Although ecommerce sales increased by almost 25% last year, online purchases accounted for just one in ten dollars spent by American consumers. That might seem surprising, given our reliance on smartphones and the existence of over 1.3 billion websites. Many people will automatically cite Amazon as an example of online trading’s burgeoning success.
In reality, Amazon is something of an exception. Having plowed nine successive years of profits back into its infrastructure, the Seattle-based company was able to construct a hugely flexible and powerful ecommerce platform. As an online-only brand (until recently), Amazon always wanted to be a high-volume reseller of mass-market consumables. It wasn’t trying to replicate an in-store experience or sell high-end products requiring complex delivery. Companies looking to market sensory items like food, perfume or clothing can only look on enviously at Amazon’s inventory of easy-to-post books and electrical goods.
Even so, there are no excuses for some of the ecommerce fails still being committed by online retailers. Alongside obvious pitfalls like unreliable hosting servers or complicated web addresses, these are ten ecommerce failings that will scare off potential customers:
#1. Desktop-oriented site design
Problem: Most web traffic is carried on mobile devices, yet some companies still prioritize the desktop experience. A desktop-oriented site might display poorly on mobile, with shrunken data fields and menu buttons. It could be slow, difficult to navigate, or downright unreliable.
Solution: Construct websites using responsive frameworks that automatically adjust how they display contents to suit the resolution of each device. Split out checkout pages to give a smaller number of large form fields on each screen, with large and easy-to-click Back and Next buttons. Before launching, test the site on numerous desktop/mobile browsers for glitches or bugs.
#2. Non-optimized content
Problem: Even the slickest website won’t receive many customers if its content isn’t optimized for the search engine algorithms that decide the order of organic search results. People rely on search engines to find companies selling the goods they want in their area.
Solution:First, make sure that keywords for each product (and your location) are deployed in detailed descriptions and page headers. Use images with captions and tags, and make sure that every page features metadata like slugs. Give individual pages unique and specific titles (.com/this_product, not .com/qwerty123). Finally, maximize internal and external site links.
#3. Confusing navigation
Problem: It’s easy to get carried away with decorative flourishes and superfluous content, prioritizing style over substance. However, classic ecommerce failings like ambiguous page titles or tiny menu buttons will deter consumers from completing transactions.
Solution: Every element of an ecommerce site needs to focus on driving sales. About Us and FAQ pages should lead back to product pages, themselves featuring a basket icon and a Checkout button. Always permit navigation away from payment pages for order amendments, and put a Search bar in the same place on every (clearly identified) page.
#4. Convoluted checkout process
Problem: This is a classic ecommerce fail. People are already wary of handing financial data over to a firm they haven’t dealt with before. Mandatory registration and loads of data fields will cause site abandonment, particularly on fiddly mobile devices.
Solution: Strip out irrelevant data fields using secure ecommerce tools like WooCommerce. Add a tick box to let people use their billing address as their delivery address, and offer to store their data for simplicity in the future. Don’t insist on registration until people have checked out, and invite them to create an account with a simple email/password combination.
#5. Hidden fees
Problem: To keep headline costs down, some unscrupulous online retailers hide state taxes or postage costs at the end of the checkout process. This is unethical, and a surefire way to lose customers. Analytics tools will identify which pages people abandon a site from.
Solution: Clearly state below item prices what the total cost will be, including any taxes. Put flashes on product pages/baskets if you offer free delivery over a certain order value. By offering a 3-5 day free postage option or next-day delivery with a margin built in, you encourage consumers to (more than) cover your costs. Itemize invoices for clarity, too.
#6. Limited sensory information
Problem: In a store, customers can interact with an item. They can taste or smell it, feel the weight and gauge the quality. It’s very difficult to do this online, particularly if the information provided isn’t comprehensive.
Solution: Don’t overload people with too much information, but make it available. Use a main product photo, with a slideshow of other shots in and out of any packaging. Display the key points, with a drop down list of full specifications. Provide sizes and weights where relevant, list materials or ingredients used, and encourage enquiries.
#7. A lack of peer reviews
Problem: In these cynical times, people remain surprisingly willing to trust the opinions of strangers. A simple 1 to 5-star rating system and one-paragraph reviews go a long way to convincing undecided shoppers. Without these testimonials, conversions will be lost.
Solution: Don’t publish review tables the day your new website goes live. Instead, wait until you’ve had a reasonable number of sales, and offer customers a modest incentive to review their purchases. Once an item has a few live reviews, confidence will build. Don’t censor negative reviews, but make it clear they have to be about quality, value and/or service.
#8. A lack of social media presence
Problem: This also ties into the last point. Are you comfortable ordering from a firm with no Twitter account, or a Facebook business page with three followers? If not, why not? Consumers expect reputable ecommerce sites to have a strong social media presence.
Solution: Build a presence on one social media platform at a time, starting with Twitter, then Facebook and Instagram. Follow related firms and people you know, commenting on topical stories and posting regular updates. Follow people back, set aside funds for Facebook/Google ad campaigns, and respond quickly (and politely) to any comments or complaints.
#9. A lack of corporate information
Problem: New customers need reassurance before handing over financial data to an unknown brand, particularly in these post-Equifax times. They won’t feel safe uploading credit card or payment data to a company with no track record or rankings on review websites.
Solution: Every ecommerce portal needs a section about why the firm was created, which markets it focuses on, etc. Established firms should outline their history on an About Us page. Pen portraits of staff (with photos) show a brand as human, and accountability is inferred by publishing a head office address and a landline phone number. Add social buttons, too.
#10. High prices
Problem: Unless you’re selling something made in-house, or under an exclusivity agreement, people could potentially buy the same goods from a competitor. And while the nine factors above all matter, few things are as significant as the total price.
Solution: Do everything in your power to drive down costs, from warehousing to packaging. Drop shipping sources non-unique items from multiple providers, for competitive prices and guaranteed stock availability. Pare down postage and packaging costs to the bare minimum. Even if your prices aren’t lower than rivals, can you beat them on quality or levels of service?