Rules for E-Commerce Startups to Live By, Part 2: What Not to Do

While many companies are focused on their business online, they tend to put up sites that turn off rather than turn on potential customers. Because there are so many potential options, a business needs to be careful about how it designs its e-commerce site.

Part 1 of this two-part series features tips from e-commerce experts on how to entice consumers to purchase products online. What follows is a handful of suggestions on what a company should avoid doing if it wants a visitor to purchase an item rather than navigate away from its e-commerce site.

No 1: Do Not Make It Difficult for Consumers to Find Your Products

A visitor can’t purchase what he can’t find, so a company has to make sure that its products are easy to identify. “About 50 percent of users hit the back button as soon as they arrive at a Web site,” Eric J. Hansen, president of SiteSpect, told the E-Commerce Times. That’s because the content that the user expected to find was not on display. In some cases, such as with cell phones, companies have so many products that it can be difficult for the customer to pinpoint the desired item.

Search is the No. 1 method used to find products, so companies need to pay attention to the keywords consumers are relying on to reach their sites. Rather than have all clients enter at a company’s main page, it is better to show users specific items that would be of the most interest to them. So, a company has to determine where the user is coming from and then build landing pages for various types of users. Also, best sellers, featured products and new release sections help to highlight specific products.

No. 2: Do Not Forget About Customer Support

The more help offered to users in navigating the site, the more likely it is that they will make a purchase. Unfortunately, many sites list all of their various products and then expect the customer to sort though the data and find the desired items.

A company needs to have a frequently asked questions section to help the users better understand the product. An e-commerce vendor also must offer easy telephone support and live chat.

No. 3: Don’t Disregard the Customer at Checkout

The checkout process can represent a difficult balancing act. A company needs to collect enough information so it can complete the transaction, but it needs to do that in manner that will not turn the user off. Many firms now have complicated, confusing checkout processes, which result in losing customers at a staggering rate.

“A lot of customers are turned off by how many pages they have to fill out during the checkout process,” Gene Alvarez, research vice president at market research firm Gartner, told the E-Commerce Times. A customer may have to fill out three different pages to place an order.

Companies are now experimenting with “easy checkout” pages, which condense this information onto one page. In addition, these systems cut down on the number of steps users have to walk through. For instance, if a user fills in a city name, the system will automatically fill in the ZIP code. While the systems can be time-savers, they also present different interfaces from those that users are familiar with so time is needed for them to become comfortable with them.

No. 4: Do Not Have Unwelcome Surprises for Customers at Checkout

It can be very frustrating for customers who want a product to invest their time and energy in getting to the payment stage of the checkout process only to find out that the site does not accept their favored payment type.

In some instances, customers discover that a Web site will not accept American Express or Discover. Increasingly, many online buyers want electronic payment options, such as PayPal. A company needs to accept as many payment options as possible as well as provide an image of the different payment types somewhere on the main page, so users know which options are available prior to checkout.

Shipping charges can be another unpleasant change. “The customer does not want to get to the end of the checkout process and then discover that the shipping charges are much more than anticipated,” Patti Freeman Evans, senior analyst at market research firm JupiterResearch, told the E-Commerce Times. Companies need to note the shipping charges at the beginning of the process if possible.

No. 5: Don’t Abandon the Customer After a Visit

A conversion rate of 5 percent means that 95 percent of a company’s visitors are lost — sometimes forever. “Most people research products online prior to making a sale, so e-commerce companies need to maintain contact with them,” said Gartner’s Alvarez. They can do this via a newsletter, a free e-book or audio file, or easy-to-access sales support to answer questions.

Companies are trying hard to get their e-commerce sites up and running, but that is not enough to ensure maximum sales. Corporations need to avoid these pratfalls, in order to make it more likely that their e-commerce Web site will be a success with repeat visitors making numerous purchases.

Rules for E-Commerce Startups to Live By, Part 1: How to Increase Sales

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