by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

8 keys to ecommerce success

Sep 07, 2016
E-commerce SoftwareInternetIT Governance

Ecommerce business owners and experts discuss how you can make your online store stand out from the crowd.

These days, anyone with something to sell, some money and some time can set up shop online. However, building an ecommerce site “is not like the Field of Dreams,” says Danielle Savin, director of digital strategy and digital marketing at LYONSCG, an ecommerce/digital agency. “Just because you build it does not mean that anyone will [come] to your web store.”

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If you want online shoppers to buy from you, you need to have not just great products, you need people to be able to find you and to make your store a place where people will want to shop, repeatedly. How can you do that? Here are 8 suggestions from ecommerce pros.

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1. Your ecommerce site should look good – and function properly – across platforms and devices, especially mobile devices. When designing your ecommerce site, make sure it can be viewed on whichever platform, browser and device your customers are using. Mobile optimization – how quickly your site will load on a mobile device and how text and images will look on a small screen – is particularly important as more consumers are using smartphones to research, browse and purchase items.

“Creating a seamless user experience across all platforms is vital for any ecommerce business,” says Arthur Thompson, director of storefront engineering, Wayfair. “Mobile optimization, in particular, is essential. Whenever possible, go above and beyond simply tailoring the desktop interface to mobile by embracing unique mobile features that can enhance the experience, [such as] real-time sale notifications and seamless checkout solutions [such as] Apple Pay and Android Pay.”

2. Your ecommerce site should feel credible and trustworthy. “Be sure to have an SSL certificate and serve up your pages via https,” says Marc Nashaat, digital PR manager, Powered by Search. “As an ecommerce site this is absolutely critical. Google will be unlikely to rank transaction-oriented sites that do not secure the transmission of private or financial information. More importantly your customers will be less likely to trust you or the safety of their credit card information.” 

[ Related: 10 ways multichannel companies can build trust with customers ]

“Clearly display what steps you take to protect your customers from theft and fraud,” says Alex Drysdale, founder & CEO, Crik Nutrition, the makers of a cricket-based protein powder. “Have a valid SSL certificate so your site displays https. Have a recognizable third-party security company, such as McAfee, scan your site and display their mark.  An easy-to-understand guarantee and returns policy [also] go a long way [toward] reassuring potential buyers to take the leap.”

3. Your ecommerce site should be easy to navigate, so visitors can find what they’re looking for with minimal clicks. The fastest way to lose a potential customer? Make it difficult for her to find what she’s looking for. Therefore it’s critical that ecommerce businesses make products easy to find, by having clear top-level navigation (menus) with product categories clearly labeled and pop out subcategories.

“Strong search functionality is [also] essential,” says Darren Hill, cofounder & CEO, WebLinc, a commerce and operations management platform. “It’s been estimated that up to 30 percent of visitors [to ecommerce sites] utilize site search. Search users can convert at 50 to 80 percent higher rates than non-search users. But if site visitors don’t find the products they’re looking for, they’ll hit the back button and visit your competitor’s site. [So] when designing your site, [include an] easily visible [search box], so shoppers [can] quickly find what they need.”

4. Your ecommerce site should have great original photos and helpful product descriptions. “One of the biggest mistakes I see looking through hundreds of [ecommerce sites] a day is homogeneity of experience – the same stock images and the same stock descriptions used on store after store in the same niche,” says Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of Intellifluence, an influencer marketing service for ecommerce stores.

“Not only is Google not going to provide a ranking benefit for duplicated content, a consumer that is shopping around is going to think you’re all the same and make a decision solely on price,” he says. Instead, “go the extra yard to differentiate: create videos of your products, take custom photos and write descriptions as though an actual human is reading them instead of a robot.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” says BJ Nickol, cofounder & president, All American Clothing Co. “People are very visual and will often form an opinion about your business and/or products within seconds of seeing your site. If you want to give people a good first impression and improve your conversions you need to have great imagery.”

“High quality, professional photos are a must for increasing conversions,” says Drysdale. “Customers want real pictures of your actual product. If you’re selling someone else’s products it’s worth it to take your own pictures and add something different to them that helps you stand out from the competition.” 

5. Your ecommerce site should feature customer reviews – and make it easy for customers to leave reviews. “Customers trust fellow customers much more than they trust retailers or brands trying to sell them something,” says Faraz Mohammed, director of advanced technology solutions, R&D, at Nisum, a digital services and consulting company. “Fortunately, ecommerce sites can make the most of digital word of mouth by [providing] online reviews and responding accordingly.”

“Having product reviews drives traffic and conversion, [by] up to 44 percent,” says Erik Skurka, vice president of Product at PowerReviews. “Shoppers expect unbiased and informative reviews from fellow shoppers to help drive their purchase decisions. Make sure those star ratings snippets are on your category pages, and above the fold on product detail pages to help drive visibility.”

[ Related: 5 ways ecommerce businesses can improve customer service ]

6. Your ecommerce site should provide excellent customer service (and not just on the site). “When you launch an ecommerce [site], you immediately have a 24×7 global business,” says Alan Berkson, director of Community Outreach, Freshdesk, a customer support software company. And “your customers will require pre-sale and [post-sale] customer service from you. A critical success factor is setting and managing the expectations for the availability and speed of your responses… and being prepared to track, manage [and respond to] all inquiries [in a timely fashion].”

“Focusing on your customers and making sure their expectations are consistently met is critical to your website’s success,” says Buffy Simoni, president, Paper Mart.  “For Paper Mart, that includes being available to our customers through whichever channel they prefer. [Whether] it’s though our call center, chat, email or our social media channels, everyone gets the same great service and attention.” Something not just Paper Mart but all good ecommerce companies do.

“One essential tool that we use constantly is a chat box,” says Rob Boirun, CEO, “Once we added this to our ecommerce store we saw a 245 percent increase in sales. What we offer typically needs customization, and by offering an easy entryway to start communication when the customer is needing it, we are now able to provide the expected customer service in real time. [Live chat is] becoming more popular these days and I would suggest that this is a required component going forward.”

7. Checkout should be fast and easy. “The more steps it takes for customers to pay, the greater the chance they’ll drop out,” says Sajal Agarwal, chief innovation officer, Ingenico ePayments. “Ecommerce sites should offer a range of solutions to help speed up payments, from one-page checkouts to recurring purchases and the ability to save card details.”

“Shoppers don’t always want to create an account, but many ecommerce systems still require consumers to register for one before purchasing,” says Craig Smith, founder & CEO, Trinity Insight, an ecommerce consulting and optimization company. To ensure shopping carts aren’t abandoned, “ecommerce businesses should [also] have a guest checkout option.”

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8. Your ecommerce site – and team – should be social. You may have a fabulous site, but if no one knows about, or is talking about it, it doesn’t matter. That’s why you need to promote your ecommerce business – and get others to promote it – on the popular social networks (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest).

“[We are on] all the social media platforms where customers could possibly connect to us,” says Daisy Jing, founder & CEO, Banish, a skin care solution company. “[And] we reply [to and] assist them and constantly post [content] to connect with our customers [and] followers [on social media]. We also use these platforms to advertise [and] connect with the influencers [on] each platform to gain more exposure/potential buyers.” As a result, Banish has attracted many loyal followers.