Ecommerce 101

Paul Boag

I am currently working on an ecommerce site and so as normal I have been doing my homework into what improves sales on a web site. Here is a quick summary of the key ingredients:

Watch some real users

Before changing anything on your ecommerce web site make sure you run some usability testing. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Just get some real shoppers, sit them in front of your web site and watch how they buy from the site. If you have time grab as many people as possible and repeat the process making notes on any trends that develop. But remember always test users one at a time and not in groups. The idea is to simulate how they would shop online while at home.

Organise your site

Be sure to organise the products on your site in ways that users will find intuitive. So often web sites are focused more around the companies structure than the users needs. Also be careful not to offer the user too many choices. This can be overwhelming and leads to users leaving the site before purchasing.

Get the product descriptions right

At one extreme product descriptions can contain far too much technical detail that the user simply doesn’t understand. At the other end of the spectrum product descriptions can be full of marketing speak and little in the way of real content. The best solution is somewhere in between. Describe your product in an accessible, easy to understand way but allow users to delve deeper if they want more information.

Ensure you are credible

Shoppers are inherently suspicious of ecommerce web sites. The idea of handing over your money to somebody that you can’t see or touch is disturbing. It is therefore vital that you are considered trustworthy. Add an about us section to your site that shows photos of your staff and premises. Answer concerns about delivery, returns and security. Most of all make sure your web site is professional in appearance and has recently updated content.

Just take their money!

A shopkeeper would never stop a person handing over money at the counter in order to make them fill in a questionnaire. Why then does that happen online. Make the purchase process as easy as possible and ask for only the minimum information up front. Marketteers want the additional information in order to target users with future promotions and encourage repeat sales. However experience has shown us that it is much easier to make additional sales once the customer has already purchased from you in the past. Make the sale first and then ask if you want more information.

Don’t always follow the crowd

Its easy to look at successful ecommerce web sites like Amazon and think all you have to do is copy them. However remember to focus on your target audience. What might be right for one large ecommerce web site might not necessarily be right for your audience.

Cross sell whenever possible

Take the opportunity to recommend other products to visitors which they might not have considered before. But be careful. Don’t make your recommendations look too much like advertisements. Web users have become very adapt at blocking out banner ads.