10 Characteristics Of A Successful Online Store
As we enter this new decade, the world of commerce is shifting online at a rate never before seen. Given our unprecedented circumstances, eCommerce has become, in the parlance of our times, essential.
With consumers across the globe doing as much shopping as possible from the safety of their homes, the competition for eCommerce revenue will be intense. If you intend to start doing business online, or if you have an online store that you want to take to the next level, you’ll have to ensure that your customers have the most enjoyable and seamless experience possible. That means having good site speed, easy searchability, quality product images, mobile-friendly design, and more.
Let’s talk about the eCommerce best practices you can employ to give consumers a reason to spend money in your online store — and keep coming back.
Table of Contents
A Well-Designed Website
You could be offering the most impressive selection of products on this side of Amazon, but if your website is unpleasant to use, your potential customer base will decide that it’s just not worth it.
A well-designed online store does two things: It makes it easy for your site visitors to find what they’re looking for, and it does so quickly. The importance of a business website’s speed often gets overlooked, but website speed is a key factor in your eCommerce success. A Kissmetrics study found that if an eCommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a one-second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales each year.
- Keep your website intuitive and organized, keep your graphics optimized for quick load times, and keep an eye on your analytics. If your web host has a traffic cap, your success can eventually work against you. More traffic can mean slower page loads, especially if your CDN (Content Delivery Network) tapers your bandwidth as you reach your limit. Don’t buy a more copious plan than you can afford, but make sure your site is optimized for your current traffic, with extra wiggle room for growth.
- A poorly-organized website will discourage and distract your users before they make a purchase decision. Make it easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for. A Search tool is essential, but it is a backup plan. An intuitive, as-few-clicks-as-possible layout is Plan A. This does not mean you should cram everything onto your home page, however.
An Easy Checkout Process
Your customers’ checkout experience needs to be as easy and accomodating as possible to cut down on your abandoned cart rate. Abandoned carts are the bane of an online store’s existence — in 2019, Baymard Institute examined a group of 41 different eCommerce studies and found that, on average, 69.57% of carts are ultimately abandoned. Thankfully, there are a number of other steps you can take to ensure that your cart abandonment rate is as low as possible.
- One-Page Checkout: Pave the way to your cash register. An easy checkout process can be managed with just a one-page checkout, a fairly common feature among shopping cart software providers.
- Allow Guest Checkout: When you require customers to create an account before placing an order, you create a barrier between your customer and the purchase said customer wants to make. By allowing guests to make purchases on your site without making them register, you bypass this potential chokepoint and ease the path toward your customers completing their purchases. Of course, you still want to give customers the option of creating an account so that they can save their payment information and other preferences.
- Display All Charges Before Checkout: That Baymard Institute study I referenced found that the most common reason given by people who abandoned their carts during the checkout process was that they found the extra costs (shipping, taxes, fees) to be too high. Consider displaying all pricing information upfront before checkout, so your customers won’t be hit with any surprises.
- Keep Your Checkout Page Simple: You don’t want your customers to get distracted and leave your checkout page, so consider removing such things as your header/footer and your menu options during the checkout process.
As the concept of eCommerce has matured, customers expect not to pay an arm and a leg for shipping and to have options for expedited shipping.
Get to know all of the shipping couriers available to you and which of them can best handle your products. Don’t just go with the USPS because you like your mailman. Also, set up your cart to auto-send Order Shipped emails when your carrier scans in your package.
While this may not be practical for all merchants, it may be worth looking into providing a free shipping option to your customers. While the upfront cost of covering shipping will initially take a bite out of your profits, with time, you may well see an increase in sales if you don’t charge shipping. If you decide to go this route, highlight this policy as clearly as you can, so your customers are aware of it!
Multiple Payment Options
It’s just common sense — if customers are offered the chance to pay using the method they prefer, they’re more likely to go through with their purchase. That’s why it’s important that you allow your would-be customers to choose from an assortment of different payment options.
It’s a given that you should accept credit cards and debit cards but also consider other options as well, such as PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, and maybe even cash on delivery.
Good Images & Product Descriptions
It’s all too easy to try to tackle the photography yourself in an attempt to save the money it would take to outsource it. After all, as a small business owner, you know you’ve had to “wear all the hats” at times. But consider this: The first impression online customers get of your products is from the images on your website, and you might not get the opportunity to make another impression if your photos don’t match the quality of your product.
