Practical Ecommerce

5 Mistakes to Avoid on Ecommerce Sites

What makes great ecommerce-site aesthetics, layout, and even features are a matter of opinion. But there are some things that simply are not smart for online retailers.

Online retail sites have a distinct job: selling something. While site design can be a matter of taste, I believe there are at least a few things to avoid regardless. Recently, I surveyed more than 100 ecommerce sites running on Miva Merchant, Shopify, Magento, and other leading platforms as part of a site resign project. I found five things that I just hated to see.

1. Tiny Fonts

Mobile shopping is on the rise. An ecommerce site that I help to manage has seen a tenfold increase in mobile visits since July 2010. Now one in five visitors is using a mobile device. What’s more, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported in May 2012 that 46 percent of American adults owned a smartphone and, presumably, access the Internet.

Separately, Pew said that 29 percent of American adults own either an Internet-enabled e-reader or a tablet as of January 2012.

So with so many potential mobile visitors, why would any developer use small fonts that can be (a) difficult to read on a mobile device and (b) difficult to click on a mobile device without zooming and swiping repeatedly.

Small fonts in navigation can be difficult to click from mobile devices.

Small fonts in navigation can be difficult to click from mobile devices.

Please don’t use tiny fonts — think 12 point or larger.

2. No Shipping Quote

Customers visiting an online retailer expect to know what they are going to have to pay, including shipping. But, crazy as it sounds, there are Internet stores that expect a shopper to consummate an order, hand over credit card information, and then wait to learn how much the shipping fee will be.

Here is an actual shipping policy displayed on one site’s checkout page.

This retailer “offers the following shipment options: UPS ground shipping, UPS 2nd Day Air and UPS Next Day Air. We also ship with US Postal service for any order that has been placed from an APO address, out of country or Hawaii. Shipping costs will be calculated after your order has been received and will be added to your order when it is fulfilled.”

Notice that last bit.

“Shipping costs will be calculated after your order has been received and will be added to your order when it is fulfilled.”

Always let shoppers know what shipping costs become they have to complete the order.

3. Poor Graphic Design

During a lifetime of shopping, I have rarely walked into a brick-and-mortar store that was dirty, smelly, and painted odd colors. I am not suggesting that such establishments don’t exist, but simply that I don’t like to shop there. I am just not sure that I want to give the cashier of that ugly store my credit card.

Several academic studies — including Jennifer Chen’s “The Impact of Aesthetics on Attitudes Towards Websites” from July 2009 and Patrick J. Lynch’s “Aesthetics and Trust: Visual Decisions About Web Pages” from 2010 — indicate that shoppers judge site design and decide how trustworthy a business is based on how good it looks.

“The design and presentation of a website is strongly visual and users are known to make aesthetic judgments of a site very quickly,” Chen wrote. “As the website likability and credibility increases so does the likelihood of purchasing from the site.”

Site aesthetics are important for building customer trust.

Site aesthetics are important for building customer trust.

Don’t make ugly websites.

4. Broken Stuff

Dead links, missing images, flyouts that do not fly out, and even broken expectations can all lead to a poor user experience.

Ecommerce websites require a lot of resources, including images, and many links. With so many moving parts, it is not uncommon for something to go wrong — absolute paths in anchor tags version relative ones can be a cause of broken links as an example.

Online merchants need to diligently test and retest to make sure that everything on the site works.

Broken images make a site look unprofessional.

Broken images make a site look unprofessional.

Don’t let broken stuff ruin a site.

5. No Blog

Perhaps not as obvious as broken links and bad site design, not having a blog left me wanting. When I shop online I want to connect with a merchant in a way that product pages alone cannot.

What’s more, blogs can be a source of great content that keep shoppers coming back.

Do not forget to blog.

