No ecommerce site is perfect, especially when it first goes live. Even if you choose a seemingly straightforward or turnkey ecommerce solution, problems are bound to occur. And while it's hard to predict problems, there are certain common ecommerce problems, say the experts, which can be prevented -- or fixed relatively easily.
Here are 11 of the most common ecommerce mistakes -- and how to avoid or fix them.
Mistake No. 1: Choosing the wrong ecommerce shopping cart. Before choosing an ecommerce platform or shopping cart, do your research. "Don't just pick the first cart that you think will suffice," says Amad Ebrahimi, founder, Merchant Maverick, a comparison site that reviews and rates credit card processors, POS software companies, shopping carts and mobile payments services. "Think about your functionality needs, feature requirements, integration requirements, budget, need for customizability and design/theme needs."
Also, ask yourself: "Is the cart easy enough for you to use without having to go through a big learning curve? How is the customer support team? Read some customer reviews to see what others are saying," he advises. Then "take the cart for a spin. Most ecommerce platforms offer free trials, so be sure to take advantage of them," he says. "I've worked on several client sites, and it usually isn't until we get to the free trial or demo that we realize the cart may or may not be a good fit."
Mistake No. 2: Not making sure your site is secure. "Studies show that up to 25 percent of users have actually stopped an online purchase because of website security concerns," says Flavio Martins, vice president of Operations, DigiCert, an SSL digital certificate authority. Yet "too many ecommerce sites, especially smaller ones, fall short of having clear trust indicators that users can trust and know that their information is secure and protected by HTTPS," he says. "A digital certificate provides authenticity of your website and an encrypted connection to protect sensitive data -- and you can get one quickly and within budget." It also "communicates to customers that your site is trusted and information is secure."
Similarly, "demand security from third party providers," he says. "Many ecommerce vendors outsource Web hosting, IT support and Web security tasks to consultants. But too often merchants don't demand strong security from their outside service providers," he notes. "Some significant hacks have come directly from stolen third-party logins or through third-party service." So "when picking a service provider, companies should demand strong security best practices, preferably verified through industry certifications and always ensuring that their service providers secure their own data with https."
Mistake No. 3: Unintuitive or cumbersome site navigation. "Customers will leave your site if they can't find what they want [quickly]," states Dan Hutmacher, senior digital consultant, Lyons Consulting Group, a digital agency. So be sure to make navigation -- menus -- intuitive, minimizing the number of clicks it requires for customers to find what they are looking for.
To improve navigation, review your analytics to see "where your customers are dropping off and then optimize [your ecommerce site] accordingly."
Mistake No. 4: Bad or no search capability. "Customers who use on-site search to find products are more than three times more likely to convert than customers who don't," says Andy Eades, ecommerce consultant, Elevate Web, a provider of website design and SEO. "So it's important to make sure that customers get relevant results and quickly. Many out-of-the-box systems perform poorly on search, so speak with your developers about how you can make tweaks to your existing system, or look into more advanced solutions such as solr or sphinx," he advises. "There are plugins available to integrate these search solutions into many of the most popular shopping carts at a relatively low cost."
Mistake No. 5: Poor images/photography. "When people are buying online, since they're giving up the tactile ability to pick up and hold a product and inspect it, [you need to have] great product photos," says Rick Wilson, president, Miva Merchant, a provider of ecommerce software and hosting. "It's important to show multiple angles, and if the options change the appearance, such as the color, multiple options. Also make sure the photo is big enough to zoom in on, especially with a smartphone."
Mistake No. 6: Using stock product descriptions. "The biggest mistake that ecommerce retailers make is to copy the manufacturers descriptions for the products they stock," says Mat Durham, director, Skyblu Web Design. When you do that, it makes it difficult to differentiate yourself from the competition, especially to search engines. "The solution is simple," though, he continues: "write your own product descriptions, at least for your major lines, or employ a good freelance copywriter to do it."
"Not only do product descriptions add content to your site, they're a way for customers to experience your product online too," adds Ashley Orndorff, director of Marketing for ParadoxLabs, a Web development company. "A customer cannot pick up your product and examine it on your site the same way they could in-store, a robust product description (with accompanying images) allows customers to experience and familiarize themselves with your products," she explains. "Your descriptions don't need to be as short as a tweet or as long as a novel, they just need to be descriptive. Engaging, informative product descriptions show your customers how your product will solve their problem and why it's so great."
Mistake No. 7: Having a confusing or lengthy checkout process. "Asking customers for unnecessary information and poor checkout design can result in increased abandonment rates and therefore lower conversions," states Eades. So "make sure that you remove any fields not necessary for the checkout process."
"Make it easy for the customer to check out and don't complicate the process," adds Alexa D'Agostino, CEO, Black Rhino Solutions, a provider of marketing and Web design solutions. "Websites that have multiple checkout pages give people more reasons to click out and not finish the transaction," she explains. "If it's more difficult to pay for the items than find the item you've done something wrong." The fix: "Use a one page jQuery checkout that easily allows you to go through the different steps of account creation/guest checkout, shipping, billing and credit card information all on one page."
Mistake No. 8: Having only one shipping option and/or carrier. "One of the biggest mistakes we see from ecommerce businesses is relying on just one carrier to fulfill all their shipping needs," says Amine Khechfe, general manager and cofounder, Endicia, which provides ecommerce shipping solutions. "In actuality, each carrier provides unique perks. For example, I often tell business that if they're not using the U.S. Postal Service, they're leaving money on the table. That's because the USPS offers the most affordable rates for packages weighing less than 5 pounds. And with the new Priority Mail price decrease happening in September, ecommerce businesses have yet another affordable option for their 5 to 15 pound shipments."
Similarly, because customers have come to expect two-day or overnight shipping, it's important for ecommerce businesses to offer multiple shipping options.
Mistake No. 9: Not having a mobile or mobile optimized version of your ecommerce site. "It is a huge mistake to forget about mobile commerce when building an ecommerce business," says Chris Belew, CEO, Apptive, a mobile commerce provider. "Statistics show that more and more people are doing their research and shopping on mobile devices. In fact, 57 percent of consumers will not recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site," he states. "Similarly, 40 percent of consumers will go to a competitor's site after a bad mobile experience." So if you want people to buy from you, "don't forget mobile!"
"I often see that businesses have not set up an ecommerce solution that is mobile optimized," adds Rahul Razdan, CEO, Ocoos.com, a comprehensive digital platform for small business owners and entrepreneurs. "It's a huge mistake because Web traffic is rapidly moving to the mobile platform. In fact, search engines such as Google penalize websites in search ranking if they are not mobile optimized," he says. Moreover, "it's important to understand that mobile optimized does not mean 'my laptop version looks ok on the phone.' Rather, it is a well thought out plan that develops a flow for the mobile platform."
Mistake No. 10: Not making content easily shareable on social media, especially on Pinterest. Too many companies "underestimate the social share button," says Apu Gupta, CEO, Curalate, a marketing and analytics suite for the visual Web. "Thirty-three percent of the top 100 [Internet] retailers Curalate surveyed have yet to install Pin It buttons on product pages -- [thereby] missing out on a significant opportunity to drive referral traffic back to [their] website," he notes.
"Maximizing your presence on the visual Web starts with social sharing. By making images on your website more pinnable, and by then optimizing the size and placement of share icons, you can ultimately drive awareness, aspiration and sales," he explains. "BuzzFeed, for instance, increased pinning by 10 times after enlarging the Pin It button on share bars and overlaying the icon on individual images."
Mistake No. 11: Making it hard to contact you, the seller. "Customers shopping online want to know they're not going to be left holding the bag if they need help," says Wilson. "The easiest (and free) way to do that is [to include] a phone number on your website in the header or footer." Also, make sure to provide an easy-to-find email address for customer service -- and that someone is checking and responding to email regularly.