This is especially the case with online stores. In a physical store, a new customer can walk in, handle your products, maybe even try out a demo, and absolutely know the quality of your product. But an online shopper does not have this opportunity. They rely mainly on two things: photos and reviews. Fail at either one, and the potential customer will surf away and never return. Even a great product with poor photos won’t get a second glance.
The higher the quality of your product, then the higher the quality of photos it will require.
Do a bit of online digging to find a local photographer. An online portfolio that specifically includes examples of their Product Photography is fantastic to find. But even if this is not a part of their portfolio, that shouldn’t strike them from your list of candidates. If you’re impressed with their wedding photos, for example, they’ll likely devote the same professionalism to your products.
As for product descriptions, go beyond typical sales-y rhetoric. Write product descriptions that are tailored to appeal to your target audience, address what the product will do for you, and that appeal to the imagination. Shopify has a blog post that offers some great examples of the kind of product descriptions that sell. Check it out!
Another good idea: Include SEO-friendly keywords in your product titles and descriptions.
The trends couldn’t be clearer: The share of eCommerce sales that come from mobile purchases grows with each passing year.
While it may not yet be time for your business to spend money developing its own mobile app, there’s no reason why your website can’t be optimized for mobile use, especially since an ever-increasing proportion of online shopping is done via phones and tablets. You can’t afford to ignore your presentation on the mobile web.
If this is not your area of expertise, you’re not out of luck. Nearly every website builder and online store provider these days are capable of setting up a mobile site to match your standard desktop site. But while any mobile presence is better than none, there is a web design practice that you should adhere to, and that is mobile responsive design.
Responsive design is what makes your site look as clear, organized, and readable as it can be, no matter what size screen is viewing it. You can imagine how a simple blog, for example, could be great to read from your office chair and on a nice big screen, but if you were to simply shrink it down to the size of your smartphone screen, it would be completely unreadable. Responsive websites detect the size of the screen they are being displayed on and automatically adjust all the elements — text, graphics, buttons, etc. — to the size and layout that works for the screen real estate available to it.
Check out the following articles for more on creating mobile-friendly websites.
- Creating Websites For The Smartphone Generation
- What Is Responsive Design?
- Best Website Builders For Mobile Sites
Good Customer Support
A modern online store needs attentive and thorough customer support. As your business grows in complexity, you’ll need to meet a broader range of customer inquiries. An easy-to-find self-help section can save your customers (and you) a lot of time. Many sites feature an FAQ to answer the most commonly-asked questions. Some sites curate a knowledgebase full of these FAQs as well as articles, how-tos, instruction manuals, and the like. Other sites feature user forums as well — a good feature if your site has a large user base.
Anticipate what your users may need and make it easy to find, whether it is your products or assistance that they require. Just remember: Respond to customer complaints as soon as you possibly can. If an unhappy customer gets a quick and helpful reply, you stand a good chance of winning over your most challenging customer segment with one simple email. Always answer quickly, and answer affirmatively as often as you can.
It may seem as if becoming a seller on vaunted Amazon is just for the big dogs. But that is far from the truth. In fact, selling on Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest, and even Twitter, all at the same time, is within your reach.
The idea behind multichannel selling is that each one of these customer-facing storefronts is just a different facet of one store. Your orders, no matter where they originate, all show up in the same dashboard you’re already familiar with.
Nearly all of the leading shopping cart software providers have this functionality, though you may need to upgrade your subscription. Multichannel and omnichannel storefronts are typically only offered from the mid-level to higher pricing tiers.
Calls To Action
This one is a bit of a psychological trick, but it works. If you offer a quick way for your web traffic to “buy-in” to your business, the chances drastically increase that they will convert to a sale. This buy-in action can be as simple as signing up for your newsletter, entering an email address to receive an instant first-time-visitor coupon, or merely continuing to the subsequent page to resume browsing. This buy-in should come in the form of a call-to-action or CTA. The CTA should come in the form of a button (particularly on a mobile website) that spells out the specified course of action. Think “Sign Up For Free,” “Learn More,” “Subscribe,” “Get Started,” and so on.
