Practical Ecommerce

Ecommerce Know-How: Six Ways To Improve Your Online Store

An online merchant’s most important marketing and sales tool is a content-rich, visually interesting, and factually accurate website.

In this edition of “eCommerce Know-How,” I am going to propose six ways to improve your site, and I am offering these methods exactly five months before the holiday shopping season (November) begins in earnest, so that if you’re a business-to-consumer seller, you’ll have time to implement at least a few of these upgrades.

Video: Six Ways to Improve Your Online Store

No. 1: Upgrade Your Product Descriptions, Using Three Sentences Or Less

You’ve likely heard a lot of advice about writing good product descriptions —in fact, look for my take on writing good product descriptions in a forthcoming “Ecommerce Know-How.” And while I find most of that advice helpful, I think that the key to effective product copy is in telling a real, emotion-arousing story about the product.

As an example, James Chartrand, a professor at Solo Practice University in Quebec, Canada and a professional blogger, encouraged his readers to pick up a bottle of Jergens Sensations hand soap and peruse the label.

“Energize your senses with the exotic infusion of crushed Green Tea and fresh, delicate Lemon Verbena… This rich, luxurious formula envelops your hands in a refreshing bouquet while gently cleansing your skin. Your hands are left feeling clean, soft and freshly scented,” wrote Chartrand, quoting the hand soap package.

How much better was that description than “This soap contains green tea and lemon verbena?” Jergens’ packaging tells a story (flowery as it is) about what the hand soap will do for you. Try telling stories with your site’s product descriptions.

No. 2: Use Video for Product Demonstrations, Merchandising

Online video has become extremely popular. Earlier this year comScore, an Internet-trend monitoring company, reported a 13 percent one month surge in online video viewing, as Americans consumed approximately 14.3 billion videos in December 2008 alone. That’s a strong indicator that consumers are video savvy.

And according to an excerpt of MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Ecommerce Benchmark Report, approximately 70 percent respondents endorsed “the implementation of product videos, which can tell a story more powerfully than any product page or list of features can.”

No. 3: Use Adobe Flash, Flex, and jQuery Plug-ins to Merchandise and Cross-Promote Specials

I know that some of the bandwidth-frugal readers are going to disagree with me, but I believe that the future of ecommerce lies in rich-user experiences, Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) interfaces, and user-defined shopping.

Merchants that provide these advanced shopping experiences now can gain a competitive advantage, earning customer loyalty and additional revenues.

Start simple; implement basic Flash/JavaScript widgets that provide motion, interaction, and additional content in a small space. Think of it as a chance to merchandise and cross-promote your products. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

  • Border’s Magic Self is a cool, visually interesting product promotion tool that I use and, frankly, play with.
  • Creative Advertising USA’s Flex-based Creative Canvas lets customers design t-shirts and upload their own content. This sort of application will become common in the near future.
  • Walmart’s simple banner rotation widget is something you can implement this afternoon, so don’t wait.

As a final word to those that believe Flash, Flex, and JavaScript slow-down websites too much, I would point out that according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Generations Online in 2009 report, more than 55 percent of Americans aged 12 to 59 had broadband access in 2008. Furthermore, more than 65 percent of American aged 12 to 49 had high-speed Internet access.

No. 4: Implement Product Reviews and Ratings

Some 74 percent of respondents [to MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Ecommerce Benchmark Report] who have implemented consumer reviews (and/or ratings) report that they are an effective way of increasing sales and engagement.

Reviews and/or ratings let users interact and provide product information on your site. And they work. Several studies have shown a 30 percent or greater increase in product sales as a result of advanced customer reviews.

No. 5: Add a Cross-Selling, Suggestions Tool

In brick-and-mortar stores, few customers only look at one item. Rather, even if they purchase just one product, they are exposed to dozens, if not hundreds, of merchandising messages that are likely to have an effect on future purchases.

Try to emulate that sort of merchandising experience online, creating cross-selling opportunities that both bring value to your customers and help improve your bottom line. As an example, cross-selling tools can include lists of related products and items, recently viewed items, popular items, or “customers that bought X also purchased Y and Z.”

No. 6: Get a Single-Page Checkout

Don’t make your customer click and click and click to get through your store’s checkout process, rather upgrade to a single-page checkout. Capture all of the information that you need to process an order in a concise form that requires just one screen.

Unfortunately, this might be my most difficult suggestion, since the checkout process is often intrinsic to your shopping cart. But if your customers have to click more than three times to place an order, it could be time to change your shopping cart.

