Practical Ecommerce

6 Things Consumers Hate About Ecommerce Sites

Ecommerce websites should inspire trust, engage customers, and make it easy to shop — ultimately leading to more sales.

Unfortunately, too many online stores fall short in one or more areas. In this article, I am going to describe six things consumers — including me — hate to find on ecommerce websites, and why you should avoid these problems in your own store.

1. Poor Graphic Design

Research has shown what should be obvious to every online merchant. Many consumers will not buy from websites that they do not trust. What’s more, site aesthetics — how good your web store looks — may be the single most important factor contributing to how shoppers judge your company’s professionalism and trustworthiness.

A study from Stanford University (available here as a PDF) showed that 42 percent of folks did not trust poorly designed sites, and that study was conducted nine years ago.

Let’s put this to the test. Here are two examples of pet supply stores. Which one of these would you trust with your credit card information?

This site features dated design, and a bland layout.

This site features dated design, and a bland layout.

Here is a more modern and visually pleasing design.

Here is a more modern and visually pleasing design.

Next up are two shoe retailers. Again, which of these sites are you more likely to trust?

Poor shoe design layout.

Better shoe design layout.

Consumers hate poor site design on ecommerce sites, and so do I. Take the time to build a nice looking store.

2. Unreachable Customer Service

Consumers never want to hear from your customer service — no chat, not phone calls, not more than one or two emails — unless they are having a problem. Then they want to be able to reach you right away.

After poor site design, I — like most consumer — hate ecommerce sites that make me hunt to find contact information, or that make me step through a series of frequently asked questions before listing a phone number or email address. Also, a 2009 comScore study found that 22 percent of shopping cart abandonments were due to unreachable customer service, where shoppers wanted to ask questions about checking out and couldn’t.

In short, place your contact information or contact form on every page of your site.

Zappos has contact information at the top of every page.

Zappos has contact information at the top of every page.

3. No Way to Sort or Filter Results

I hate endlessly paging through product grids and I suspect so do most consumers. Unless you sell fewer than ten different items, provide me with a means to sort and filter category pages and search results.

Put another way, layered and filtered navigation is a must have for every ecommerce site, since it just makes it a lot easier to find just the products I want.

Home Depot gives online shoppers a way to filter category pages.

Home Depot gives online shoppers a way to filter category pages.

4. No Search Options

Closely related to my disdain for sites without sorting or filtering capabilities are online stores that don’t give me a search option. Don’t make your visitors click through your site’s product hierarchy, when they could have gone directly to what they wanted via a search.

BedBath Store puts its search bar in the center of the header where it is easy to find.

BedBath Store puts its search bar in the center of the header where it is easy to find.

5. Required Login to Order

Most consumers hate it when ecommerce stores force them to register or log in to make a purchase. If they want to check out as a guest, let them.

If you need more proof, eConsultancy, the publishing and consulting firm, reported in 2010 that as many as 20 percent of shopping cart abandonments were due to forced registration.

Let users opt not to register.

Let users opt not to register.

6. Typos

Finally, I hate typographical errors — in part because I am so prone to commit them.

I am the king of typos. Just ask the folks that edit my articles. I have had the problem since I was a kid. I was once told it was because my fingers could not keep up with my brain, and since that seems to make it sound like my brain is pretty fast (or that my fingers are pretty slow), I’m running with it.

Here is the bottom line, don’t make me or any consumer check your spelling or grammar.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 13 )

  1. Todd April 11, 2011 Reply

    Requiring a login to order will almost certainly reduce your conversion rate. As a shopper, I am personally very hesitant to set-up a new account on a website I am not very familiar with. Many of our customers utilize the "guest" checkout feature, so they don’t have to set-up an account.

    An another note: blogs/websites that require a login to comment reduce comments dramatically. It kills off the spam comments, but it also kills off a lot of otherwise thoughtful comments that might have been added. I really wish this website did not require a login. I would comment more often, and I’m sure others would too. :)

  2. Global Hemp April 11, 2011 Reply

    Our first online store was a Yahoo! Store and aside from the little known and perhaps now defunct Yahoo! Wallet, there was no way to have user accounts. Many customers requested that we add this feature.

    Our second and current online store is a Volusion Store. Volusion has both methods of checking out — User Accounts and Guest Checkout. However, if a customer uses the Guest Checkout, say with the email address of "mickey@disney.com" … they can do this. However, they will NOT be able to order with this same email address again!

    This was brought-up with Volusion, … we were even provided with an account manager to address our concerns. Well, nearly 2 years have passed and Volusion has not corrected this issue.

    Our Yahoo! Store by default did not have user accounts, so "mickey@disney.com" could order as many times as he wished. Of course, each and every time he would have to fill in all his contact info, etc.

    With Volusion, "mickey@disney.com" can checkout as a Guest (Anonymous Checkout). However, if "mickey@disney.com" tries to place a second order in the future, he will be thrown through a loop of errors and not user friendly enough to explain what the problem is. The "solution" is for "mickey@disney.com" to use a different email address, perhaps "minimouse@disney.com" or his dog "goofy@disney.com" … and if that works "this time" as a Guest Checkout, it too will not work in the future.

