5 common ecommerce mistakes

In the first of a series of guest posts James Greenwood shares some common ecommerce mistakes.

Ecommerce has revolutionised the way trading is being carried out, has created completely new enterprises and has provided existing retailers with a platform to trade 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

However, having developed and worked with retailers over the last 10 years to help them create their ecommerce offering, there are still critical mistakes being made.

Given this article has been written for Boagworld, and that Paul in particular loves a “top five” list, here’s my top five mistakes being made by e-retailers:

Mistake 1: Poor checkout Procedure


Unless you’re one of the “big boys”, forcing shoppers to register an account with you is likely to be a big mistake. There are very few online shops which get our repeat purchases and so warrant an account. On a big name site, I’m happy to sign up for an account as I’m more than likely going to use you again. Think Amazon.

However, for most eCommerce sites, I’d recommend the following:

  • From the basket screen, collect the customer details (Billing Address, Delivery Address etc). This should all be on one page, and not the “Step 1 of 5” method of 10 years ago!
  • Once this data has been collected, ask the user if they’d like to store their details with a password. Inform them that by doing so, it would enable them to retrieve their details when they next purchase, that they’ll be able to track their order or that they’ll be added to a mailing list. The key is to offer them something in return!
  • Take the order regardless of account creation or not.

You’ve not put anyone off from purchasing with you and also tidied up your mailing list to one of genuinely interested contacts.

Mistake 2: Failing to analyse all of your data

And, no, I don’t just mean check Google Analytics (although of course, you should be doing).

Every visitor to your site, whether they purchase from you or not, is revealing a wealth of information which if used properly, can improve your offer to the e-shopper. In fact, visitors who are not purchasing from you are almost more important to you than those that are….

Firstly, a good eCommerce platform should store lots of data about your shoppers. Basket data should be stored in the database, and any free text searches that are made on your site should also be stored too.

Get in to the habit of checking to see what items are being put into baskets versus the items being sold – you may well find that an offer on a particular line means you sell more. It might highlight that you need to reduce the price on a particular line, or it may highlight an issue with UI. Either way, using basket data allows you to react – this data is gold.

The same principal applies for free text search – knowing what people are searching for on your site allows you to cater for their needs.

Mistake 3: Confusing shoppers with categories

We’ve all seen them – categories with nothing in, categories with one product in or multiple categories on an eCommerce platform with a handful of products.

Screenshot showing lots of catagories

Don’t die by category overload – arrange them logically and simply, and provide your shoppers with means of filtering their results so they can find what they are looking for without having to rummage around surplus categories.

Mistake 4: Not being aware of how users are shopping

The advent of the tabbed browser has caused a problem for many e-retailers. Shoppers can now compare products side by side more easily now. Even less experienced Web users who only use the browser that came with their machine are now being encouraged by Internet Explorer to browse using tabs.

Screenshot showing tabbed browsing

Ensure pictures are sharp and informative, ensure descriptions are complete and full (there’s an SEO benefit in this too) and ensure that your prices are competitive. Oh, and don’t milk delivery charges!

Following this advice should mean than when side by side with a competitor, your store is the one which gets the cash.

Mistake 5: Not looking after your hard earned shoppers

It is easier to look after an existing shopper than it is to attract a new one. Don’t hide telephone numbers or email addresses on your site; always ensure that they are prominent. It might be that I want to ask a question before purchasing – encourage me to do so!

Once I’ve purchased, keep me informed with what’s happening with my order – if it’s on backorder unexpectedly, let me know. The chances are that I’ll understand, but by not informing me, my reaction is likely to be different. Don’t make me chase you to find out about my order – get in first!

So, selling online is as easy as that then?

To ensure a high percentage of visitors purchase, is it really as easy as making your checkout procedure easy, analysing data to find out what it is that I want to buy, ensuring I can find the product I want easily and then offering me a great deal on price and customer service values?

Well, yes, actually it is.

However, a great looking site that’s easy to find in the search engines, is marketed well online and offline and is easy to navigate also helps. That’s another article….

About the Author: James Greenwood

James is a director at media agency Strawberry and keeps a blog with articles and site portfolio. You can also follow him on twitter.