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Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comments ( 12 )

  1. Michael May 6, 2009 Reply

    Armando,

    The single page vs multipage checkout has been a source of concern for me. I agree that single page checkout makes perfect sense however a 30 day test on my site of each process showed (via analytics) that my checkout abandonment rate was significantly higher on single page vs multi-page checkout. I do know that my customers are more cautious about purchasing online and, take a little more time before making a purchase decision. An SEO company recently told me they were finding that offering a multi-page checkout may be a better solution because people don’t feel "rushed" during checkout and that having more steps may give them a greater sense of control.

    Do you think there is any validity to this?

  2. Paul May 7, 2009 Reply

    @Armando, I really like the way you put everything together in the screencast presentation. Also, 6 things you talk about are also interesting. I don’t like the fact that I had to open an account to leave a comment. Quite bad practice.

    @Michael, one single page checkout probably creates an impressions that there are more fields to fill. When you have steps it is like a milestone broken down into TODOs. Maybe that’s the reason why your stats went down. But definitely you should go for guest purchases – no accounts required to purchase.

  3. Armando Roggio May 7, 2009 Reply

    @Michael, Thanks for the comment. If you have data from your own site that shows a better performance for a multi-page checkout ,then I would go with that.

    As a shopper, I personally hate multi-page checkouts, and as a designer, I have done A/B testing on a client’s site that showed a 60-percent better close rate for the single-page checkout, but that is anecdotal.

    Of course, all single-page checkouts are not created equally, and as Paul pointed out you can have way too many form fields. My thought in the article was that with each click, you are giving the customer another change to change her mind.

  4. Armando Roggio May 7, 2009 Reply

    @Michael,
    You’re using Interspire for your shopping cart, right?

    The only reason I mention it is because if you go to the Interspire cart features page, [http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart/](http://www.interspire.com/shoppingcart/), they list single-page checkout as one of their features.

  5. Mireya Pizarro May 7, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for this informative and to the point presentation. Just what I needed. Thanks.

  6. Michael May 7, 2009 Reply

    Thanks Armondo,

    Yes I am using Interspire and their single page checkout is pretty clean and quick. For other sites I manage, the single page checkout is preferred so I guess for this particular store, the customers prefer multipage. I’ll try another A/B test again to validate. Thanks for your help and advice on this site.

  7. Joshua Greenough May 12, 2009 Reply

    Love seeing an example using one of our PowerReviews merchants as an examples for #4. Netshops is a great example out there for small and medium businesses because they don’t rely on brand name to power their websites. They are great at leveraging lots of different eCommerce techniques.

    Many of these items can be mixed and matched. I know that we have played around with user generated cross sell in our review solution. This is not a replacement for a MyBuys or other full cross-sell solution but it does allow users to talk about other products they own. Look at B&H photo below for an example, search "Accessories I Recommend" on the reviews tab and you can see an internal link to another product page inside the review.

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/12129-GREY/Canon_2526A004_400mm_f_5_6L_USM_Autofocus.html#reviews

    Great article and as a user I always love a faster checkout.

  8. Armando Roggio May 13, 2009 Reply

    @Joshua Greenough, Thanks for the link. I have visited B&H before. It is a very content-rich site.

  9. johnnygirl May 19, 2009 Reply

    one-page checkout is not the best solution for all ecommerce merchants. having more than one page in a checkout process can significantly boost conversions…in particular, you can capture the customer’s email address on the first screen and follow-up with them if for some reason they don’t complete their order. for most one-page checkout processes, you do not have this option. also, if you are a newer business and don’t have many repeat customers, the one-page checkout proves to be a rather long form to fill out (for new customers), which may hinder conversions. the best way to determine if it’s for you, is to test, test, test! unfortunately, many carts don’t give you the ability to test one version vs. the other :-(

  10. Armando Roggio May 19, 2009 Reply

    @johnnygirl,

    Your post intrigues me. You wrote that "in particular, you can capture the customer’s email address on the first screen and follow-up with them if for some reason they don’t complete their order."

    Have you actually done this? Do you have any spam concern given that you have not done business with the customer? And what shopping cart are you using, as I have not encountered one that retains contact information from abandoned carts—unless perhaps it just keeps the cart active for returning customers.

    Thanks.

  11. Jared Brickman August 27, 2009 Reply

    I like Magento’s single page checkout: it uses drawers, breaking it down into milestones, without forcing the user to navigate through several pages.

  12. Armando Roggio August 27, 2009 Reply

    @Jared Brickman, That is an excellent way to describe the Magento single page checkout. Thank you.