    A "fix" for this would be for Volusion to just not have the Guest as a customer, no account for them at all, but Volusion does not follow advise from Forrester Research that was pointed out to them, or eConsultancy. To Volusion’s 10,000+ customers, a 20% shopping cart abandonment rate must not be that big of a deal. At least not one that’s been brought to their attention a few dozen times that they will do anything to resolve it.

    On the flipside, I have not ordered anything from Amazon in over 9 months. However, if I visit the Amazon.com website, I am greeted with "Hello Eric." and am provided with suggestions. This is due to the fact that Amazon makes good use of cookies. Something that Volusion does not do.

    We are now looking for a new shopping cart software providers for small businesses. BigCommerce looks like an excellent alternative to Volusion, but I would like to know if anyone can provide suggestions for a "Guest Checkout" that truly works? Great suggestion, but where is the solution?

  3. Louis Camassa April 11, 2011 Reply

    Regarding the site design; really, low prices trumps design every time. The study you reference is rather biased as it asks people their opinion on the design or creditability of a site. Of course they are going to share their opinion (positive or negative).

    What would be more substantial evidence would be an A/B split test of two different sites with two different design schema’s. Simply track the conversions to see which one performs better. Then, to get creative, lower the price on the poorly designed site, and I would bet it performs better than the well designed site.

    Not to say you should have a poorly design site-thats always a no-no, I just don’t think it should be ranked as the most important. I would rank product price and selection as the most important. Design would be further down the list. As long as the site is easy to use/checkout, people will buy, even if it’s ugly! But before you reconsider that redesign, remember you are building a brand people identify you with. And good branding is about good design!

    Secondly, regarding the "guest checkout" this is really all smoke and mirrors. There is no such thing as a "guest checkout" per say. Your information is still stored on the site, it’s just that you can’t access it again to place another order in the future. All your details (barring your credit card) are saved for order processing, shipping, returns, etc…It’s not like using guest checkout removes your information after the order!

    Really, you save 2 steps; entering your password, then confirming your password. As a store owner consider this: would you rather lose a few people who want to checkout as a guest, or convert more repeat customer quicker by allowing them to login? Since most people don’t really understand the difference between a "guest checkout" and a regular checkout, I would venture to say they will choose the one that requires the less work-guest checkout. Then when you email them a few months down the road with a great special they have to reenter all their information again…what a bummer!

    I’ve had clients who offered the "guest checkout" and customers would call asking how they can login to see their order status, or make a repeat order….

    Consider this before enabling the guest checkout feature.

  4. Elizabeth Ball April 12, 2011 Reply

    One thing not touched on is that many customers will buy something from your website to send as a gift directly to a loved one for their birthday, new baby, or whatever.
    I’ve discovered they also don’t want the gift to arrive with a printed invoice (I email the purchaser instead) which will reveal the price paid (tacky!), or for the package to contain brochures with prices (same result).
    Finally, they also want the option to write a gift message – not being able to include something personalised deters them as well.

  5. Delia Wilson Lunsford April 12, 2011 Reply

    Poor Graphic Design? Give me a break. Some of the highest grossing sites I work on have less than snappy looks. Your products, prices, length of time on the web, whether you have a physical location or not comes into play online.

    A nine year old study? That’s when no one was buying on line. I promise you that a study like that would have very different results today

  6. Steve @ten23media April 12, 2011 Reply

    While I agree with all six of these points, I also have to partially agree with Delia. I know of some really dated sites that are huge performers and revenue generators. I think some sites have a big following because they’ve been around a while and have trusted content. The visitors go to these sites because they trust them, not because of their design. With that said though, an updated design could also bring in new traffic that a dated design might not otherwise attract.

    One other point that consumers hate… hard to find shipping policy’s and rates. Make it hard for customers to find this info and you’ll lose them fast.

  7. Greg Jameson April 12, 2011 Reply

    I have to agree with the comments on poor design – often this is a matter of individual taste. For example, a lot of folks think Flash is really cool, but that doesn’t make it a good ecommerce site. It surprises me that no one has mentioned 2 of the most important factors:
    - free shipping, or at least clearly displayed shipping policies prior to check out. and
    - great product descriptions and photos, not just standard manufacturer-supplied descriptions, but ones where the store includes their professional experiences and opinions.

  8. Susan Eastin April 12, 2011 Reply

    I was surprised you provided a Stanford study that was conducted nearly a decade ago. How relevant is this information today? What percentage of U.S. residents had placed an online order in 2002? How many people trusted online shopping in general back then?

    In my opinion, your examples of poor graphic design show the difference between older and more modern web layouts. As Greg pointed out, this is a matter of individual taste.

    Even the most attractive websites cannot succeed if they do not offer the following:

    - Ease of navigation
    - Excellent product photos
    - Unique, well-written copy
    - Trust and security
    - Likeability

    A site needs to offer a reason to buy that goes well beyond its appearance.

