Top 10 Blunders in eCommerce Design

So you have built a decent looking eCommerce website, pumped up the marketing spend and you are getting good amount of visitors on the site. However, you are facing a problem that most of the newer online retailers face initially – your conversion rate is extremely low. You are baffled why majority of the visitors are not purchasing anything on the site and you ask your head of marketing to look for the answers. Although having a good marketing plan and execution is necessary in bringing visitors to your site, a lot of times, the answer lies within how your website is designed. Here are the top 10 blunders in eCommerce design that can cause the conversion rate to go south –

Blunder #10: No “About Us” page or privacy policy

Educated consumers look for certain things on a site they might do business with. Are there privacy polices? Do they have a return or exchange policy? How about shipping costs and timelines, are they posted? Are there any real sounding testimonials and pictures of the warehouse or sellers that let me get an idea that this company is for real, especially when dealing with newer online only retailers? Although it is reasonable to assume that most people don’t read such things as the policies and the like. But the fact that they are there builds confidence in the customer, that yours is a serious business.

Blunder #9: Where is the price?

Nothing irritates a visitor more than to read all the excellent product description and sales copy, only to read it all and still have to ask the most important question… how much is it ? To have to literally hunt around to find out how much a product costs is beyond reasonable. Few days ago, I spent more than five minutes on a website looking at a nice pair of running shoes but I couldn’t find the price, anywhere. It took me a while to figure out that I had to first select a specific color and size combination, before the price would appear on the page. Although from a web designer perspective, this may be considered a good “feature”, it will only take a genius to figure out that they have to click 3 different buttons before the price will magically appear on site. Most visitors do not have patience for this and there reaction to this kind of design would be same as mine… Forget you!

Blunder #8: Here are some product recommendations…Ooops! They are out of stock.

A lot of websites invest in building offline statistical modeling algorithms to offer product recommendations on the site. You have probably seen these kinds of recommendations on websites such as Amazon – “Customers who purchased this item were also interested in….”. Some of the online retailers have mastered this technique and have built extremely dynamic recommendation engines – however, a lot of times I have clicked on recommendations for products, only to find out that these products are out of stock. These sites should certainly get credit for building such sophisticated recommendations engines – but to make visitors go through the extra effort of clicking on recommendations, only to find out that they are of out of stock is worse user experience than not having product recommendations to begin with.

Blunder #7: Zero search results

It is hard enough to get visitors to the website, then why should we turn them away by just showing them a zero search results page when they are trying to find something? If a visitor searches for something, the website should work really hard to find products or categories even if there is no exact match. Even if you don’t sell that specific item, and if you can’t find any products that are even remotely related to the keyword customer is searching for, you should atleast show the top selling items on the website. Imagine walking into a physical store and the sales agent sends you out of the store by saying we don’t sell the product you are looking for. Instead, a much better experience will be if the sales agent engages you by talking about all the promotions as well as the hot products that the store does sell.

Blunder #6: Design for the 20%

The more complex an online business gets, there is a greater tendency for the business managers to make the user experience reflect this complexity. A great user experience is one that makes all this complexity transparent from the visitors and offers something that is simple and compelling. recently redesigned their website and although they have one of the most complex businesses, the user experience on the site is extremely simple. The mistake most online retailers make is that they don’t consider the 80-20 rule and design the website to account for all exceptional cases. Now I am not suggesting that the website shouldn’t account for all the conditions, however, the primary search, browse and checkout flow should be catered to the 80% visitors who need to make a simple 1 or 2 items purchase. The thumb rule that I use is that if it is taking more than 4 clicks for 80% of the visitors to get from the category/ search page to checkout completion, then there is an opportunity to improve the user experience.

Blunder #5: Weak Security

Few weeks ago, I completed registration on a car rental website because I was eligible for their premier program. The site had all kinds of messages and disclaimers about how they valued their customer’s security. Feeling good about it, I completed the registration form, however all my confidence in that website disappeared when I saw the final thank you page. It said “Thank you for registering, please note your user ID and password for your records”. There it was – my password in pure plain text staring at me, on a non secure thank you page! I didn’t know what was worse, showing my password in plain text so that others standing next to me can also note it down or showing my password on a non secure page! Either way, I decided to switch my car rental company. In today’s world, customers are more educated than ever and they pay attention to details related to how secure a website is. If they don’t see that little “lock” on the bottom of their browser, or if they get a warning that they are providing information on a non secure page, it is enough of a warning sign for them to abandon their transaction.

Blunder #4: Excessive Mandatory Fields

I hate it when web sites force you to enter information about yourself that has nothing to do with placing an order whatsoever. Now I am a strong proponent of understanding the customers, and collecting as much relevant information about them as possible – however, there is always a right way and the right place to ask for this kind of information. Throwing a full page registration form in the middle of checkout process with irrelevant mandatory fields is like adding speed bumps to a 60mph highway – it will slow visitors down in completing the checkout process, if not completely frustrate them and make them abandon the checkout process altogether. A common example of a mandatory field that I have seen is a Fax number, I don’t know about you, but an average person doesn’t have a Fax machine sitting on their desk, so having a mandatory field for that is pointless. Yet another I have seen, date of birth…. come on now, how much personal information do I have to give up here to place an order with you? I just want to order a toaster, not hand you more personal data than I would give a first date!

Blunder #3: Clearing all the fields in case of an error

I am sure most of us have experienced it at least once – you spend 5 minutes to fill out an online form but fail to fill one field on the form correctly. You hit submit, and voila – you lose all the data you just entered, and there is a blank form along with an error message about that one field staring at you. I find it hard to understand why can’t these applications “remember” what we just typed and avoid the visitors from the hassle of retyping every thing again?? Servers have memory for a reason – lets use that memory to minimize the amount of rework we ask our customers to do on the website. The more we make visitors work on the website, the quicker they will leave and not come back again.

Blunder #2: Forcing customers to create an account before they can add items to cart

In the hope to register as many users as possible, some sites ask you to sign in or register as soon as you add something to the cart. For you to even see what’s in your cart, along with the total price, you must sign in or register. In my previous job, we did a lot of shopping cart abandonment analysis – and one thing we found consistently was that customers like to see transparency in the order amount and shipping charges as soon as they add something to the cart. The more speed bumps you throw at them, its more likely they will abandon their cart. Forcing visitors to login before they have decided to begin the checkout process is a definite way to increase shopping cart abandonment and reduce the conversion. If these customers walk into a physical store, they can just give cash and leave. Let’s give these customers as close to this experience as possible on the website too.

Blunder #1: Only supports Internet Explorer

Today, web browsers other than IE (read – Firefox) are gaining significant popularity and account for more than 10% (in some cases, more than 20%) visitors to the site. Yet, there are a large number of websites that have only been built and tested for IE. Even basic functions such as Search or Add to cart do not work on Firefox in some of these sites. These sites are literally turning away about 10 to 20% of visitors every day. This is probably one of the lowest hanging fruits and the online retailers must ensure that there is dedicated browser testing effort as part of every new release.

We are living in times when consumers have more and more choices for online shopping and they are looking for quick, reliable and simple shopping experience. Good experience is not just a nice to have any more, it has become the cost of entry for online retailers – successful retailers will be ones who recognize this and focus on building their entire experience around what matters the most – our customers.

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