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In our parents’ time (unless you’re a 14-year old reading this), setting up a company meant taking huge loans, acquiring office space, employing a large bandwagon of employees, getting government licenses, and a long wait for all of these to fall in place before you could start operations. Today, you can think of a novel business idea in the morning and reach out to millions of prospective customers by evening through your very own store on the World Wide Web.

But of course, you know this already.

With the proliferation of D-I-Y tools like Weebly and Wix, a 5 year old (okay, a 10 year old) could put up a spanking new website in a couple of hours. Social media, online PR, blog posts and good old fashioned word of mouth will get you all (or at least, most of) the eyeballs you want.

What a lot of online retailers out there don’t give enough thought to is the things they might be doing that actually hurt their business instead of the other way round. Let’s take a closer look at some of these unforgivable self-flagellations.

1. Building walls around your site

Common sense says that you’d want as many shoppers as possible to come to your website and hopefully buy your products/services. Many marketing “gurus” say that building an email list is the only way you can build a thriving community of buyers. In this frenzy to capture email IDs of every human being that stumbles upon their site, business owners create sign up forms that act as a wall that visitors are expected to scale before they can even begin to see your merchandise. Even worse, many of these “database generation silver bullets” and “conversion rate enhancers” are actually impenetrable without supplying a host of personal details and verifying code.

In this day and age of attention spans the size of a paramecium, do you really want to make a potential customer jump through all those hoops just to arrive at your home page? Unless a visitor has some very specific interest in something that you offer on such a site, you’ve lost them forever.

A good way to check if your list building fervor is losing you customers is to check your bounce rate. The average bounce rate for ecommerce sites hovers between 20 – 40%. Is your bounce rate way over the mark? If yes, you know you need to make your website easier to access.

Bounce Rate

Image Source: KISSmetrics

There are tons of ways you can build your database or track a customer’s journey across your site. Building the next Great Wall around your site is not one of them.

2. Doing a tortoise act

Remember the dial up days of yore when we waited patiently for minutes on end for each page to load and then proceeded to repeat it again for the next page? Thankfully, those tortuous days are behind us, and we don’t really need a coffee refill by the time most webpages load.

There’s one problem to our new and improved state of affairs though. Expectations have swung to the other extreme and the race to the finish line was never this crazy. According to another study by KISSmetrics, 47% of web users today expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less.

every second counts

Image Source: Visualwebsiteoptimizer

Want to rank higher on Google? Speed up your site, for Pete’s sake!

Waste no time in finding out your current page load times and plugging the gaps. Get started with free to use tools like Yahoo’s YSlow or Pingdom.

3. Not focusing on marketing

A “Build it and they will come” level of confidence is alright if you have people camping outside your stores days before your new product launches, a la Apple. To be fair, even Apple marketed the game-changing iPhone in the early years with a memorable ad campaign that began with a simple “Hello.”

Most ecommerce startups spend so much time perfecting the layout, design, service delivery and a million other frills on their website, they barely have the time (or energy) left to whip up a brilliant marketing campaign on the side.

While it would be great to have the resources to plan and execute digital and offline campaigns that do full justice to your dream project, there’s no shame in starting small. Some of the easy (and free!) things you could get started with are:

1. Leverage the power of social media by creating and regularly posting interesting updates to your followers. Try and keep the fun stuff to sales plug ratio at 80:20 to continue to hold the attention and respect of your followers or shall we say, potential shoppers.

2. Start your own blog. A blog does not mean you list the minutes of yesterday’s brainstorm session with your programmers or go on and on about the last trade show you visited. Write about stuff that your customers would actually care about or be able to use. If you are an all-natural cosmetics retailer, you could give tips on keeping your skin supple in the summer sun or the dangers of toxic ingredients found in commercial lipsticks.

3. Use YouTube to your advantage. Take inspiration from the Dollar Shave Club, who have perfected the art of going viral in spite of a blatant product plug. The two major takeaways from this campaign? Keep it simple and tickle the viewer’s funny bone.

Shopify offers some easy-to-implement guidelines on how to turn YouTube into your own 24-hour Shopping TV channel, only infinitely more interesting.

4. Reach out to synergistic brands and help each other out. A good example would be a photo printing site tying up with an electronic retailer to offer camera buyers on the electronics site 5 free photo prints. This not only offers value to your partner brand, it also drives traffic to your site. The cost of customer acquisition through brand partnerships is significantly lower than most traditional methods of customer acquisition.

4. Donning the black hat

Remember what your Mom taught you – being naughty can get you spanked.

Stop, thinking dirty (I know you did, for a minute, you did!) and think of Big Brother Google who can make or break your website’s future by penalizing it till you mend your ways for good.

It’s great that your business has the resources to devote to marketing, but where you put your money matters a lot. Especially after the Panda and Penguin updates, Google does not hesitate in blacklisting entire sites even if a single page is the prime offender.

