Practical Ecommerce

Six Causes for Disappearing Ecommerce Sales

A sudden stoppage in online sales can be scary. Hopefully you haven’t experienced this scenario. But if you have, you know that empty feeling when your orders cease to arrive in your inbox. What to do? As in any time of crisis, take a deep breath, stay calm, and then get down to business in solving this disturbing puzzle in a systematic way.

Here are six areas to investigate.

1. Your Site’s Code Is Broken

Whether you use a template-driven ecommerce system or work with a custom web designer, mistakes can be materialize, seemingly out of nowhere. A small coding error can render your site useless. If your drop in order volume alarms you, place a test order on your site. Perhaps you will discover that the “Add to Cart” button has mysteriously disappeared, or the formatting is out of whack and the prices are not showing next to the products. Go through the entire checkout process, including entering valid credit card information, to be sure you haven’t missed an important detail.

  • Actions: If you or your designer made the site changes, see if you can roll back to a backup. Test your site on a regular basis. Roll out site changes with care or utilize a test site for major changes to your site.

2. Your Related Services Have Expired or Changed

It is possible that you have failed to renew an integrated service that is part of your site and shoppers are unable to proceed with their purchases. Some of the leading culprits: your site security certificate, your credit card gateway, or perhaps a JavaScript-based service like a gift registry. If any of these services go down, your shopping system could fail along with them. These issues will typically manifest themselves by displaying error messages or warnings on your site. As with coding errors, you should be able to discover broken services by going through a few test orders on your site.

  • Actions: Once you find the problem, immediately renew or reactivate the broken service. Keep a database of your mission-critical accounts and renewal dates. If you change your email address, make sure to update your accounts so you receive timely notifications. If you took the cost-saving route when you were starting your business and signed up with sub-par services, consider upgrading to providers that have rock-solid reputations.

3. A Database Update Has Gone Awry

If your product information is delivered out of a database, then you have another point of vulnerability that needs to be reviewed, particularly after a product-pricing update. Your site can look beautiful and function correctly, but if all your prices are mistakenly hiked by 30 percent, for example, you could be driving your customers away.

  • Actions: Have a systematic approach to doing pricing and data updates in which you identify a range of products to use for testing and verification. Maintain a solid backup system for your data. If you discover problems, you can restore your data while you work out the details.

4. Your Site Has Been Infected by a Virus

All too often we hear reports of sites that have been compromised by the installation of malicious scripts. When Google detects a virus intrusion, it will post a message by your organic search listings, informing the world that the use of your site could harm a visitor’s computer. If you have a high-level infection, your browser will likely report the issue to a user or a Google search will reveal the problem.

  • Actions: Sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools account and follow the suggestions that Google has provided for removing the infection and making your site secure. Once you have followed the corrective steps and notified Google, it will review your site and determine whether to place it back among the search-engine listings.

5. Your Search Engine Traffic Has Dramatically Slowed

If nothing has changed with your on-site factors, you want to scrutinize your search traffic closely. In order to function as an ecommerce business owner, you need to utilize a web analytics package such as Google Analytics. For starters, assess your overall visitors over an extended time-period. Is your traffic consistent or abruptly declining? Review your traffic sources report. Compare a time period before the order meltdown and afterward to see what sources of traffic have dried up. Perhaps all your Google organic traffic has disappeared overnight. If so, you want to utilized Google Webmaster Tools to determine whether Google sees a new issue with your site. Evaluate your top referrers. Have any of your important referrers disappeared? Typically one lost referrer won’t take you down, but if you have been receiving a large volume of affiliate traffic and the network has a problem, you could suffer because of it.

  • Actions: If you have a serious traffic dip, determine the leakage and work with the source (whether it is Google, an affiliate network, or a paid advertising account) to get your site back on track.

6. Your Site Redesign Has Hurt Traffic and Conversions

Your cool, sexy site redesign might look awesome, but it can also have negative consequences for your site traffic. Some of the key culprits are:

(a) Moving to a system that has completely different URLs than your previous site without correctly redirecting them;

(b) Your new site is very difficult for search engines to index;

(c) Your new site has some sort of coding anomaly or error that the search engines do not like. This could include site speed, which is more of a factor than it has been in the past. A slow loading site could be a detriment.

  • Actions: If you cannot immediately identify the issue with your new site design, enlist the help of an expert to assess it and offer suggestions. As with several of the other issues, Google Webmaster Tools is your friend. The diagnostic tools will tell you if you have blatant issues with your site and page structure, as Google sees it.


A defined review process – particularly after making site changes – can go a long way toward avoiding situations that will hurt your business. If find your ecommerce business in trouble, site testing and statistics review should give you the insights you need to rebuild sales.

Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns

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  1. Armando Roggio May 6, 2010 Reply

    Nice post. No. 6 can be a real killer since often the new design is better, but you may have displaced a lot of links.

  2. Michael Stearns May 6, 2010 Reply

    Thanks, Armando.

    The big thing with #6 is preemptive planning. You should really not need to be limited designwise as long as the design team you have in place understands all the issues of usability and marketing. Often that is not the case.

    The key is to bring into the process someone into the process early on who understands these issues before you spend time and money going down the wrong path.

  3. russellackner May 6, 2010 Reply

    I would recommend testing any changes or performance issues from an outside location too; on multiple platforms and browsers as well. Especially if you host your site at the same location as your office. Often times (if not all the time) speed, layout and functionality is different from the customer’s "buying seat".

  4. Elizabeth Ball May 6, 2010 Reply

    Another cause in a drop in sales could be a rise in negative comments through social media. If someone has been bad-mouthing your company or products in a forum or posts something nasty on Twitter, it could damage your sales in a very short time. Keep an eye on Google Alerts for your products being mentioned if sales really drop off suddenly.

  5. Michael Stearns May 7, 2010 Reply

    The Social Media factor is an interesting one and a point well-taken. Monitoring your online reputation is critical. Even if you don’t want to participate in social media actively you do want to use a tool, like google alerts or something more sophisiticated, to let you know what is being said.

  6. Elizabeth Ball July 15, 2013 Reply

    Or you’ve upgraded your browser requirements. We redesigned in HTML5 which required people to be on IE 9+, Safari 5+, Chrome 6+, Opera 10.6+ and Firefox 4+. I am yet to work out an elegant way to tell people what they must use to purchase products and services. A pop-up if they’re on older browsers? A (shudder) star-burst? People don’t always check FAQs for issues.

  7. Eduardo Gomes November 22, 2013 Reply

    I’d add another one:

    Check your sign up process!

    In our website sales suddenly dropped for 4 days. At the end we found out why: new clients weren’t able to complete the process due to an error caused by a Facebook plugin

  8. Graham Tripp August 18, 2016 Reply

    Something i would add to this is to check if anything has happened in the world which stopped people wanting to purchase (even just for the short term) such as a political vote. This was certaintly the case for a few of our clients for the Brexit Vote as their services were thought of as “luxury” and so no one wanted to make an investment at that time. Sure enough, a month later, this trend went back to normal. Here is my post on the subject: