Top 100 - The Dos and Don'ts of E-Commerce

There has been some very interesting discussion over at Webmaster World regarding the top 100 dos and don'ts in e-commerce. The list has many interesting tips and common sense advice for any business operating an e-commerce website. While not all the points may apply to your business this list is an excellent 'checklist' for any website - guaranteed there's something we can all take away and use - so thanks to all the members at Webmaster World.

1. Never leave unanswered emails for more than 48 hours, or your customer is gone.

Answer your mail within 10 to 30 minutes, they will always reply like Thanks for Your Quick Answer and will always remember and talk about your great service.

2. Let the customer see the shipping charge without registering!

Preferably on the basket or an easy-to-find 'shipping charges' page.

3. Make sure your forms use common names for fields so that they're recognized by toolbars that have an auto fill function.

4. Sites (mainly US!) that have address or phone fields that assume only a US citizen is going to purchase e.g. State fields that only allow a few characters entry.

If you're happy taking money from non-US purchasers, you MUST go to a tiny bit of effort to accept their address and telephone numbers painlessly! Got it? It's not rocket science!

5. If you've got a country drop-down box, please list it in alphabetical order, and don't put United States at the top!

Of course, you can pre-select United States, but it's kinda annoying for people in the United Kingdom who expect to find their country as the next item in the list!

6. Don't just accept payment through Paypal.

Many people have had bad experiences with PayPal and prefer to use alternative, simpler payment methods.
List the payment methods you accept somewhere noticeable. If you have a high rate of shopping cart abandonment, perhaps it is because the customer had to add something to their cart and go partway through the checkout process to find out what payment methods you accept. Then abandoned your site when they discovered it was not a payment method they wanted to use.

7. Make your site incredibly easy to buy from - no registration if possible, live chat, 800 # - make it friendly and easy to buy from.

8. Take a picture of your office and add it to your contact us page with your company FAX number on it.

9. Don't bury your products in several pages of clickthroughs;

implement a working search mechanism so the user can get to what they seek in two clicks, three maximum. Insure there are redundant methods of getting around and no point on your site is more than two clicks away . . . from ANYWHERE.

10. Keep your initial products pages light and clean, with links to product details if they actually want to read.

11. Build your site for the end user, not the search engines.

This means leave off all the serp-y text on the initial products pages.

12. Give the user a sense of who you are.

The web is a cold, anonymous place. Anything you can do to bring a sense of personality and assurance to your website will help.

13. If you use a site search, make sure it works better than expected.

It should search more than product names. Make sure it can find products by SKU, Model Number, and even misspellings if possible.

14. Be sure to include links to your privacy, shipping, returns & exchange policies right out where the customer can easily find them. Tell them the truth.

15. Keep the customer informed about the status of their order before they ask

16. Re: Navigation - Use the same visual theme for every action required of the customer

17. Re: Product options - Make them clear and comprehensive. Answer every possible question on the product detail page

18. Make sure your site search can also search by size and color. If I'm considering a green skirt or blue towels, make it easy to find other items that would match.

19. Don't use those standard drop down country forms containing places like North Korea or Bouvet Island (an inhabited speck in the South Atlantic). For heavens sake, don't list known scam destinations as a ship-to

20. Don't start huge lists like this that requires people to read every previous post thoroughly

21. If you only ship to USA (or wherever) say that right off and several times.

22. Drives me crazy when the "About Us" section says nothing specific about the seller and just has some obviously canned verbiage.

23. Mission Statements: Yuck! Luckily, they seem to be dying out. No one gives a damn, anyway.

24. Goes without saying that spelling must be perfect. On slow days, have employees proof read old pages.

25. Bragging about yourself is ok if you have something to brag about. Better not to mention things like "Since 2005" or "here's a picture of our new puppy."

26. If you're new to ecommerce NEVER mention that. Invitation to scammers to hit you.

27. Get a real 800# (or 888), not an 866 or such.

28. Get the most web un-savvy person you know to test your site

29. Customize product descriptions. Eschew text provided by suppliers that everyone else uses.

30. Listen to customers, invite their comments and criticism and act on what you learn

31. Answer emails in 8 hours max (certainly not 48)

32. Give street address but never "we're in Puppyland Center, between Tony's Pizza and the Shoe repair shop."

33. Show good sharp graphics. Learn to use basic photo editing software.

34. Worth saying again, and again. Make everything fast and simple. Do you really need a wish list or tell-a-friend or even customer registration? Don't just add to your site. Sometimes remove clutter.

35. Remove all non-essential navigation elements from the checkout process. Have a single page checkout if possible.

36. Calling your customer to thank them and confirm their order instills immediate trust.

37. Make entering credit card numbers easy.

When the customer is looking at their card and alternately typing on their keyboard, they don't like to look up and realize that they have only entered the first four numbers in field one.

Customers don't have time to read explanations about how you would like them to format the date. Make it easy and obvious.

If the customer has entered some incorrect information, please let them know this without them having to type in all their details again.

38. Install a really good stats system to track where your visitors bailed out of the purchasing process.

39. Pay good money for a proper interactive graphic designer (not a coder, web 'developer', or print designer doing a bit of moonlighting).

