During my last months living in Toronto, I wanted to get everything I could out of the city. I ate ice cream at my favourite neighbourhood spot – the place that turned me into an ice cream aficionado. I walked along the shore of Lake Ontario. I refrained from buying all the pottery, because apparently my urge when travelling or moving is to buy lots of ceramics. And I went shopping at my favourite made-in-Canada boutique, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and fell in love with a skirt…that wasn’t available in my size.
Thus began my love affair with Birds of North America. As soon as I got home I looked them up online, started following them everywhere, and joined their email list. In the two years since then, I have purchased three much-loved items from them – which is a lot for me. I have shared their new collections on social media and roped my friends into purchasing from them. Oh yeah, and I also visited their Toronto studio when I was in town a year later.
But it didn’t have to turn out like that. If Birds of North America hadn’t had a good online presence with clear pathways to invite me into their brand, I might not have become such a devoted fan. I might have forgotten about them entirely.
How to Build Customer Relationships With Your Website
Your website is your cheapest and – if done right – most effective employee. It helps customers find what they are looking for. It guides them towards other purchases, or towards signing up for your email list, or towards your new subscription program (whatever you want to promote!). Your website tells your brand story, answers questions about shipping, and works the checkout. And it does all this without ever needing a lunch break or going on vacation.
Your website can be your superpower, but you have to set it up right. That means it has to look professional, communicate your brand, and function in such a way that it converts visitors into customers.
How Do You Want To Communicate With Your Customers?
Relationships are built on repeated interactions. This can mean purchasing something from you, receiving a marketing email, seeing or commenting on a social media post, or interacting in person at your booth or brick-and-mortar shop. So when you are planning out your website, you need to consider: how will you get them to follow along? And what communication channels are your top priority?
One of the biggest ways you can interact with people who are really interested in your product is through your email list. Social media algorithms change all the time. Instagram initiates shadowbans. Facebook starts favouring posts with photos – no, videos. Twitter shows posts out of chronological order. You don’t control any of that. But you do control your email list.
Capturing emails at the checkout is perfect, because people are literally buying into your brand at that moment. But it’s also important to collect the potential customers – the people who like your stuff but aren’t ready to buy yet. Here’s how.
01. Plan out your homepage & prioritize content.
What are the top two or three things you want visitors to do? Get specific. “Buy something” is okay, but can you narrow it down to what you want them to buy? Your winter collection? Your new product line? Then put it near the top of the page with lots of screen space.
If your order of importance is: 1) buy something, 2) sign up for email list, 3) sign up for social media, that should be the general order of your home page. Show off your new collection at the top, give a space to sign up for your newsletter below it, and show your instagram feed at the bottom. Take a look at Pyrus‘s website; they make Instagram a priority by placing it right below the top photo.
Designing a website isn’t just about picking font styles and deciding what colour the buttons should be. It is also about planning how you want visitors to move through your site to maximize conversions and build relationships. Instead of giving visitors every option on every page, give them just a few options at a time. BUY NOW might be the boldest choice, but the section below might encourage visitors to join your email list. If they aren’t ready to shop now, they might be interested in hearing about future sales or new collections.
02. Eliminate distractions.
If you want visitors to view your new collection and sign up for your newsletter, don’t promote “read our story” on your homepage. If they want to find out more about your company, they know to look in the main menu or footer. Giving visitors all of the information everywhere makes it hard to find any of the information anywhere – and distracts them from doing what you actually want them to do.
The only reason to add content to your homepage beyond your priority actions (e.g. buy, email, social media) is to add character or context to your site – the same way you might decorate a window in a brick-and-mortar shop.
On a recent (but not yet launched) client site, the homepage order is: big photo slider, shop newest collection, email sign up, photo beside short blurb about the brand, Instagram. The photos at the top and photo/blurb lower down don’t have a call to action or links to other pages. I thought about adding a link from the short blurb to the brand’s about page, but I decided that wasn’t the point. This section is right above the footer, where there’s already a link to the about page. The purpose of this section is to create a mood and connect with visitors’ values, with the goal that they will buy/sign up/follow. Adding a link unrelated to those actions would pull people away from them.
03. Be obvious.
Clear out anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be in your top menu (that’s what footer menus and submenus are for!). You shouldn’t have more than 4-5 items in your top menu. When you have more options than that, people get decision paralysis and are less likely to click on anything.
When deciding what titles to give each page in the menu, keep it simple. For instance “Shop” is really clear; the abstract name you gave your collection is not.
04. Test it out.
Ask a friend to try to buy X item (say, a dress) from your website. Watch as they navigate through your site, but don’t help them. Do they get stuck anywhere? Use their feedback to make your site easier to use! Frustrated website visitors will leave quickly – and that means no customer relationship.
You have probably heard of the 80/20 rule: 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers. No matter the size of your business, strengthening your relationships with your most dedicated customers and developing relationships with new ones is vital. Once you’re known, even by a few loyal customers, you can build on those relationships and have customers grow with you.