    With regard to Volusion, we have the same problem that Globalhemp pointed out. When a customer places an order as a guest, it creates a problem if they return to place subsequent orders. Because their email is already in the system, it won’t allow them to check out as a guest using the same email address. This results in a loop of error messages that fail to explain the nature of the problem to the user.

    Another problem we’ve had with guest checkout is that guest customers attempt to return to our site to check the status of their order. They get frustrated when they’re not able to log into an account that doesn’t exist.

  9. Kym April 12, 2011 Reply

    @Delhia I used to agree with you on that until we redesigned a site last year and doubled its revenue as a result. A design must look "not old". It does not have to look "fancy".

    As to search/filters. Search has to come before filters. ANd you have to make sure the results are relevant.

    Filters can be done via good categorization of products including cross linking of products to different categories before you have to resort to true filters which are in fact irrelvant for many sites.

    As for typos please! With a general reading level of Gr8, ESL and a public that is using texting more and more, no-one gives a damn about spelling on an eCommerce site.

  10. Dave Sloan April 12, 2011 Reply

    I think it’s a stretch to say that "good" graphic design is better than "bad" graphic design, since it’s not a binary check box. Do you think Apple chose "good" design and Blackberry purposely chose "bad" graphic design? There are a zillion interpretations of "good" graphic design, like simplicity (ala Google) and inviting colors and high res lifestyle images, not to mention font size and layout.

    That said, I agree that customers respond to better designed sites, but what makes it better is very hard to pinpoint. I also agree that some sites have a 80′s look to them, some a boring enterprise 90s look to them, other a more web 2.0 look, but again, it’s not a matter of a adding a feature.

    There’s also the notion of targeting customers. MySpace has a broken high school look which appeals to its audience, other sites are more "grandma-friendly."

    Does eBay have a nice layout? It’s very busy and messy, but performance is impressive and the self-service auction and payment tools are well done. But, it’s very hard to reach anyone at eBay or Paypal – and by design.

    Sales conversion is result of a mixture of many variables. It’s all about trade-offs. Features vs. simplicity. Options vs. performance. It’s more an art than a science.

    As discussed here, some view account management as an invaluable feature, others see it as an extra step that drives abandons.

    In any case, great discussion of ecommerce usability in the comments area here.

  11. Global Hemp April 12, 2011 Reply

    I believe that our store looks great, but have noticed that many large online retailers that sell direct have minimalist designs. The minimalist design is generally black and white with the focus being on great photography.

    Otherwise, I would love to hear of an "Amazon-like" ecommerce platform that works for "the rest of us." What would this include?

    1. Persistent cookies for username/password that never expire
    2. Permanent login
    3. True Guest Checkout (allow for true anonymous checkout)

    Benefits:

    1. User never "forgets" their password
    2. User is never logged out3. User can checkout without any hassles (even if it means they have to re-enter all their contact info each time, some prefer to do this). Perhaps it should be impulsive checkout or spontaneous checkout method?

    When you combine 1 and 2 of features requested above, you end up with a customer that is "known" prior to checkout. Due to this fact, they are greeted with "Hello Eric" … and are shown product suggestions based on previous purchases and products viewed. Yes, a true Amazon-like shopping cart! All based on something that Amazon has had for over 10 years.

    Its my understanding that Volusion will not allow for users to be logged in for more than 1 hour or so. In addition, they did re-allow for a configuration to allow store operators such as us to allow users to store passwords on their computer/web browser. Volusion did not want to do this, as they stated they want to be sure their stores are all PCI compliant.

    In my opinion, Volusion holds PCI compliance above user friendliness. As for not keeping user logged in, that too falls into this category, otherwise it may be an issue since Volusion is based on ASP/.Net and I don’t believe they allow for persistent cookies.
    Anyhow, does anyone know of an ecommerce platform for small businesses that has these features?

  12. Juan@PixelMill April 20, 2011 Reply

    Consider also purchasing Trusted Badges like the ones offered through GeoTrust, BBB, and more. I’ve seen a bump in conversion across all the clients we’ve worked with after installing them. Personally, I know I tend to look for these badges on sites I’m not too familiar with before I make a purchase – at the very least it shows that the merchant is willing to invest in the security of the site for the sake of their customer’s peace of mind.

    Has anyone else seen a change in conversion after using Trusted Badges?

  13. kgkaraoke May 23, 2012 Reply

    We wholeheartedly agree with this article.
    Our websites at http://www.kgkaraoke.com and http://store.kgkaraoke.com follow these guidelines, and when we call a customer to confirm the purchase, we ask them what motivated them to choose us over our competitors, and the three leading reasons have been price, ease of phone and email contact (we’re 23 / 7 by the way), and appearance.

    We use PayPal ONLY, because customers LOVE the fact that PayPal will NEVER share confidential information with any dealer. The transaction is confidential. They know this, and this builds trust.

    Probably the most important additional item that you can send to your customers is the TRACKING NUMBER. They WANT that tracking number.

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