Many e-commerce stategy websites talk about e-commerce best practices. They discuss usability, recommend specific software, or offer very specific e-commerce tactics, but few spell out what’s really needed to have a successful e-commerce website. Often some of the more in-depth advice is hidden behind online paid seminars or documents.
If you are looking for free tips on how to get started in e-commerce, DMZ's Top 10 E-commerce Best Practices list below is a great starting point.
Based on DMZ's experience with client e-commerce websites, here are the key elements that you need to take into consideration when analyzing your site or planning a new one:
- Make it easy for customers to find your products and services on the web via search engines. To be successful, you need to expose your individual products and services to search engines. Optimally, each product detail page on your website needs to be optimized for SEO. Product name and product details should be in the page title, meta description, and image Alt tags. Review your competitors' on-page SEO to see what’s driving customers to their websites.
- Make it simple for customers to find stuff on your site. Once a customer gets to your website, they need to either land on a page that exactly matches the product that they were searching for or you will lose them within seconds. To make sure the site meets customer search expectations, verify that the keywords you use for SEO (organic search) and PPC (Adwords) match the page titles and product headings on the product pages. In addition, your site should have robust search functionality so customers can find whatever they are looking for. Most modern content management systems offer this feature. Don’t forget to use pictures of your products to illustrate product features and quickly communicate what you are selling.
- Make it easy for customers to buy from you. With Amazon setting the usability bar with one-click ordering, you need to make the purchase and checkout process as simple and as short as possible. That means you’ll need “Add to Cart" or "Buy Now” buttons next to each product listing. The option to proceed directly to check out must be available after adding items to the shopping cart. Checkout forms must be simple and easy to understand and should be hosted on the website itself instead of a hosted third party payment system. That way you have a seamless shopping experience without being bounced between multiple websites. If possible, try to avoid multiple screens for checkout.
- Make it secure for customers to buy from you. E-commerce security is conducted at multiple levels. It starts with encrypting all communication between the web browser and your website with SSL certificates from a known provider like Verisign or Thawte. It also means making sure your site is PCI compliant and does not store sensitive credit card information and customer information on your servers. It also means using payment gateways that are well established and have the latest security enhancements such as fraud detection.
- Meet and exceed customer expectations. Meeting customer expectations starts with effective communication with the customer. When orders are placed, customers should immediately get an automatic email acknowledging their order. Customers should also get status emails when the order is shipped and when there are any issues with the order. If the issues with the order are significant, such as an incorrect shipping address, there should be an escalation process within your fulfillment department to address these problems immediately.
- Offer a money-back guarantee and have a no-hassle return policy. With most major online retailers offering a "no questions asked" return policy, customers are expecting this from the online retailers they buy from. The reason most online retailers adopt this policy is because the increased trust results in more orders which offsets the cost of any returns in the long run.
- Offer real-time customer support with 1-800 numbers and online chat tools. If there’s a problem, customers want to know there’s a real person they can talk to to get help ASAP. It starts with placing your phone number prominently on the site at the top and having a person standing by to answer the phone. "Contact us" links are also prominent on the website so customers can easily contact you via email. The more progressive online e-commerce sites leverage online chat tools to talk to customers online interactively. These new tools offer many advantages and allow online retailers to scale with fewer employees.
- Offer a variety of shipping options, including free shipping. Customers buying products online often want the product immediately; offering overnight shipping satisfies this immediate need. Online customers are also price conscious. If they can buy from a website that offers free shipping they will. In most cases, offering free shipping will increase orders, and if your margins are right, will more than offset the added cost.
- Leverage email marketing and discount coupons to generate repeat offers. Once you’ve acquired a new customer you should take advantage of low cost email marketing to drive repeat sales from your customer base. Effective email marketing starts with explicit opt-in and opt-out messages on all email communication and web forms on the site. Customers who don’t want to be on your mailing list should be removed immediately. When you email customers, make sure you carefully evaluate the mailing frequency and the offers you are sending them. If you send junk, you’ll be perceived as a spammer and your emails will be deleted or---worse---reported as SPAM. Eventually your email/domain site could be blacklisted or your email marketing vender could lock your account.
- Segment your customer base by product purchase history and tailor your email communication based on the attributes of that customer segment. For example, group your customers into a least 3 groups based on size of order, number of orders, and frequency of orders. Once you’ve segmented your customer base, you can tailor the message to that specific customer segment. If you take this approach, you are more likely to have higher open and click-through rates on your email marketing programs. You’ll also get fewer SPAM complaints.
- If you’ve been running a profitable e-commerce site for awhile, many of the above items should seem quite obvious, and you have probably implemented most of them already. However, it is surprising how may e-commerce sites forget the basics as they get larger and ignore the simple things that made them successful in the beginning. You can see it in some of the biggest e-commerce players online today. For larger established sites, we’d recommend using this as a checklist to review the basics and to ensure continued success.