When good shopping sites go bad

Paul Boag

I have just finished reading a fascinating article on the BBC web site about the growth of ecommerce. This comes on the sameday that I have watched one of my clients fail to grasp some of the basics of ecommerce.

Today the BBC posted an article saying that since February there has been a 4.2% decline in high street sales while in the same period e-retail has tripled. Apparently 22 million consumers bought goods online in April, spending £1.4bn between them.

Although this is hugely encouraging news for web designers like myself and goes someway to explaining the massive surge we have seen in our sector over the last few months, it doesnt necessarily mean you are on to a sure thing when it comes to selling online.

The reality of ecommerce

Even if you manage to overcome all of the classic problems of ecommerce such as fufillment it is still all too easy to undermine a successful ecommerce site.

Take for example a client we are currently working with. We have had an excellent working relationship with this client and have developed them a hugely successful ecommerce site that has become a major contributor in the success of their business. However today I received a list of changes they are proposing that threaten to undermine the success of their site.

Here are just two of the suggestions they have proposed for the site:

Marketing over functionality

They have proposed removing the search box, telephone number and shopping basket link from the header of the site and replacing it with their corporate strapline. This is a classic example of the kinds of mistakes a marketing manager would make. So often they see a site as a brochure promoting their company rather than a shop front that actively sells their products. By removing key functionality they are simply making it harder for their customers to buy. Why?

The four biggest concerns in ecommerce

Another proposal they are making is to remove some of the clutter from the page. What is wrong with that I hear you ask? Well they propose doing this by removing help on issues like returns policy, privacy and security. This is invaluable information that addresses the 4 biggest concerns users have when purchasing from an ecommerce site:

  • Can I return my purchase if I am unhappy with it?
  • Are there any hidden delivery charges?
  • If I provide you with my credit card details how do I know they are safe?
  • How do I know you aren’t going to use my email address to send me SPAM?

I am sure you can think of more but in my opinion these are the big four.

It is so important to carefully consider what changes you make to your site. Even if you believe you are improving things you can easily undermine what success you are currently having. So what will I be saying to my client? The answer is simple, try it and test it. Before making these kinds of major design changes to your web site create a prototype and test it on a sample audience. See what response you get. This is by far the best way to ensure any changes you make are the right ones.