Five ingredients of smart online commerce

While it might be more fun to rant about broken online forms and systems, we can learn a lot from sites that aren't broken as well.

Consider the Ibex store. Here are five things they do that make them successful online:

  1. They sell a product you can't buy at the local store. This is easily overlooked and critically important. Because it's unique, it's worth seeking out and talking about. Just because you built a site doesn't mean I care. At all. But if you build a product I love, I'll help you.
  2. They understand that online pictures are free. Unlike a print catalog, extra pictures don't cost much. Make them big. Let me see the nubbiness or the zipper or the way you make things.
  3. They use smart copy (but not too much).
  4. They are obsessed with permission. Once you sign up, you'll get really good coupons and discounts by email. Not too often, but often enough that my guess is that they make most of their sales this way. 25% discount on a product just like a product you love–just before Valentine's day? Sign me up.
  5. They aren't afraid to post reviews. Even critical ones.

No site is perfect, of course, and I hesitate to tell you that this one is. I'm sure there are glitches and your mileage may vary. But the checkout is simple and the customer service, while not trying to be Zappos, is pretty good too.

Penguin Magic, I just realized, follows all five of these rules as well. While the site is very different in look and feel (and has a different audience), they're using the same principles.

The amazing thing to me is that none of this is particularly difficult to do, yet it's rare. The state of the art of online retailing is moving very very slowly.