8 Must-have Elements for Any E-commerce Website

A dinner date with that ‘special someone’ demands a freshly pressed shirt, casual trousers and a nice jacket to match. A day at the beach calls for sunscreen, flip-flops, some cool shades and beachy shorts to match. A business meeting with your next ‘big fish’ client will see you in a tailored power suit, snappy tie and super shiny shoes.

What am I getting at with all this? Clothes maketh a man, my friend. And great website elements make a great e-commerce store.

Does your site have what it takes to clinch a sale and convert a visitor into a customer? Take a look and find out.

1. Intuitive Navigation

Good navigation, is in my opinion, the single biggest conversion factor for any e-commerce site. Over 70% off all visitors who do not bounce off your site, browse through it using on-site navigation.

Your navigation tells users where to find the products they want and helps them narrow it down to the smallest details. Do your site a favor by creating logical product categories that break down into clear sub categories in the most natural way; for example,

Menswear >> Shirts >> Cotton Shirts >> Egyptian Cotton

Another critical thing to ensure is that the navigation bar or product categories are clearly visible to the visitor. The more the user is forced to hunt aimlessly for a specific item she has on her mind, the higher are her chances of giving up and moving on from your site.

2. Search Bar

If for some reason your site navigation leaves a lot to be desired, all is not lost as long as you have a great in-site search function. At least 30% of all visitors directly use the site search function, pointing to the pressing need for a search function that offers results that are as quick and relevant as possible.

Search is also a great starting point for users who know exactly what they have in mind, right down to the model number, size and color.

Place your search bar in a prominent spot on your website – many sites like Amazon, Zappos, BestBuy and Walmart place it top center, right above the main navigation bar. Avoid the miserly little search bars that most non-e-commerce sites use. As an e-commerce brand, your search bar needs to be large enough to visibly fit in longer queries that may involve detailed product specifications and filters.

3. Product Ratings & Reviews

Don’t let the weaknesses of online shopping affect your business. Things like being able to touch, feel, try on or test run a product in a physical store cannot be replaced by e-commerce. However, you can offer the next best thing – word of mouth recommendations and reviews by real customers.

Understandably, users trust the experiences of real customers more than any glib marketing copy that you may offer on your webpage. According to a study by iPerceptions, 63% of visitors were more likely to purchase from a site that offered product reviews than those that did not.

Use and display product reviews wherever possible – on your search results pages, on product pages, even offer links to product reviews for products showcased on your home page. Actively seek out product reviews from customers immediately after product delivery. This keeps the purchase experience and product reviews fresh in the minds of customers and acts as great fodder for future sales.

Another awesome by-product of detailed and fresh reviews is better search rankings for your site. You see, new reviews are seen as fresh content and get picked up by search engines easily. Moreover, they typically contain keywords that are important to your site and thus contribute to boosting your search rankings.

4. Short, Simple Checkout Process

One of the biggest negatives that traditional retail has from a customer experience point of view is the long wait times that most customers have to suffer at the cash register before they can pay and checkout with their purchase.

Don’t replicate customers’ offline shopping miseries online by creating a long and overly complicated checkout process. Keep your checkout process as short and simple as possible. Forms during your checkout process must have minimal fields requesting only that information which is really useful to you.

A good-to-have aspect of high performing checkout processes is that they are self-contained and do not have any distractions like the main site navigation bar, banners, pop-ups or any other unnecessary site elements that might lead the user away from completing the transaction.

5. Guest Checkouts

A pet peeve that most online shoppers live down is the need to register with a site before completing a transaction.

Think about it. For any e-commerce transaction to take place, the user has to offer you her complete name, shipping address, email address and mobile number (besides their financial information) at the very least. Is it not possible to create a user account on behalf of the user automatically after the transaction is completed? Is it so necessary to divert the user from the middle of a transaction to a registration page and risk them losing interest altogether?

Offer guest checkouts as a thumb rule for all new users to reduce distractions and minimize the need to re-enter the same data into registration forms that they would anyway fill up in your checkout forms. If you do need any additional data about your users, you always have the option of sending out a dedicated email requesting them for such information.

6. Multiple Payment Options

Paying for a purchase in the real world can happen in a multitude of ways including cash, credit and debit cards, coupons, gift cards, checks, store credit and more. Unfortunately, the online world has been slow in adopting this variety of payment options into their transaction mechanisms. Most e-commerce sites offer just a choice between credit or debit cards and end the discussion right there.

With the rising incidence of large scale security breaches at leading retail chains and the subsequent credit card numbers being stolen, more and more online shoppers are switching to alternate payment methods like PayPal, pre-paid cards or even cash on delivery payments in developing countries. Mobile wallets by both Google and Apple offer users the option of syncing all your cards – debit, credit, loyalty etc – under a single app. Just tapping their mobile phones on a POS system at a retail store, enables customers to make their payment without fishing out a single card.

Acknowledge the need of the hour and expand your users’ options by offering the latest payment options preferred by them, to avoid losing out on a sale.

7. Trust Factors

Most people are fiercely guarded about their lives online, which extends to their financial behavior as well.

Few visitors to your site will willingly part with their email IDs or phone numbers, afraid of receiving a load of junk emails or having their data sold to unscrupulous organizations looking for user data.

When a user whips out a credit card or a debit card to make a payment, they need to know that the site that they are trusting with their financial information is safe to use and will protect the privacy of their personal and financial information.

Your job is to restore this faith in humanity that most online shoppers have by offering subtle trust cues across website. While collecting personally identifiable information from users, make sure you clarify that their data will not be sold forward to others or misused in any other way. This could be in the form of microcopy alongside the various data driven fields in your checkout process.

The need for trust is most acutely felt when it comes to financial information. Use widely accepted financial security measures to prevent data theft and misuse. Logos like the Verisign or McAfee tell the user that their data is now in safe hands.

8. Free Shipping

Getting items shipped to your doorstep is one of the many perks of e-commerce, however this perk typically comes at a price. Sometimes, the cost of shipping for certain bulky items becomes so unreasonably high, that online sales for such products becomes entire unviable.

A study by UPS in 2011, showed that unexpectedly high shipping costs were the number one reason for shoppers to abandon their shopping carts online mid-purchase.

Fix this conundrum by negotiating rock bottom rates with your shipping providers and offering users the benefit of free shipping once they shop above a certain order value. To ensure that your bottom-lines do not take a large hit while offering this convenience to your users, you can also offer users the option of picking slow shipping modes in order to avail the option of free shipping.

In Closing

The list of must-haves on a good e-commerce site is a large tome – something I probably will need a brand new blog post to cover and complete.

For now, my dear e-commerce colleagues, I promise you that getting started with these eight elements will show you some fabulous results already – results that will motivate you to dig deeper and turn that website of yours into a conversion machine. Amen to that lovely thought!

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