One of the topics we touched on with TalkFloor interviews is technology and specifically the importance of developing a quality website that captivates consumers and drives them to a retailer’s store. The problem has always centered on the technology of anything digital and the innate knowledge deficiency we all seem to have on this topic.

The long and the short of it is that most of us wouldn’t understand a description of a great website from a techno-geek if it smacked right into us. That’s really because when someone attempts to explain the inner workings of a first-class website—with all mysterious terms like backlink, bounce rate, breadcrumbs and dither, not to mention the endless number of acronyms such as CSS, DHTML, DNS, HTML and XML—I think most of us could comprehend it just as well as if it were in Swahili.

From where I sit, the reason why there is a high rate of inadequate websites in the floor covering industry is because retailers simply don’t know what they don’t know. It’s impossible to know the difference between a website crafted by a kid who learned the basics of writing code and knows enough to launch a site for a local car wash from an expert who not only has the technical know-how of the internet but an in-depth knowledge of how search engines work and a commanding background of the floor covering industry.

Why is this even all that important? Well, research tells us that upwards of 80% of shoppers turn to the internet to research before they buy. That means a retailer’s website built by that car wash kid—or one of the many formatted website options that are available online—may deposit that retail website in the Tibet of Google searches, the rarely visited page two where few shoppers travel, and as a result never even get to see that retailer’s site. Or, the shopper may find her way to the retailer’s website and find it unfriendly, slow and confusing and leave the site in seconds. The retail ball game today is online. For most retailers, if you don’t make it there, you just don’t make it.

That’s why we invited John Simonson, the president of Webstream Dynamics and 5 Star Store Reviews on FloorRadio, to talk about this topic and help us all understand what makes a retail website effective, powerful, easily found, compelling and most of all deliver customers to the store. You can listen to this conversation in our podcast section. Here are some excerpts of that conversation.

TF: Talk about the importance of having an effective website.

Simonson: There is such a variety of websites out there, from the do-it-yourselfers to someone that knows a little about HTML [hypertext markup language], which could be dangerous, to templated websites done by different services like AT&T, to the more robust sites done professionally by companies either inside or outside of the floor covering industry. There is really a wide array of options available to retailers. It’s really necessary to analyze the various options. Number one, is the site showing up in a local search? Number 2, once a customer lands on the site, is it fast? Is it engaging? Or does it turn off customers who in turn click on the back browser button, leave and go to another site?

TF: Having a first-rate site is a must, wouldn’t you agree?

Simonson: There are a variety of ways to get found on the web. It’s not just a website. There is Google’s knowledge panel, it could be social media—there are a number of different touchpoints. Most of those touchpoints drive the customer through a link to the retailer’s website. At that point, the customer has certain expectations, and if they are not fulfilled quickly, they are going to leave and go somewhere else. When I say fulfill quickly, I’m talking about the menu, about us option, and contact information including the phone number, an address and a map and if there are reviews on the site.  All of these elements need to be easily found and engaging. This is where the professional sites shine and deliver those shoppers to the retailer’s brick and mortar store.

TF: If a shopper can’t find the retailer’s address, they’re gone.

Simonson: That’s true, and it’s especially true in the mobile end. People on mobile devices are much more task driven. Shoppers will spend much more time surfing on a laptop or desktop; but on a mobile device, they move much quicker. They get frustrated more easily on mobile devices, which means mobile sites really need to be streamlined. Google is really pushing page speed because of mobile devices. If it takes too long for the web page to appear on a mobile phone, say 5 to 6 seconds, that’s too long. I’m having a conference call later this week with the people at Google about what they feel is really needed in terms of speed on mobile devices and what they want to see. This is their playground. This is what they want, and we have to do.

TF: How can a retailer know the qualities of a good website?

Simonson: The answer is Google Analytics and learning what pages are browsed and how often, specifically the landing pages and exit pages.  Have visitors arrived there and left? The bounce rate becomes very important. That shows how many arrived and left on any given page. Another important piece of information is the average amount of time spent on any given page. For example, if a retailer has a bounce rate of 80% to 90% on their homepage, they have got a major problem. If the average time spent on the content pages is 20 to 30 seconds, depending what’s on those, they have a problem there as well. Analyzing Google analytics is one way to gauge if a website is working. The places where the rubber really meets the road with retail sites are the various calls to action that are built into the site. These include phone calls to the store and if people are using the coupons on the site. If they are not, you have another problem. There are many ways to measure the results of a website.

TF: Talk about having a site done by a local guy versus using an organization that has been involved in the floor covering business.

Simonson: Let me give you a personal response to that. I have a 25-year background in the distribution channels in the floor covering industry and 20 years in doing web development in the industry. When I am asked to do sites for players outside of the flooring industry, where I know nothing about the product or the targeted audience, I’m really in the dark. When it comes to flooring, it’s another matter. I’ll give you an example of a site I started on last week. When we first started to talk, I asked the owner if he had pictures of his store and the showroom. With photos of the showroom, warehouse and inventory, I immediately understood the business model and what it was all about.

A few months ago, I started work on a site, and when I learned the owner was a designer, that became the prime focus of the site. The operation offers products such as cabinets, counter tops, window treatments and draperies and stresses her design skills. We ended up featuring a photo on the homepage of her working with a variety of the products she offers. Understanding of the industry is a major advantage in developing a website for retailers in the business. It really builds an edge for the retailer.

TF:  Can you give us a range of costs for developing a first-class website?

Simonson: Today, there are a lot more bells and whistles that are necessary in the development of a website, such as responsive design, insuring that the site is mobile friendly.  We also have to be aware of page speed and accelerated mobile pages. It also depends on whether products are to be included in the site and if levels of inventory are also to be included and if those areas need to be maintained. There is a constant flow of new elements to be included in a site, so pricing depends on the components a retailer wants in the site.

Initially, it would be at least $2,000 for a nice, professionally-designed site, with the CSS (cascading style sheets) done properly, with carpet, hardwood, laminate and the various categories, but not really getting into inventory. It’s also going to take more than that for SCO (search click optimization), noting that optimization is constantly changing, and product catalogs.

TF: Suppose we are talking about a large retailer who wants a super fancy site. What ball park would we be talking about?

Simonson: If we’re talking about a larger retailer, lots of bells and whistles, we would be in the range of $10,000 to $20,000. That would include an electronic product catalog that is database-driven with lots of elements on the backend control panel that we build. Everything that we do is built from my own content management system that has been developed over 20 years that we know will do the job. An e-commerce site that sells product online would be more than that.

TF: With the database that you mention, I suspect that products are added and dropped, so it’s necessary to have someone manage this part of the site on a regular basis?

Simonson: Yes, someone has to manage certain parts of the site. As you said, products are added and dropped, prices change—and that can be done in-house, we can do it, or another outside organization can do it.

TF: What other digital elements are required?

Simonson: First, I recommend that the retailer defines his goals. Google Knowledge Panel for local dealers is becoming very important. It appears on the right side of the page when someone searches for a particular business on Google. The store’s name, address, phone number, a map and other information about the company appears in this panel. In Google My Business, there are more elements that can be added, including information about sales and specials, and reviews are also posted. It should be an extremely important part of any retailer’s marketing strategy.;

Social media is a tougher nut because people don’t buy flooring frequently. I feel that consumers will read reviews on Google, Yelp or other directories, as well as on the retailer’s websites. I look at social media at the lower end of what a retailer needs to get involved in.