By: John Tomblin, Senior Solutions Architect
Did you know there are over 2.1 million e-commerce sites in the United States? That is one e-commerce site for every 95 adults in this country. Here is another stat that will terrify you. Of the 2.1 million sites, it is estimated that less than 100 of these sites account for over 50% of all e-commerce transactions. This makes the need to create a "sticky" e-commerce site very real, along with other elements needed to have a successful platform. This statement is even more true for start-ups trying to tap into the marketplace, not to mention offering products and commodities that people actually want. Sadly, 83% of all e-commerce ventures fail during the first year of operation, so getting it right takes a combination of an excellent product offering, outstanding value, uniqueness, and stellar customer service. Additionally, your site needs another secret ingredient, one that a lot of companies miss, and that is a nearly perfect user experience.
User experience is how someone interacts with your site (and your company). It is the final impression left in the mind of your customers once they have completed their purchase and are awaiting delivery at their front door. From page download speed to mobile responsiveness, to quick check-out and fast shipping options, each plays a vital role in the user experience. Done right, and you will have returning customers. Done wrong and you will be part of the 83% crowd. Oh, and if you want a marker for providing an outstanding user experience, look no further than Disney.com, Apple.com, Uber.com, and Amazon.com. When it comes to customer service, these companies do it flawlessly, and this is what every e-commerce site should aim for.
To operate an e-commerce site and to monetize successfully, here are seven must-haves you need to succeed.
1) Think like your visitors:
When you are considering the design factors for a user-centric website, slip into the shoes of your audience, pun intended. Say you are building an e-commerce site for men's shoes. Let us call the store "bigfootshoes.com". What do men visiting the site want? They want a clean interface design, simple navigation tools, and clear, well-defined shipping options. If a customer is looking for running shoes, show other running shoes that he might like using "product tags".
2) Simplicity Counts:
All of us now live in a three-second world. That is how much time you have as an e-tailer to keep a visitor on your site, once they first arrive – three seconds. With reduced attention spans and busy lifestyles, no one is going to browse a site that has thousands, or even hundreds of products, without search controls and a stellar navigation structure. Instead, they look for a clean, clear, organized shopping page where they can spot the products quickly, and without distraction.
Adding lots of bells and whistles to your webpage not only makes it challenging for customers to search for their desired product but does not serve your business goals. Easy-to-read texts, simple interface design, well-photographed products, and an always present shopping cart icon make it simple for customers to view their carts, and most importantly, complete the sale.
3) Fast Search Options:
According to numerous studies from research institutions like statista.com and pewresearch.org, nearly 30% of visitors use a website's search bar tool at some point during their visit, and 43% start with the search bar without ever scrolling down the page. Further, and most importantly, once a visitor arrives on the site, and when they start by using the search bar, their likelihood of making a purchase increase 80%
4) Content Counts:
Content plays a key role when it comes to customer engagement. It can be anything and everything, from well-crafted product descriptions and product tags to user reviews and immersive video content. Where appropriate, include instructional or how-to content, especially for products that require assembly. For sites that sell clothes and accessories, create, and include blog content detailing the latest fashion designs and trends... what is hot and what is not. Try to get a local endorsement from an authority. It does not have to be Giorgio Armani or Vera Wang, but anyone who is considered an authority in your local marketplace. This helps you establish yourself as an authority figure on fashion while helping to increase traffic counts to your website.
Also, when it comes to product descriptions and tags, DO NOT copy and paste what your vendors and suppliers have on their websites. Google does an excellent job of identifying duplicate content from other sites. They also penalize your site ranking when duplicate content is found.
5) Offering Sound Customer Support:
The best customer support you can offer is to provide a site and sale experience that is so seamless, the customer never needs to contact you. This should be the first goal of your e-Commerce platform; however, events can occur that are outside the purview of everyone's control Issues such as internet outages during check-out, out-of-stock concerns (like what has happened in the graphic cards market recently), page-freezes, promo-codes failing to work properly, etc.
Make sure your company's phone number and email address are at the top and bottom of every page. Also provide phone number auto-linking for consumers who can make calls to your company, either clicking the phone number link from their mobile device or desktop computer. Also include an FAQ section on your site, along with your support service hours. This tells your customers, people whom you have never met, that you are there to support their shopping experience and that you are willing to help resolve issues.
6) Keeping it Mobile Friendly:
In 1990, no one had heard of a mobile phone. In 2000, less than 2% of the U.S. population owned a mobile phone. By 2010, it was 35% and in 2020, that number had reached a whopping 97%, and mobile phone usage, especially in the e-commerce marketplace, continues to rise. In 2019, 57% of consumers used a mobile device to shop or purchase products online. In 2020, the number increased to 60%, but during 2020, the global pandemic had a massive impact on mobile shopping, and already in 2021, as of this article's publication date, the percentage of people making purchases with their mobile phone has rocketed to over 70%. That said, your site must be device agnostic, or put another way, must have the same overall appearance and functionality, whether you are using an Android, Apple, or even a Windows mobile phone, along with the plethora of other screen types for tablets. Be sure to read some of our other articles on "Cross-Platform Development" vs "Native" coding for mobile app projects.
7) Incorporating Security:
No security system is failsafe. When foreign actors can pierce the veil of major oil companies and meat packaging companies, as seen in recent weeks, and cause sudden spikes in supply and demand chains, it is clear that, at best, any online presence is never 100% secure. The retail giant Target Department Store was hacked in 2013, and companies like Adobe.com, eBay.com, Marriott International, MySpace.com, LinkedIn.com, have all been victims of data breaches. Even Yahoo, a multi-billion dollar company, was a victim of sensitive data leaks. So, as a small business, how do you keep your customers' data safe... and more importantly, how do you put your customer's minds at ease that their transaction is safe? You do this by ensuring that your site's SSL certificates are high-grade, 1028 level encryption, meeting minimum HTTPS protocols, OTP, providing a strong firewall (using platforms like AWS and Stripe), and even offering two-factor authentication as an added layer of security. It is also essential that you off-load as much of the credit card and banking processes to third-party financial institutions, not only for your customer's protection but for yours as well, not to mention having PII and PCI compliance to other providers.
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