  • There’s a classic mistake in the link to James’ blog – you’ve missed the “http://” prefix.

  • One thing that gets on my nerves on some e-commerce websites is that a lot of them don’t tell you the shipping costs when you are on the basket page. No way of having an idea of how much it will eventually cost before getting to the payment page.
    Apart from that, great article and nice tips for giving great online selling UX.

  • I recently struggled through Carphone Warehouse’s contact us procedure – it’s one of these that doesn’t give out an email address and tries to second-guess your query through a series of forms. It also has a low character limit, something that emails do not suffer from! When, eventually, I managed to complete the process, I immediately received an automated email to the effect of “phone us”.
    The big ‘utility’ companies always seem to suffer from this problem. I don’t know if it’s one of scale, or if they’re just copying each other’s bad practises, but it can be really frustrating at the very point a customer (or potential one) is already dissatisfied.

  • Good point about the shipping costs on the basket page – I dont know why that was ever thought to be a good idea.
    And I’ve let Paul know about the blog link….

  • Opps… sorry about the link. Fixed now.

  • Hiya,
    Why do you need to ask them any details at all? I have found that asking if they wish to have an account AFTER they have ordered has been more effective then placing the password setting question before the order.
    I believe the reason for this is every question to look at / think about before you get to make your order frustrates the user, if after confirming the order has been set you offer to make it easier in the future it becomes the focus (eg the only form field on the page) and it further emphasis that you do not need an account to order.
    If you have a pretty simple store then to an extent there is no need for accounts at all, systems like paypal, world pay etc will return you the address information without you needing to ask the user directly.
    I don’t think you touched on this in the post, but its also important to capture & present your sales data to help influence buying / stocking options in the future. Conversion rate tracking for particular products has also proved to be incredibly useful, by identifying and understanding trends we have often found simple ways to increase sales based on this sort of data.
    The last thing which i feel is important to mention is the careful use of language especially acronyms. One of our clients has very high international sales (about 50%) and we have found the use of terms like “within EU” etc are problematic. This is because “EU” is based on the english name for the union and in other languages it is not identifiable this way.
    A great post and good to see community posting on the blog, excited to see whats coming up in the future.
    Jamie & Lion

  • Excellent tips! Re the comments above: a well-designed cart will try to reconcile the requirements of the merchants with those of the shopper in shipping. Some merchants will charge a different shipping fee based n WHERE the shipment is going and thus have to find out where they are shipping before they can render the shipping quote – other merchants, of course, ship based on other factors such as the amount of the sale – a well-designed cart will help the shopper get their shipping quote early by providing minimal info about the destination if required.
    SEO is also important (as Paul notes, it’s a topic for another article)! Just remember that a well-designed shopping cart will take care of SEO for you so you will never have to send a lame email requesting a link from another webmaster – a good SEO cart can give you upwards of 16,000 inbound links from highly authoritative web sites on only 100 products. That’s worth much more than the 5 – 10 pounds/month you would pay for a good cart.
    (Ron Robinson is an executive at ww.800Cart.com – an SEO optimized shopping cart that offers easy deployment and takes the rocket science out of SEO. 800Cart has been helping small merchants ecommerce-enable their web site for over 15 years.)

  • Thanks for the comments all – nice to see it’s provoked some thought.
    Asking if we need to capture user details at all is a fair question and I think the answer is site specific. Agreed that certain payment providers do help ease the process.
    Also interesting to hear about conversion tracking and SEO – I think it’s worthy of another article though as I noted! Now if only Paul would ask me….. ;)

  • I list all of my shipping prices on the homepage of the site and also in the “shipping” page so my customers will know exactly how much they will pay. Now I just need to get more traffic to my site!

    • Fearghas


      But that still requires me to navigate away from the shopping cart pages to find the shipping information, shipping costs are as important as the item costs especially when I am comparing between driving into town to buy x or just ordering it online.

      Notice how Amazon have started including shipping cost in the 3rd part sellers information, previously you had to hunt for it, now you can see what the whole cost is up front and compare between the cheapest item with the highest shipping cost and the rest.

  • Thanks for the article sometimes knowing what to avoid is as important as knowing what to do.

  • the requirements of the merchants with those of the shopper in shipping.