E-tailers have a lot to learn from traditional retailers. It seems that well-known eCommerce sites get away with atrocious usability mistakes simply because the internet as a shopping medium is growing so fast. Web managers may think that because sales numbers are up they must be doing everything right. For many online stores, nothing is further from the truth. Below I’ve listed what I consider to be the worst practices of eCommerce sites these days.

  1. Requiring Login to Order: I would agree with Get Elastic’s Linda Bustos that this is one of many e-tailers’ favorite usability mistakes. Requiring registration is very obnoxious, especially when you have yet to establish any relationship with a retailer, and you have not idea if you’ll ever purchase again.
  2. Not Showing Shipping Prices Upfront: I’ve abandoned dozens of online orders because of this. Sure, asking for the customers address may ensure a more accurate shipping cost for you, but its not worth losing a customer over. In my opinion, the best practice is to simply base your shipping costs on the merchandise total. It might not be the most accurate way, but if you average it out, it works great.
  3. Vague, Hard to Find Return Policies: For me, returning products to an online retailer is right up there with getting my teeth drilled. Don’t make the process worse by hiding your return policy deep within your site or requiring your customers to jump through hoops to complete the process. Rarely do e-tailers make their return policy a selling point or competitive advantage. Wherever I can, I like to use the words “No-Hassle Return Policy” to reassure the customer that the process is quick and easy.
  4. Poor SEO: Build it, and they will not come, unless your eCommerce site is on good terms with Google. Retailers tend to forget that search engines are the highways and byways of the internet. An eCommerce site not optimized for search is equivalent to a brick and mortar store conveniently located underground.
  5. Poor Product Descriptions: Your product descriptions are the closest thing you have to an face to face salesperson. Make them work for you. Improving your product descriptions is one of the easiest, yet most neglected ways to improve your online sales. If your product catalog is large enough to justify hiring a copy-writer, than do it. If not, hire someone on the side to write your copy.
  6. Lack of Filtering & Sorting: Imagine yourself walking unto a used car lot. What do you ask the salesperson in order to narrow down your options? You’ll likely say something like “show me all the vehicles this color, with this amount of mileage, or this make and model.” The same principle should be applied to your product department pages. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too many options. Let them filter down by criteria such as colors, sizes, or brand. Also, let them sort the listings by price, newness, popularity, etc.
  7. Hard to Find Checkout Button: Imagine not being able to find the checkout lane at a grocery store. Many online stores assume shoppers know that the shopping cart is the first step of the checkout process. To prevent confusion of your customers, always have a clear “checkout” button visible on every page.
  8. Poor Merchandising: If you owned a brick and mortar store, I’m going to bet you would walk your aisles every day to ensure your products are merchandised properly. Yet I think website owners expect their online stores to run themselves, and rarely take time for this important audit. Once a day, try to shop your store as if you were going to buy something. I’ll bet you’ll find one or two things out of place.
  9. Getting too Personal: Do you really need your customer’s date of birth to complete an order? Even asking for information such as email or telephone number may arouse suspicion in your customers. Ask yourself an important question for each additional form field you add, “Is this worth losing a sale over?”
  10. No Calls to Action: Don’t just assume your visitors will click on your image maps or “Click Here” links. Make your call to action buttons big, bold, and unmistakably clear. Every page of the conversion funnel (landing page to department page to product page to checkout) should clearly define the next step in the process.
  11. No Error Reporting: From a technical point of view, it’s very simple to setup error notifications when certain unexpected events occur on your website. Montastic offers a completely free website monitoring service. In addition, ask your webmaster to setup email alerts for every time a 500 (internal server) error or 404 (page not found) error occurs.
  12. Inaccurate Cross Sells: Embarrassing cross-sells can sometimes lead to more than just more than just missed opportunities. If your system for suggesting add-ons, cross sells, or up-sells doesn’t work, you’re probably better off not using it.
  13. Unreachable Customer Service: Online retailers are typically not famous for their customer service. Phone numbers and emails should be listed prominently on every page. Responses to customer requests should be prompt and courteous. In a previous post, I outlined 25 tips for improving your online customer service.

I’m sure I didn’t mention everything, so be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts or experiences.

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About PWM

Justin Palmer offers expert eCommerce consulting and SEO consulting in Orange County, California. Justin also has written an e-Commere e-book entitled The e-Commerce Roadmap.