If your web site looks professional, people will trust it and buy stuff.

40. Accessibility and usability - those 5% of 'non-standard' user groups all add up.

They may only be 5% of your customer base, but Mac users also have spending power. Often proportionately more than your Windows customers.
Therefore, it may be worth having your site tested with this in mind.
Another 5-10% may be blind or partially sited. Having an accessible web site and checkout process is good for business.

41. Add your 800# to every step of the checkout process with something to the tune of "questions or problems completing your order, call 800#

42. Have a "best sellers" or "most popular" listing. The boost from this has been noticeable.

43. If your site ranks best in your niche, and If you sell something that is sold on many other websites (something drop shipped for you, for example), very slightly change the name -- Tarenta to Tarento, Classica to Classico, for example. This helps deter people price shopping for the 'product name' elsewhere and in the shopping engines.

44. List your prices for every item clearly and upfront. There's no space for a 'price on application' model online, none at all.

45. When using thumbnails to link to larger images give your customers larger images.

46. Pick the right product to sell. Something people actually want to buy. Preferably something lots of people want to buy.

47. If your target audience is concentrated in one country, host your website on a server and IP located in that country. It not only helps to load it fast for most of your audience, it also enhances Google rankings in that country specific Google, and prevents your site from being filtered out when people use the search filter for sites only from that country.

48. Promotional Offers:

I believe offers are v imp. Now they need to be planned for first timers, repeat buyers and special offers for top customers.

49. Referral Program:

Refer 2 friends and get x% additional/ discount always helps.

50. Actually have contact info - many sites hide their identity and location.

Try to put the contact number somewhere on every page, it instills confidence.

51. Keep the 3 P's above the fold on a product page. Product name, Price and Purchase link should all be visible without having to scroll.

52. Drop the "Create account" language. People don't come to our sites to create accounts; they come there to buy things.

I try to make the account creation process appear like the normal checkout process. If they enter an email that is already in the system, THEN I ask them to request their password to login.

53. Know your visitors - if significantly more people are first time buyers, don't hit them with a login screen with a small link to register to the site - reverse the process.

54. Keep your cart on your domain - if for nothing else, it keeps your reporting homogenous.

55. Don't use the "simple" methods of gateway processing where the visitor is redirected to the gateway site.

It seems that on almost every implementation of these setups, the webmaster fails to bring the most current site layout over to the gateway site and the visitor gets a completely new layout for cc errors.

56. Never tell the visitor to "Hit your 'back' button to correct". I haven't found a valid reason to do this yet - any issue should be able to be handled within the system.

57. Have a "Help" link very prominently displayed so they have somewhere to go if there is an issue.

58. For telephone purposes use a short and easy to spell domain name like … dot tld depending on locations or products use more than one, which redirect to a product or location page.

59. Get the credit card number first and ask questions later! It is better to deny a suspected fraudulent order in post processing, rather than have the computer automatically deny honest customers due to AVS or CVV issues.

60. If you show a picture of the product and next to it, a link that says 'enlarge' actually ENLARGE the photo rather than have it open in a new window exactly the same size as on the main page!

Amazon does this a lot and it drives me mad.

61. Ship fast. Preferably, the same day and you are sure to get mails for appreciation. I hold my widgets in stock and try to ship same day. The customer almost always comes back for more. I get many WOW mails. This is a sure TIP.

62. Have points of re-assurance near the buy/add to cart button (bbb, bizrate, other ratings)

63. use a proper SSL certificate

64. If using paid advertising, don't send them to your home page; send them to the relevant product page (or custom landing page) that is tied to the keyword you advertised!

65. If you sell software, allow immediate access to the full version and allow unlimited upgrades

66. Have a list of "recommended products" and "other customers also bought" with each item.

This can be simply done in your database where you just connect products together and base it on what customers have actually bought.

67. Have a newsletter sign up and send out newsletters.

68. Don't make the customer fill in the CC billing & shipping address fields when they're the same, drives me nuts!

69. Vat number & Company Registration Number should be visible on the site in the UK to comply with UK Companies Act (updated Jan 2007).

70. If the product ships via a carrier, send an email to the customer with the tracking number, with a link to the carrier to check status.

71. Use an XML Sitemap generator to create a sitemap to get a "big picture" of your site.

Submit it to Google et al. and they'll help you find dead pages, etc.

72. On category pages don't just list product names, but include some unique content about the category for indexing.

73. Use a product rating feed or create your own system (if you have a sizable user base).

A place for user-generated comments can be great, but it can also be a hassle (monitoring, lots of fake entries, etc).

74. If you sell the same object in different colours, offer them pictures of each colour.

Telling a customer that you "also do this in blue" isn't very helpful because there are about fifty billion shades of blue.

