I am often contacted by customers who already have a working ecommerce website, but are wondering why they are not getting any sales. What I normally find are sites that look beautiful, but are confusing and disorganized. Ecommerce shoppers have become sophisticated and won’t buy from a site that do not conform to their preset expectations. For example, pricing should be straight forward. One of the biggest reasons cited by customer surveys for not making a purchase is that the prices were not clearly stated. Another reason sited is that the navigation was confusing. From a design standpoint, you may want to create navigation that is visually stunning, but if you want to sell product, you should keep it simple.
Unlike standard websites which can use advanced layout techniques, eCommerce websites should conform to a standardized look and feel. Think about how simple Amazon.com’s website design is, and they are certainly a successful online retailer.
Use a straight forward navigation
Navigation is the backbone of any website. Site links should be obvious, and contained in the site header either across the top of the site, or down the left site. The home link should be first followed by shop or product category links. If see a lot of modern websites are using the hamburger navigation approach, which forces the user to click a button and get a pop-up navigation – see graphic below. This is fine for mobile site because you have no choice, but on the desktop, this can be confusing. My approach, if it confuses my grandmother, then it will also confuse my paying customers.
Clear indication on what the customer is getting and what they are paying
I can’t stress this enough; most websites that I see that are failing are doing so because they are not making it clear what the customer is getting and what they are paying. The ambiguity is either caused by the site owner’s desire to control the sales process in the same way to do so in their showroom, or the inability to produce proper product descriptions mainly out of laziness, or the problem is often the incompetence of the site designer in making the product pages clearly understandable.
Product pages (this includes marketing services as well) should adhere to a standard, expected, format that essentially displays the product image, a name and detailed and well written description, the actual price the customer will pay, and easy to understand product options. You may want a different look, and that’s fine, but remember it’s not about what you want, it’s about what your customer expects.
Robust search capability
Every potential customer is going to shop differently. Some will click around randomly, others will work through your navigation system methodically looking for the right category, others will go straight to the text search. Every ecommerce storefront with anything more than a few products mush include some sort of search box.
Additionally, I would go a step further by allowing customers to refine their search by price range or product category, especially for large stores with hundreds of products.
Clear contact information
I can attest to this personally, I always check for contact information before I purchase anything on a website. If the website does not clearly state how to get ahold of customer service, whether it be a ticket support system, chat, email, or phone number, I don’t buy. If they include all four of these options, giving me the choice, then even better. When I have asked site owners whey their contact information is not displayed, the response I often get is “I don’t want people calling me!” My answer to that is, “why are you in business?”
At a minimum, you should have a Contact Us page with a fillable form (yes you will get some spam but good form software will weed most of it out) and a phone number. An address along with photographs of your physical location are even better. Additionally, contact information, in the form of a link or text, should be included in the footer of the site.
Order management and customer service features
Once checkout is completed, customers should have the ability to come back to your site to view their past orders. No everyone is good about archiving their information or remembering to keep ahold of confirmation emails, so having a basic order archive system is today considered an absolute minimum customer service.
Shopping cart that estimates the total cost before checkout
The goal of an ecommerce website is to get the customer to the checkout page. The shopping cart page is an intermediary step that allows users to purchase more than one item. Recent surveys show that one of the biggest reasons customers abandon their carts upon checkout is changes to the price during the checkout process. For this reason, your shopping cart view should have the ability to reasonably estimate shipping and tax charges before the user enters checkout.
FAQs and Terms and Conditions
Many credit card processing companies require clearly displayed terms and conditions anyway, so it is good practice and good customer service to state your terms ahead of time. Think about all the possible questions your customers have asked in the past or may ask in the future and answer them. What is your return policy? Are there any hidden fees? Does this product work with…? The more answers the better.