinks by cross-browsing testing and systematically checking every inch of the website.

Building an ecommerce website is not an easy or inexpensive process, but it’s essential to the success of your business. If you have a business you need to be online, and if you want to stay in business you have to do it right.

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