I Don't Play Dress-Up
Dress-up and pretend isn’t just for school kids. It’s a powerful tool for an online retailer. You can learn a lot by dressing up in the mind-set of a consumer and shopping your products online.
In all my years working with online retailers, it has never ceased to amaze me how little small online retailers actually shop their own site. I don't necessarily mean actually making purchases on their site - but simply taking the time to shop it from a consumer's point of view.
One of the best ways to find inadequacies in your online merchandising, checkout, or other portions of your site is to spend plenty of time shopping your site as if you were a customer.
The customer's point of view is the only one that matters.
You may assume that the department structure you've implemented online is ideal, because it makes sense to you. But often when you put yourself into a customer frame of mind you'll quickly find shortcomings. Especially when you start with a specific context for the shopping experience. For example, a clothing retailer might start browsing the site, defining the need as an "inexpensive red women's short sleeve t-shirt with a v-neck".
One of the best things you can do is define a dozen different possible customer needs. Those are your virtual costumes. Then put on each of your costume mind-sets and shop your site for the ideal item to fit each of those needs.
After that, shop each of your top five competitors’ sites for each of those need definitions. Ask yourself honestly - if I was “joe shopper” online shopping for this item...would I have purchased it from my site??? You might be surprised how often you answer “no”.
You'll always find at least one way the shopping experience could be improved for your customers.