E-commerce sites walk a fine line with users. If the site is friendly, easy-to-use, attuned to your audience and the products presented properly, the site should convert visitors to users. However, most e-commerce sites do not work convert visitors as well as they should because they are lacking in features that build trust and help convert visitors into customers.
The following are several features that we feel are essential to the success of every e-commerce site, whether it be large or small. The lack of these features means that you are probably losing customers who have come to expect a certain level of service with an e-commerce web site.
Performance Fast loading web sites impress users. Slow loading sites frustrate them and cause them to scramble for the Back button on their browser. A site must load quickly. Don’t trust your e-commerce site to cheap hosting with companies that overload their servers. Don’t load up the pages with non-optimized images or too many images. If you are using an off-the-shelf shopping cart, such as osCommerce, Zen cart or Cube Cart, turn off all of the features you do not need. Each home page feature that is turned on causes a slight delay with the loading and rendering of the page.
Professional Design A cheap-looking or amateurish web site lowers customer expectations and makes them hesitant to buy something. Spend the money with a professional designer to build a site that is friendly and inviting. Make sure that the colors are attuned to they type of visitor you have targeted. If you sell sporting goods, greens, browns and earth tones are the rule. If you sell flowers, then reds and yellows are probably more appropriate.
Call to Action Every e-commerce site needs a call to action in the form of a Buy or a Add to Cart button. Display sale items either on the home page or a Sale Items page, and any item that is on sale should be promoted with a starburst or other attention-getting symbol any time a user finds the product in a search. Don’t leave it up to users to figure out how to add an item to a shopping cart–make it obvious.
Search Tools Have plenty of ways that users can find products. At a minimum, a site needs a search box that will search the product name field in a database. More advanced search tools allow additional fields to be searched that include a range of related keywords used to describe the product. If you have this type of search, make sure that you include common misspellings.
Duplicate content This is primarily a search engine issue. If you copy product information or articles from other web sites, your pages will most likely get hit with a duplicate content penalty, which reduces your rank positions with search engines. Every page in your site must have absolutely unique content.
Shipping Costs Excessive shipping costs are a major reason for shopping cart abandonment. Don’t surprise your customers with shipping costs. They should be able to see the shipping cost before they enter a credit cart number. The easiest way to deal with this is to use fixed costs based upon the monetary size of the order and post the costs in a column on every page in the site or on the shopping cart page. The shopping cart should allow users to see their costs. If you use actual costs for shipping, set up the shopping cart page so that users can enter a postal code on the shopping cart page. The costs should then be calculated. Forget using tactics such as a $10 handling fee on every order. That is the fastest way to cause users to abandon a shopping cart.
Use Promotional Hooks Promotional hooks entice people to buy. “Buy 2 and Get 1 Free” or “Free Shipping on Orders Over $100” are time-tested and successful ways to entice people to purchase from you. Up-sell and cross-sell. Up-selling is when you offer an upgrade or a bigger or better version of a product. Cross-selling is when you offer related items and accessories. If someone is buying a portable radio, they will also need batteries. If they are buying a cell phone, they may want a headset or case. Display these items on the same page as the product they are purchasing, or offer them on the shopping cart page.
Streamline the Checkout Process I was once asked to evaluate an e-commerce site that was receiving plenty of traffic, but almost no orders. The site was selling popular products and the price point for the products was right where is should be. Upon inspection it was easy to determine the problem. Users were placing plenty of items in the site’s shopping cart, but the extraordinarily cumbersome and poorly designed 10-page checkout process was so frustrating that users were abandoning the checkout process in droves. When it comes to the checkout process, keep it simple and don’t ask for any information that you do not need.
Tell Them Who You Are Make sure that, at a minimum, every page displays your company address. If you have a phone number that you use for business, display that as well. Put it in the page footer or near the bottom of a side column. Even though it does not guarantee that a customer is dealing with a legitimate company, having an address on the site builds confidence that they are not dealing with a fraudulent company in Russia, Nigeria, the Ukraine or other countries with high rates of e-commerce fraud. Always have a contact page that allows customers to send questions about products or orders they have placed and respond to these questions promptly. If you do not display contact information, your sales will likely suffer.
Easy Return Policy Many e-commerce site owners cringe at the thought of dealing with returns. If you deal with returns properly, you can build future sales. This is part of the philosophy of building trust with your customers. Handle credits promptly and ship replacement products as soon as you receive the returned products. It can be a good idea to send a discount certificate any time someone returns a product. Discount certificates should always have an expiration date, so give the customer 30 days (or more) to place another order.
Whenever you are not sure which features you need to add to a site, check out what the big boys, such as Amazon.com and others, are doing.