I strongly recommend keeping your CTAs as simple and straightforward as you can. Place your CTA near the top of your homepage, so your site visitors don’t have to do anything to find it.
Everyone likes a sale. We like knowing that we got what we wanted and got it for less than what was “normal.” Jumping on a sale stimulates the same parts of the brain that light up when scoring in competitive sports.
Periodically offering your goods at a reduced rate does not imply that you’re losing any profits. In fact, a good discount stimulates sales you might not have made otherwise. It is a win/win; your customers get the product they wanted and are happy with (which is in itself a huge win for you, as it encourages repeat business), but you, the business owner, also benefit. You get, at the very least, one more transaction, and at best, a cascade of new and loyal customers as the satisfied shopper recommends you to their friends.
These promotions can, and should, be tailored to your unique store and product. Thankfully, there are scores of options on this front. It is recommended that you try several types of promotions to see how well they do. But before you consider which type of promotion to experiment with first, remind yourself of these three things:
- Your Product: Does it lend itself well to upselling strategies, such as adding accessories prior to checkout? Is recurring billing an option? What about a discount for bulk orders?
- Your Customer Demographics: What are their buying habits? Their average purchasing power? Their related interests? Which marketing methods will best reach them — social media, postal mailers, email newsletters, etc.?
- The Seasonal/Cyclical Nature Of Your Business: If you’re selling swimsuits, November might not be the best time to promote your newest design. However, it may be the prime time to offer BOGO deals on last year’s products or to promote a referral partner that sells skiing gear.
There are too many kinds and variations of promotions to list here, but I won’t leave you without a jumpstart. Some of these will work for your business; others may not apply in your case. Here are a few of the most effective options:
- First-Time Signup Discount: Offer a discount for first-time signups to your email newsletter. This could be a dollar amount off the next purchase or a percentage off of one full-priced item, for example.
- Upselling: “Users who bought X also bought Y,” or “Need a carrying case for the Widget you’re buying? Our specially designed WidgetCase comes in five colors.”
- Threshold Sales: This is a common promotion in stores that sell many different kinds of products. It looks like this: Buy $50, get a 10% discount. Buy $100, get a 25% discount, and so forth.
- Loyalty Programs: A good customer loyalty program requires a way to track your customers and their purchases. Thankfully, there are POS systems that make the process much easier.
- Email Campaigns: This one is cheap, and once you have set it up and set it in motion, it’s easy. It also blends well with several of the above promotions. Apps such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact have this strategy down to an art, and they integrate with just about every eCommerce cart out there.
- Seasonal Sales: Really? A store-wide sale because it happens to be President’s Day weekend? Why not? Do it!
- Referral Partners: These non-competing businesses can drive their outgoing traffic to you and vice versa. This works especially well if your partners are in a related niche. You sell bread; they sell butter.
It’s always a good idea to test out these promotions to see how well they boost your sales. You may be surprised by the results. But once you find something that works, don’t stop experimenting. Do what works, but keep trying other options and refining your efforts. Your marketing strategy should constantly be evolving.
Promotions and marketing aren’t all about reducing the price of your goods. Sometimes it can be very effective to simply improve how you display your products. If your page has no real interactive content, consider adding a product carousel to your homepage. Highlight your best sellers, mention your currently running sales, and link to your latest blog. This header-style graphic will rotate through all of its content every few seconds, giving some life and motion to your home page.
The Bottom Line On Successful e-Stores
While it does take some effort to align your online store to the best practices outlined above, most modern shopping cart software makes it relatively easy to accomplish these goals — easier than it used to be, anyway.
Here’s a quick recap of the ways you can take your e-store to the top of eCommerce Mountain.
- A slick, speedy website
- An easy checkout process
- Competitive shipping policies
- Multiple payment options
- Quality images and solid product descriptions
- A mobile-friendly site design
- Good customer support
- Multichannel storefronts
- Call-to-action buttons
- Offer special promotions
With the way the economy — and the world in general — is trending, expect competition in the eCommerce industry to get all the more cutthroat in the months and years ahead. However, if you stay on top of the latest practices, there’s no reason why you can’t emerge from this period as one of the winners.
And if you’re just starting up in the eCommerce industry, these articles should help you get started!