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Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 11 )

  1. jasontk June 13, 2012 Reply

    IMO, blog is a should-have rather than a must-have. I see many sites without a blog and they are still doing well. So No Blog can’t be listed as a mistake. However, I highly recommend that a store should have a Blog to keep customers updated and connect with them better. This is our Blog which provides many useful posts about Magento tutorial and ecommerce tips http://www.magestore.com/blog/

    Another mistake that many sites make is: Un-updated information. An ecommerce site may have many pages with a lot of information. When you change something (price, description), you should remember to change other related sites like FAQ, Terms and Conditions as well…

  2. Connie Mitan June 13, 2012 Reply

    Personally, I would change the last one from a blog to an About page, complete Policies, and easily understood Terms of Use, especially if the user needs to create an account on your site to make a purchase.

    Too many times do I see cookie-cutter-esque online shops with nothing filled in for About or Policies. How am I supposed to trust you enough with my money if you don’t value me enough to tell me about yourself and how you run your business?
    ~Sunfire

  3. Larry Bair June 13, 2012 Reply

    Details Details Details

    I have to say my most frustrating experience is a lack of detail. Just yesterday, I was on a major retailers website looking at waste cans and couldn’t believe to only detail was "Beautiful Chrome Wastecan", no dimensions what so ever. I can’t tell you how quickly I switched over to another site to continue my search.

  4. Gichuki Karanja June 13, 2012 Reply

    I am surprised that there are some owners of e-commerce sites who find it okay for their customers to process their cards twice for a single order in order to facilitate shipments.

  5. Lorraine Pierce June 14, 2012 Reply

    2 more mistakes you shouldn’t make!
    1. "A picture is worth a thousand words". And this rings so true with websites. We learned this years ago as eBay sellers, and have made good use of that knowledge with our ecommerce sites. If a customer can’t pick it up and feel it, then you’d better have some darned good photos and video *gasp*!
    One amazing advantage of ecommerce is the ability to show your product in use.
    2. Ratings and reviews- customers are used to having reviews to read to help them make their shopping decisions.

  6. Melissa Chelist June 14, 2012 Reply

    I also think it is a mistake to not provide contact information (email and phone number). Customers want to know there is a way to get a hold of a person.

  7. Elizabeth Ball June 21, 2012 Reply

    I agree with Stork Gifts – no contact info is a turnoff and a worry. What have you got to hide? Not only that, interstate and international buyers might want to find someone in particular city or state to get a gift quickly to a friend or family member there. No address details means I don’t know where you’re based!!!

  8. Richard Stubbings June 23, 2012 Reply

    I agree with Connie and StorkGifts. Any Ecommerce site that is shy about who they are and where they are, can be a big turn off. I would never entrust my card details to a web site that dares not show its contact details.

    On a slightly less important note, as I am an a Ecommerce site owner I also look at the termsand conditions, especially the return and refund policies. If they are illegal policies (i.e. are in breach of the consumer laws) then I move on. I suspect that the average customer may not look for this.

  9. Jaimie Sirovich July 3, 2012 Reply

    How about a lack of spell correction and fuzzy search. I’m a good speller, and I still don’t know whether it’s word1-word2 vs word1word2. Lack of faceted search and relatively clean meta data is another failure. This is the vast majority of small to medium business eCommerce.

    When you don’t have things like these, it sends me _running_ to another site. Of course I’m biased, and these are things I solve for people, but for me core search and navigation functionality is key — and I hope many would agree =)

  10. miglenan November 14, 2012 Reply

    I agree with Stork Gifts and Elizabeth, but even worse is when the address is not actual or the phone number and the email don’t work. Also clear policies are a must-have for me.

  11. Brian February 5, 2014 Reply

    Another mistake that I want to mention is Ecommerce hosting, many storeowners who’re running online business doesn’t take care of this, they leave this to their developers. Hosting affects directly to your site’s SEO & user experience, many ecommerce platforms require a strong hosting to perform well.
    For those who are running site on Magento, I recommend reading this article to choose a good hosting for your online busniess http://tutorialmagento.com/top-5-affordable-magento-hosting

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