I’m in the middle of a online masterclass for retailers called The Guide to Successful Retailing, supported by Mary Portas (retail guru and consultant and star of the BBC’s Mary, Queen of Shops), and our instructor Shalina has been driving home the importance of having a website if you’re a retailer.

But of course it’s not about just having a website, it’s about having a website that increases your sales and promotes your business. Many websites fail to increase sales effectively, and from my experience, that boils down to 5 top mistakes that retailing websites make:

1. It’s too difficult to buy things on the website.
This happens when a site requires you to keep clicking on different pages to purchase something, or when the product information is poor. Make it hard for people and they’ll soon leave in search of your competitor, where the process is easier and quicker.

How to fix this problem: Have 3 people who don’t know your website try to purchase something. Watch them without saying anything. Don’t show them how to do it or explain anything, just watch and stay quiet. They’ll show you where you’re going wrong and then it will be much easier to fix the problems.

Amazon has this process down to a science and their 1-click button is an extreme example of making it easy for customers to buy something quickly and easily:

Amazon’s 1-Click button
Amazon’s 1-Click button makes it quick to buy

2. Your customers have no idea why your products are different or better than many other shops.
I think many business owners suffer from a reluctance to shout about their products, to demonstrate why their goods are the best. This leads to websites that are bland, boring, generic. You need to stand out, not blend in.

How to fix this problem: If you’re shy about this like I am about my own work, I recommend sitting down with a few friends or family members and asking them what’s special about what you do. Chances are, they can offer you great advice for how to sell yourself. Then you need a good designer to make sure your marketing materials are conveying your brand through the colours, fonts and layout of your website.

3. Your website is often out of date.
I know, you’ve got so much to do — how can you find the time to keep your website perfectly updated? But of course you know that a website that’s not constantly refreshed will lose customers. And it’s not just about keeping products up to date, but your communication channels with your customers such as Twitter, Facebook and your email newsletter. Customers need to know you’re a busy that’s constantly growing and changing, and that you’re inviting them to come along for the journey.

How to fix this problem: Make sure your website is one you find easy and quick to update. You should be able to add new products, images, special deals and articles in the space of minutes. And YOU or your staff should be able to do it, not your web designer. If you’re having to send everything to your designer to do because it’s all too technical for you or any of your staff, then you need to think about getting a new website.

I still see way too many websites that were hand built by a designer that requires them and them alone to put everything on the website. That’s so 1999 and times have moved on. Do yourself a favour and a get a website that works for you. WordPress websites are amazing for their ease of use and affordability, so look for a designer that creates WordPress websites.

4. Images are too small, too few or poor quality.
Images are what makes or breaks a website, especially one that’s trying to sell products. If your images are hard to see and aren’t high quality then you’re just driving away business.

How to fix this problem: Get good photographs of your products. Use a photographer if you need to, or hire/buy a lightbox so you can take photos yourself. Make sure you either know how to properly crop and edit photos for the web or hire a web designer to do it for you. The difference is incalculable.

5. There’s no way for customers to build a relationship with you outside of buying something.
I confess, I’m guilty of this with Gillywood. I should have a newsletter and I haven’t done it because I’ve been too busy with other work. Sound familiar? The problem with this is that your customers may come to your site and not want to buy anything at that time, but like your stuff well enough that they’d be interested in your newsletter with special offers. Keeping your business in their minds is what channels like Twitter, Facebook and an email newsletter do.

How to fix this problem: Use services like MailChimp, Twitter and Facebook and make sure they are all on your website so customers can sign up.

MailChimp, a service for free email newsletters
MailChimp, a service for free email newsletters

Now that you know the most common mistakes you can tackle them one by one. A good web designer can help you with all of these or you can teach yourself a lot of what you need to know through Googling. Even if you address only one of these problems, you’ll see an increase in sales on your website.

Now I’m off to get that newsletter done…