Avoiding the top 5 ecommerce pratfalls

It so happens that I’ve only made a couple of the mistakes listed here, which still makes me a double prat! I hope you find food for thought in these ramblings.

Forcing account creation
If customers have accounts for your online store, there are many advantages. For instance, it’s easier for them to order and you can provide order tracking and order history within their account. It also creates opportunities to encourage completion of abandoned carts and run loyalty schemes.

These are important benefits, and a strong reason to encourage buyers to create accounts. However, they are not a reason to force people to register before they can buy. Doing so will reduce sales, as a decent number of people, including me, resent being made to create and remember another password, and will click away to a more customer-friendly alternative.

Not providing enough information to buy
I always remember looking at a boating store, and seeing a nice picture of a helm wheel – the steering wheel of a boat. I was thinking about replacing mine, so I was interested.

Unfortunately, no dimensions were given, let alone any information about the spline that the wheel would fit. So although I was ready to buy, I was prevented from so doing because data was not available.

My company has helped thousands of merchants with its ecommerce packages, and one thing that I’ve noticed about all of the most successful ones is that they spend a lot of time on populating their product information.

Pricing too low
The simplistic approach to business success is to be cheaper than everyone else. The problem is that so many online retailers pursue this strategy, that it almost guarantees failure.

The only exception is if you have economies of scale that can’t easily be replicated. But this is extremely rare.

So by all means price competitively, but don’t try to be the cheapest, where there are no profits, and where there isn’t enough margin to run the business.

Not giving great service
Money saved by cutting customer service isn’t money saved at all. It will cost you more in terms of complaints (think Twitter, Facebook, forums etc), time wasted arguing on the phone with customers, processing returns and refunds, discussing complaints with Trading Standards, answering Visa and Mastercard chargeback requests and responding to court papers!

On the web, the customer is not always strictly right, but they sure are Queen as well as King.

Not providing reassurance
It’s OK if you are John Lewis, but most of us are relatively unknown brands. Since the buyer doesn’t know you, providing reassurance is absolutely critical.

I’m amazed at how many web stores fail to go out of their way to re-assure customers with obvious contact details, a prominent guarantee and returns policy, industry body membership logos, pictures of the owners and staff; all the things that show you’re real and trustworthy.

We can all learn

In my view, these are the top five mistakes in running an online store, but there are of course many others. Maybe you would like to contribute, based in your own online shopping experiences, in the comments section below or you can contact me via Twitter, @chrisbarling

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