If your intention is to build a long-term business that brings value to you and your customers, these are some of the tactics that you ought to steer clear of:

  1. Content stuffing: A no-brainer really; keyword stuffing was so overdone right from the early 2000’s that you might as well have not bothered with the Web 2.0 at all. The modern form of this is content stuffing – creating content that just talks about your products and services and bores the crap out of people.
  2. Misleading redirect links: Tricking a user into clicking a link to your home page when the user expected something entirely different will not only get you no buyers, but will also flush your credibility down the drain.
  3. Buying links: Pay for your marketing, surely. But links that you pay for are often from spammy, illegitimate websites that you get no ranking benefit from Google for all the money you blew. With time, search engines have smartened up and this is one of the surefire ways to get your site banned by Google.

5. Not being mobile-ready

An average user in 2013 spent about 1.8 hours consuming media just on their mobile phone. Unless you are living under a rock, you’ve been bitten by the smartphone bug by now.


Image Source: INCRIdea Indonesia

Today, mobile traffic accounts for 15% of all web traffic. More importantly for ecommerce sites, a ComScore study shows that 4 out of 5 US smartphone users use their mobile devices to shop. Imagine the number of additional customers you would gain by ensuring your ecommerce site is mobile optimized?

But it’s not just your website that needs to be mobile ready. We are talking a mobile-first approach here. As per this study, in developing countries including China and India, the mobile is the first screen that consumers use to access the internet, unlike the United States or Europe where it is still the second screen of preference (due to the large established desktop PC base).

This means mobile optimized emails, a clear budget for mobile advertising, and actively building future additions to your site from a mobile-first perspective.

6. Confusing your users

How many times have you closed an ecommerce site, frustrated with the endless digging you had to do to arrive at a product that interests you?

User experience (UX) deals with the first impressions that a user has after landing on your site. Many factors contribute to a killer UX, including colors, images, merchandising, navigation, find-ability, consistent site architecture, secure and quick checkout process, and so on.

It’s really simple. If you want the user to buy a particular product, make it easy for them to find it in the first place.

  • Avoid overwhelming the user on your home page with a million products merchandised.
  • Try your best to avoid distractions like flashing banners and pop ups that will divert the user from your primary goal – making a sale.
  • Make navigation less of a bitch. Put yourself in the user’s shoes and try to build your site structure as intuitively as possible from there.

A clean UX with a well thought out site hierarchy is not just a pleasure to use, but the planning you put into your site architecture also pays off SEO dividends by making your pages more easily discoverable by Google.

7. Wearing them out at checkout

1-Click’ buying may be pioneered by Amazon, but most ecommerce sites still ask you to fill up multiple forms, check off on newsletter subscriptions, give every personal detail imaginable before you can whip out your credit card and pay for the purchase already.

Shopping cart abandonment is probably one of the most heartbreaking of metrics for ecommerce business owners. After all the efforts you put in to get the user to your site, interest them in a product, get them to start to buy the product, the user dropping off halfway through the checkout is a big deal. A very big deal, in fact 69.5% of users abandon shopping carts midway through the checkout process.

As per a UX design study conducted by Smashing Magazine, the average checkout process among the top 100 ecommerce sites was 5.08 steps.

The graph below shows that the usability score (or the ease of use) for ecommerce sites starts falling drastically when their checkout processes have 7 steps or more.


Image Source: Smashing Magazine

So what can you do to prevent abandoned shopping carts?

  • Don’t ask for unnecessary details, it adds to user fatigue
  • Keep the checkout flow linear. Don’t have sub sections that take the customer away from completing the purchase.
  • Allow the option of guest checkout (bears repeating). 24% of the top 100 ecommerce sites still force a user to sign-in in order to make a purchase.
  • Show the final price of the product before the end of the checkout process. After all, no one likes rude shocks; especially when it comes to money you’re parting with.

8. Ignoring customer communication

With so many communication platforms available today, it’s not easy as a business owner to stay on top of each one. Trouble is, the cost of missing out on communication from a customer is too high for you to not go that extra mile.

If you have a social media presence (who doesn’t!), EXPECT customers to write to you with their problems and queries. Even though you might look at social media as a free marketing tool, for most users; Twitter, Facebook and the like are platforms to voice their dissatisfaction (frequently, also satisfaction) with the brands that they consume.

According to different studies, while 50% of customers gave a brand only one week to respond to their complaint before switching service providers, a shockingly low 30% of customers actually received responses to their tweets! The upside to this is that when a brand does reply to a customer tweet, 83% of customers love it. Such a simple way of making your customer feel special and preventing them from switching to competition!

Customer communication does not always have to be complaint redressal or a sales pitch. An often overlooked aspect of customer communication is reaching out to a customer and saying, “Thank you!” With technology (such as triggered emails) on your side, the long road to customer retention is definitely walkable.

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Posted by Rohan Ayyar

Rohan is a digital strategist at E2M Solutions, where he puts together long-term online marketing and content creation plans for startups. He also helps develop innovative brand imagery at Catch him tweeting about everything astonishing @searchrook.

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