New retail platforms have made it easier and more affordable to create a robust and attractive website for your dance store. Here are some key strategies to make sure your site works for your business—and your bottom line.
Dance retailers’ to-do lists are always overflowing, so “important” tasks don’t always make it to the “urgent” category. But COVID-19 has motivated many small brick-and-mortar retailers to pay new attention to a long-neglected task: updating their website. With store closures and restricted shopping due to COVID, local storeowners are realizing that adding new capabilities and accessibility to their store’s website can be a lifesaver. But with omnichannel shopping having become the new standard consumers expect, an up-to-date, robust and easy-to-use site is important for all retailers, pandemic or not.
If you’ve been dreading the process of upgrading your website, Erin Wigzell, who runs the website of Saratoga Dance, Etc., has some good news for you. “It’s not as big a task as it might appear,” says Wigzell, who’s worked for 20+ years at the Saratoga Springs, NY, store owned by Leslie Roy-Heck. In 2019, the 30-year-old dance boutique moved its site onto Shopify, a platform that includes online sales and other features. “It might look daunting, but they make it really intuitive and guide you through it,” she says.
6 Best Practices for Upgrading Your Retail Website
With the advent of purpose-designed retail software like Shopify, BigCommerce, Square and Lightspeed, there’s no question that making an attractive, functional retail website is much easier than it used to be. Retailers can choose the platform that integrates best with their point-of-sale system. However, there are still as many—or more—ways to go wrong strategically than to go right with a relaunch.
If you have a website overhaul on your 2021 must-do list, here are some key points experts recommend you keep in mind:
Be specific about your goal.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of filling your homepage with beautiful photos of dancers, but outside of identifying your business as dance-related, that does little to spur your potential customer into action. Andy Beal, head of Reputation Refinery, a consultancy on building businesses’ online reputations and author of the book Repped, advises, “When someone lands on your website you should serve them pages that match their interest and then direct them toward a mutually beneficial goal—be it buying products online or visiting your store.”
Decide: Are you trying to build online sales, encourage curbside pickup, schedule shoe fittings, or get the word out that in-store shopping is safe and available? Whatever your answer is, that option should be featured prominently on your homepage.
“Pointe shoe fittings are Saratoga Dance, Etc.’s bread and butter,” says Wigzell. “So I wanted the new site to make it simple for visitors to navigate to that.” (Normally, Wigzell notes, the very top banner would say “Book Now,” but right now it is devoted to COVID policies.) Her other priority was to make updating and revising easier so they could keep the site current and stay responsive to the marketplace. “Our previous website had a really complicated backend. Making changes was a very involved process that required a lot to learn.”
Since the new website launched Wigzell says that the boutique has also seen an increase in web sales with plenty of products shipped.
Make changes incrementally—and always consider your return on investment.
It’s tempting to debut a new-and-improved website all at once, but it’s safer to make the transition gradually. “Make small, gradual changes when you upgrade your website,” advises Beal. “Smaller changes, released in stages, will allow you to test and see if both the search engines and your potential customers find them useful improvements. Otherwise, you may create issues that become hard to identify due to the numerous changes you made en masse.”
To prioritize your changes, consider ROI (return on investment). Shiron Bell, founder of Bell Media Lab, a website marketing and sales consultancy, suggests that you carefully assess whether your business strategy justifies the cost of a major upgrade: “I’d say if 10 percent of your business is ecommerce, don’t jump into a $20,000 upgrade. But if it’s 30 to 40 percent, then you will want to.” The bottom line? “Watch the numbers and invest where you’re generating money.”
Think like a potential customer.
For instance, you know where you’re located, but can your prospective shopper find you easily when they pull up your website on their smartphone? It’s not as simple as listing your address, says Bell. “Make sure you’re thinking like a local. State your actual address, but also cross streets, zip code and neighborhood name,” suggests Bell. “Include landmark information like ‘near the Lakes’ or which schools and studios are nearby.”
And then there’s SEO (search engine optimization) to consider. Including location details on your homepage doesn’t just help new customers find your store, the information also helps optimize your site to be found in Google searches, Bell points out.
Pay attention to visitors’ search terms.
“I look at Google Analytics for what people are searching for,” says Wigzell. “If I see the same product a couple of times, I’ll get it up right away.” Most recently, she recalls spotting searches on the website for a new Bunheads toe pad. She responded quickly with a featured listing. One of the incidental benefits of switching to an easier-to-use system is that, “it’s cut any update time by three-quarters,” says Wigzell. “I used to put off making any changes because it was so complicated. Now I can do it from home or from my phone.” (Anything that encourages easy and frequent updating will make your web presence more effective, whether it’s adding frequently searched products, promoting in-store events or updating current store hours.)
Beal says that paying attention to search is just good business. “You should see which keywords customers are likely to use when searching on Google and then apply those keywords to targeted content on your website.”
Bell encourages retailers to take full advantage of Google Analytics and Google Search Central (formerly Webmasters, which you will still hear it called). The analytics tool helps you see what visitors are doing—or failing to do—and the search tool helps you get your site found and improve its search performance. Adds Beal, “Website analytics will help you understand which pages are performing the best and which pages cause visitors to abandon your site too quickly.”
Highlight your customer reviews—strategically.
Featuring positive customer feedback on your site seems like a no-brainer, but Beal has a warning: “While it’s okay to curate the reviews, don’t be tempted to only show 5-star reviews,” he says. “That raises suspicion of fraud and can result in a visitor leaving your site, looking for more authentic reviews.”
On the other hand, he notes, “If you have too many 1- or 2-star reviews, then remove reviews from your website until you figure out the root cause and improve your customer experience.”
Monitor your website’s user experience.
“If you haven’t updated your site in the last three or four years,” Bell warns, “you’re probably not fully mobile,” meaning that visitors trying to access your site by phone—which is the majority of traffic at this point—won’t have a good experience. Plus, not having responsive design that detects and adjusts for the user’s device punishes retailers a second way: Google ranks non-mobile-friendly sites much lower in its search results, says Bell.
You also want to keep an eye on how fast key pages on your site load. Google has a free tool, PageSpeed Insights, to check this for both phones and computers and suggest fixes for the problems. The primary reason sites bog down is “noisy” pages with unoptimized images and useless pieces of code. You’re less likely to experience these problems with modern retail apps, but it still pays to test your site every now and then.
“A website that loads slowly, breaks often, or lacks an SSL security certificate (which allows the more secure “https” connection) can cost you many lost customers,” notes Beal.
Google’s free Grow My Store tool may also be useful, especially as a before-and-after test for your old and new websites. The automated assessment reports on your website’s customer experience factors and gives you suggestions on how to improve, if needed.
The Bottom Line
Whether your business plan includes moving more into online sales or you just want to drive more traffic to your store and add convenience and easy access for your customers on their smartphones, an overhaul of your website can be worth the investment and make you more competitive.
Anne M. Russell is a Los Angeles–based writer who covers small business, fitness and technology.