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Your website is lame

The good news is there are ways to make it better.

BY Steph Koyfman

Motivated by a hunch that digital literacy was still a stumbling block for a large portion of the hardware and building supply industry, HBSDealer polled its readers in late February, asking: “How would you describe your company’s online presence?”

A whopping 42% of 199 total votes as of press time said, “Non-existent: At least we’re in the phone book.”

Even if you ignore the fact of surging millennial buying power and mobile shopping in general — with demand for e-commerce increasing 10.9% per year on average since 2012, according to IBISWorld — retailers that drop the ball online are missing a vital opportunity to manage their reputation. Even if a business opts out of maintaining a website, online listings and reviews are forever opting in, sending a message to our hyper-connected world that frequently amounts to “shop here” or “don’t.”

Without a business owner on-hand to set the record straight, opportunities abound for negative press or misinformation to proliferate. But what about that slightly less obvious form of negative press known as “weak websites?”

Among poll respondents who do maintain a Web presence, the smallest number — 15% — said they’re on the weak end of the spectrum, with a paltry few contact details and essentials listed online. Most, or 25%, claimed to be above average, with regular updates and something in the way of a Facebook presence.

There’s an A for effort in there somewhere, but many of the most valuable customers might not see it that way. According to the Direct Marketing Association, customers who buy from two channels are 20% to 60% more valuable than single-channel customers. For triple-channel consumers, that number rises from 60% to 125%. Even if the LBM industry isn’t awash with early adopters donning Oculus Rift headsets (Google it), the retailers who’ve made omnichannel marketing a priority and delivered the goods on a sophisticated website are surely reaping the benefits.

Randy’s Do it Best Hardware, a Virginia-based Hardware Store All Star honoree from 2013, owes much of its success to its solid grip on social media, which encompasses Twitter and YouTube, as well as Facebook. A promotion announced online has been known to bring in customers from nearby towns. And according to CEO Christian Herrick, the company got on board as early as seven years ago, way before it was considered de rigueur for business.

As a result, Herrick became somewhat of a social media guru to other local and Do it Best businesses, presenting seminars on the effective use of Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp!. Four years later, the website got a total revamp, and now he’s giving advice to other hardware stores regarding navigation, style and content.

In Herrick’s opinion, it’s not for lack of want that the industry is slow to adapt.

“I think it’s the resources,” he said. “When you look at how well some of the big-box stores are doing it, it can be daunting. E-commerce can be incredibly challenging when you’re talking about even a small store. You could have 20,000 SKUs. Trying to keep up with all of that online, tracking inventory and shipping — that’s really daunting. And the big-box stores have whole separate warehouses doing that for them.”

Of course, there’s a consistent theme in the battle between the big box and the indie: The smaller guy can always occupy the space created by his larger competitor’s blind spots.

“I think what we can do better than the big-box guys is really personalize our messages better,” Herrick added. “That’s where our business has done really well.”

Here’s our official HBSDealer-approved checklist for determining whether your website is, indeed, lame — and how to fix it.

1. It’s not mobile-friendly. According to Smart Insights, mobile usage overtook fixed desktop use in 2014. Fortunately, if you don’t have the budget to hire a web developer to build a shiny new website for you, there are free (or cheap) options for DIY web-building software online that have responsive design built in to the package. Herrick says he prefers Weebly, but Squarespace is another good and popular option.

2. It doesn’t tell a story. Sure, people are primarily looking for actionable information – the phone number for your store, your hours, the location. “Beyond that, they want to know about you as individuals,” says Herrick. “We try to add as much content as we can about the staff, their stories.” Customer engagement isn’t just about letting them know you exist. Building a persona for your business will make you memorable, and, as they put it these days, set your brand apart. Consider starting a blog that’ll provide useful advice to shoppers and drive traffic to your site. Or, if you don’t have that much time on your hands, make sure that, at minimum, your company history, values, and current scope of services are all clearly articulated.

3. It’s hard to navigate. This isn’t the 90s. Just say “no” to clip art and poorly formatted, endless blocks of text with no negative space for the eye to rest on. You can find simple tutorials online that will cover the basics of good web design, but if you’re looking for a place to start, avoid cluttering your site with distracting elements and opt instead for a clean, minimal look that “breathes” a little. Also, keep the navigation straightforward. There should be a clear, logical organization of secondary and tertiary pages.

4. Your engagement level on social media is nil. These days, your social media presence is merely an extension of your website. And if you’re garnering a tepid response from followers (assuming you have any!), that could spell “missed opportunities” down the line. If you’re on multiple platforms (and you should be), you can use a one-stop solution like HootSuite to schedule all your posts in advance to keep a steady stream of them in ready supply. Herrick says contests and giveaways have by far been the most popular – and least expensive – way to drive engagement on social media. “We’ve found that even giving away something really, really inexpensive is a great way to get organic growth on a post,” he said. Other things people go crazy for online include useful how-to videos and good photography. Chuck those grainy, awful cellphone shots and watch your numbers rise.

5. Your kids think it’s lame. You know how it goes when one generation supersedes the other as “arbiter of cool.” But chances are good that your own blind spots are what got you here, and you might get some surprising insights from a person who’s able to provide a fresh set of eyes. Besides, did we mention that bit about Millennial buying power? That’s roughly $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to projections from Accenture.

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