Selling online can open up huge new markets for many businesses. When your store can be open 24/7 and you can reach a global market without the costs of mailings and call centers, it can be a huge boon to your business. But there are plenty of things to consider when designing an eCommerce site. It’s not as simple as throwing up some shopping cart software and plopping products into a database.
There are tons of mistakes that online retailers make every day, all of them avoidable with a little careful planning. And even if you’re already committing some of these mistakes, most of them are easy enough to fix. Avoiding them will greatly improve the experience for your customers.
Below are 15 of the most common mistakes that e-commerce sites make, as well as advice on how to avoid or fix them. Take the advice into consideration before embarking on a new e-commerce project or when thinking about your current e-commerce site, and make efforts to follow the recommendations outlined here.
1. A lack of detailed product information
Provide as much product information as you can. Sizes, materials, weight, dimensions, and any other pertinent information depending on what the product is. For example, in an online clothing store, you might include the fabric type, sizes and colors available, a size chart (usually linked from multiple products), the weight or thickness of the item, the cut and fit of the item, care instructions, and comments about the brand or designer. Using descriptive words rather than simply technical terms can have a greater impact on the consumer.
2. Hiding Contact Information
Put your contact information in an easy-to-find place on every page of your website. The most obvious places to put your contact information are either in your header, the top of your sidebar or in your footer. Provide multiple means of contact if possible. A contact form, email address, phone number, and mailing address all add to the level of customer trust. Remember, too, that the more expensive or technical the product you’re selling, the more likely a consumer is going to want more contact information.
3. A Long or Confusing Checkout Process
Follow the ideal model as closely as you can. If you have to include other pages, try to make them as quick and easy to fill out as possible. Combine pages if you can, and use two-column layouts for certain sections (like putting billing and shipping information next to each other) to make pages appear shorter.
4. Requiring an Account to Order
There’s an easy fix for this. Instead of requiring a customer to sign up for an account before they order, offer them the option at the end of their ordering process. Give them the option to save their account information to make placing future orders easier or to track the status of their current order. Many customers will opt to save their information, and you won’t be driving away customers before they’ve completed their order.
5. An Inadequate Site Search Engine
Ideally, an e-commerce search engine should let users search by keyword and then refine results based on the categories your site includes. Let users sort their search results based on standard criteria (most popular, highest or lowest price, newest item, etc.) as well as eliminating items that don’t fit into a certain category.
6. Poor Customer Service Options
Use a ticketing system for customer service inquiries, especially if you don’t have a phone number available. Make sure that you post an FAQ that covers common questions customers might have, like what your return policy is or what to do if they need to order parts or replacement items.
7. Tiny Product Images
Either provide large images right on the product page or allow users to click on an image to zoom in. You want users to be able to view the image as large as is practical on an average monitor. This means an image that enlarges to 1024×768 pixels is a good size to aim for.
8. Only One Product Image
This one’s simple: include more images. Four or five images of each product are ideal, offering enough views to allow a consumer to feel comfortable that they know exactly what they’re getting.
9. A Poor Shopping Cart Design
Make sure your cart lets a user add an item and then return to the last page they were on. Even better: allow them to add an item to their cart without ever leaving the page they’re on (by using a mini cart). Let your customers edit the quantities of items in their cart or remove an item from their cart. And let them preview what shipping charges will be before they start the checkout process.
10. Lack of Payment Options
Use a payment service that lets customers pay with each major credit card, and preferably also with an electronic check. Adding a PayPal checkout option increases the choices your customers have, making them more likely to purchase from you. Considering different consumers have different preferences when it comes to making online payments, catering to as many as you can mean you’ve expanded your customer base.
11. Not Including Related Products
Use an e-commerce platform that lets you include related products on product description pages. A platform that will let you manually choose related products can also give you a big advantage, since you may see relations that a software program doesn’t (such as coordinating clothing pieces to create an outfit).
12. Confusing Navigation
Think through your categories and navigation elements carefully before you start putting products in your catalog. Make sure that every category has at least a few products in it, or else group smaller categories together (or include them in larger, similar categories). Make it easy for customers to look through different categories, get to their shopping cart, and otherwise move around your site.
13. Not Including Shipping Rates
Most major shipping companies and the USPS offer shipping calculators on their website, and there are plugins or widgets available for most major shopping cart systems to figure shipping charges on your site. Use one. If you can’t use one for some reason, then use a flat shipping rate that’s high enough to cover whatever it is you need to ship. For particularly heavy or large items, you can always include a freight surcharge in the price (just be sure to indicate that’s where the additional cost is going).
14. Not Including Store Policies
Use an FAQ or store policies section on your site to spell out exactly what your rules are for different kinds of customer interaction. It’s something that can save you tons of problems down the road.
15. Not Putting Focus on the Products
Think about how products are displayed in brick and mortar stores. While an in-store or window display may show a lot more than just the products for sale, they all contribute to showcasing the products in their most flattering light. Do the same with your website. Make sure that every design element present is doing something to showcase your products in their best possible light.