E-commerce is a very interesting industry; on the one hand it’s fiercely competitive but on the other, it’s still in its developing stages, with rather abrupt shifts in trends and best practices. These changes are largely dictated by e-commerce platform developers like Magento and Shopify, who improve on or release new platform versions, or giants like Google who, with a single unresponsive website demotion, have turned mobile into a must.
The actual designers and developers have a lot less influence, unless they’re working as a collective but that takes a lot of time and effort. Still, their techniques and skill are no less important or less impactful, which is why ignoring basic, common-sense, best practices can quickly bury any store into oblivion. Let’s look at five crucial store features that are still being grossly neglected.
1. Rubbish Checkout Process
The fact that a fast and easy checkout process is the basis on which any e-commerce store is built should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever ordered something online. Nobody wants to complete five cumbersome forms that ask for everything from your credit card number to your blood type, deal with obnoxious captcha codes that you simply can’t read and other such delights.
A lot has been said over the years about effective checkout pages and statistics showing that a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversion; there's also an in-depth analysis going as far back as 2012. These should have scared some sense into both shop owners and e-commerce designers. Yet here we are, three years later and in not much better shape, with a whopping 68.53% average cart abandonment rate. But why?
Surely, we’ve gotten the message and no longer ask for the same information twice or check newsletter subscriptions by default, right? Partially. While there are plenty who still try to forcefully interrogate their customers and try to acquire a free pass at spamming them, most decent e-commerce websites will have learned by now. What we’ve also developed in the meanwhile is a whole new bag of spammy and redundant tricks we plaster all over online stores, including on checkout pages.
When it comes to checkout pages, simple and efficient are the only two things you should be going for. Simple is the very basic information you need to seal the deal (name, shipping and billing address, payment method and delivery options). The efficiency of an e-commerce checkout page is not measured by how good it is at making upsells but by how easy and fast it allows your customers to place the order.
2. Pushy Marketing Tactics
Since we were on the topic of upsells, it’s important to mention that it’s not just the checkout pages that suffer from an upsell overload, it’s entire websites as well. The competition between e-commerce sellers is so tough that store owners get wrapped up in keeping up with each other’s promotions, features and website bling that the content itself is quickly getting buried under piles of daily deals, free gift options, shipping promos, freebies, etc.
The issue here isn’t running the promotions themselves, albeit toning down on some might actually get your audience more focused and actually purchasing; the trouble is that you’ll see most of these offers reiterated on almost every page within the store. If I don’t care for your free sample promo on your homepage, the flashing banner reminding me of it on the category page won’t make me love it more and the pop-up on the product page is going to properly irritate me.
If you’re running several promos at the same time and you anticipate having to rotate or refresh them often try segmenting and targeting them. Think about the places within the website where displaying them won’t be irritating but instead will help your potential customer find or decide on a product.
Your homepage should provide an overview of the most exciting promotions you’re running, the menu pages should contain only the few promos relevant to said categories while product pages should feature only the promos relevant to that particular product.
It’s important to always show consideration towards returning customers and, instead of adding five slides to an already overcrowded nine image slider, consider what you can first remove and what you can refresh. Google Analytics reports will help you understand which slides have been the most effective, while heat maps will show you what people are clicking on, giving you a much clearer idea of what’s working and what’s not.
Banners and ads shouldn’t be left to fester for months on websites. Even if your promos stay the same, which isn’t entirely a good idea anyway, think about refreshing the creative every few weeks. That way, your store is much more dynamic, your odds of engaging returning visitors increase substantially, while giving you a lot of room to test.
3. Extremophile Product Pages
The product page is the heart of an e-commerce site. It’s where the customer gets to know the product, understands its value and decides he needs it, a process which for the seller translates into money. Many stores, however take a very counter-intuitive approach to developing product pages, either leaving them baren, containing no more than a pixelated thumbnail or pour everything but the kitchen sink on top of it.
A well-built product pages focuses the customer’s attention on the product through high-quality images, brief yet accurate product descriptions and complete list of features, building either on an existing or perceived need to experience the value of owning the product. Considering all this, there aren’t many features a product page needs in order to be valuable – effective descriptions, great images, list of features and an add to cart button.
Product descriptions function as a virtual shop assistant, drawing attention to the product features, values and the problems they solve, making them a very important element in the decision to purchase. They work in conjunction with images to enforce the value of the product features, creating a visual connection between product and customer, much like you would experience when looking through a shop window. All these elements have to work in perfect harmony for one simple purpose – pressing the add to cart button. Too much and you’ll overpower the page and the message gets lost, too spartan and you’re not actually communicating anything.
4. Outdated Technologies
As I’ve mentioned before, loading times are a huge problem because we no longer live in an age of nerve wracking dial-up connections and we simply don’t have the patience to twiddle our thumbs while a page takes its sweet time to load. If it takes more than a second, most of us bail. And why not? Not a lot of sellers offer you such an exceptionally immersive experience that you’re willing to trade your time for what’s on the other side of the loading screen.
One of the most aggravating features that’s still sadly floating around is the background music and other sounds. I don’t care that you’re playing nature sounds or are trying to make me feel like I’m in the middle of a relaxing zen garden. Most of us don’t browse the Internet in complete silence and these things are loud. Very loud. So loud that instead of getting what you were looking for in the first place, you’re scrambling to find a way to turn it off.
On the same spot in the list of offenders is the pop-up. It’s been around for ages and it’s one of the biggest disruptors in terms of browsing experience, so much so that 70% of Americans say they get annoyed by irrelevant pop-up ads. It doesn’t matter what they’re about, they imply an interruption in the acquisition process that has brought the user to the website. Whatever it is that you’re trying to advertise, sell or ask for can be included in the web page and not flashed in front of your users like a Las Vegas casino sign.
5. Bad User Experience
Every single business owner in the world wants an e-commerce store that sells, but very few of them are prepared to abandon their own ideas and preconceptions in favor of their users’ needs. Unfortunately, bad user experience is often a result of client requests based on nothing more than personal choices and designers or agencies incapable of saying “no.”
Bad user experience can consist of anything from confusing navigation, broken links, superficial content, low-quality or missing images to non-existing contrast and the list could go on and on. It’s probably easier to define good user experience rather than try to point out the dont’s.
From a non-technical perspective, good user experience is the essential link between the customer’s needs, the product viewed through the brand’s own filter, which allows the customer to easily find the product, understand it, remotely experience it and ultimately purchase it; all in a single, uninterrupted flow.
The e-commerce industry is one of the fastest changing ones but because of this dizzying pace, it’s easy to get left behind and end up with an ineffective website or worse, a brand new one with poor features and technology that will ultimately negatively impact your sales.
What’s the worst online store feature that’s still annoying you today?
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