75. Use a larger font (14+) for titles and product names to make them stand out and possibly increase conversions

76. Stay away from dynamic URLs when possible

77. Sign up for Hackersafe, VeriSign and your related trade associations and display their logos to improve credibility

Privacy: TRUSTe Web Privacy Seal
Security: VeriSign Secured Seal
Return Policy: Return Policy Agreement Seal
Reliability: BBBOnline Reliability seal

78. Have a person answer the phone, not a recording.

79. If you cannot exceed the expectations created by your site-rewrite your copy. Under promise and over-deliver.

80. Hang in there with the difficult customers-they become the most loyal.

81. Know when a customer needs to be given to your competition.

82. Consistency. Everyone has a different flavor, color, even brand. Key is to be consistent --- have 1 text size and color for descriptions, one for links, one for category headers, perhaps another for main category links.

At least there's a tone or vibe that your site is a statement vs. a hodgepodge of stuff made by someone in their basement
Be serious about what you are doing, and people will be serious about considering buying from you

83. If you use sessions, store them in a database, don't append them to the URL, as people like the look of clean URL's and often snip them to mail to friends to refer them to a particular product to purchase.

84. On checkout gather a name and phone number as the first 2 fields, store them before proceeding and ring all the customers that drop out before completing the checkout.

(This alone turned a $1M business into a $5M business)

85. Make the font on your product copy readable. 12pt at least. NO funky fonts.

86. Make sure your buy button pops off the page and is big enough to be seen and clicked on.

87. Make sure the title tag on each product page is unique and reflects what is on the page.

(It never ceases to amaze me how many companies in this day and age still have just the company name in the title tag of product pages). Oh, a product name first in the title tag. Not your company name.

88. I was waiting for people to put in something. No one (keeping in mind it will be point #13). Rule # 13 = Superstition does not work well with Business
What you may feel unlucky may be lucky for customers ranging from keeping Price Tag, Products, Colors, Day / Time of Shipping etc.

89. Offer a strong guarantee. Don't just say this widget is guaranteed x days.

Try for something like this: Try this widget risk-free for 30 days -- if you don't see an improvement in widget results -- if this is not the best widget you have ever owned -- return it to us for a full refund. Sure, you'll get a few returns, but it will be nothing compared to the increase in sales you will get from a strong guarantee.
Only offer a really strong guarantee like that on really strong products. I have one company that it works excellent with (less than 1/10 of a percent returns) and another company that it did not work well with (5-10% returns). The difference was that the first company's products could not be misjudged or misused. The second company's products were much more subjective. A lot of user error - which we took the blame for.

90. Add "District of Columbia -DC" to the list of drop down states, you be surprised how many sites are missing it...

91. In addition, don't forget PR, GU, VI and all the other US commonwealth and protectorates that the Postal Service can ship to, at cheap postal rates.

92. Don't forget US Servicemen/women abroad. Include APO/FPO state codes.

You can use this only if you ship via the Postal Service. Otherwise, it would expensive.
Include the U.S. Postal Service (if you are a U.S.-based company) in your shipping options. FedEx/UPS/etc. cannot deliver to APO/FPO addresses. It's not just U.S. servicemen/women, but also their families, government workers, and military contractors. It represents a HUGE market, and it (almost always) costs the exact same amount to mail a package overseas to an APO/FPO address as it does to mail the same package across town.

93. Add a 360-degree product view before the rest of the pack.

94. Play with the wording of your add-to-cart buttons. "Add to cart" is a nice non-threatening way to encourage adding items as some feel "order" or "buy" is too much of a commitment.

95. Be careful making a coupon field too prominent in checkout, especially in markets that are based on commodity goods such as electronics.

Seeing the field may convince a shopper that was ready to purchase to exit and spend more time hunting for coupons. Consider re-labeling as promotion code or something less descriptive (unless you are linking to a promo page with coupon codes to encourage larger sales).

96. Mine referral data of orders for search engine keyword queries encoded in the URLs and further optimize for these terms for organic search or consider adding to your PPC campaigns.

97. Encourage impulse buys, people don't mind being asked, "Do you want fries with that?"

98. If you're going to ask customers to sign up for your newsletter during checkout, do it AFTER the payment is processed.

Before the payment is taken, the customer is far more interested in ordering your product - but once you've taken their payment and they're looking at your "Thank you for your order" screen it's the ideal moment to get them to sign up...

99. Under promise and over-deliver.

Amazon do this a lot with free shipping (in the UK anyway) which is why I love to buy from them (of course their prices are often great as well). Yesterday I ordered some books, clicked the free shipping tab and it said the shipping date was 15th June. But today, the 13th the postman delivered! This happens a lot of the time and really reinforces that Amazon are one hell of an online company to do business with. Never seem to get the same feeling from any of the others I order from especially Dell.

100. Test. Everything. A lot.

101. Don't assume the main goal of every commerce site is to make a profit. Publicly owned sites are often more concerned with selling stock and hitting Wall Street's quarterly sales goals. That was true in the '90s and somewhat true even now.

102. Amid all the costly free shipping gimmicks, 365-day guarantees, free return pickups, insanely low prices... don't forget to turn a profit.

In this regard, understand that some of your competitors really will be idiots with zero understanding of retailing. Some still buy into the discredited '90s notion that losing money for a few years will earn a lifetime of loyalty.
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