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Selling online: nine mistakes to avoid

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The attraction of selling online is clear. It provides a shop that is open 24/7, has low overheads and opens up your business to a global audience. It should also be great for your customers, making it more convenient to browse and purchase your products. But all too often ecommerce websites get the basics wrong.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid.

1. Failing to focus on the products

How many shops do you see on the high street that don’t have products in the window? They all do. 

So why wouldn’t you do the same on your online store? Selling products is the primary goal of an ecommerce website, so don’t waste prime real estate on your homepage with lengthy introductions to your service; get straight into the products.

That said, don’t just plonk them on home page willy-nilly. Just as you would in a bricks and mortar shop, design your shop front to entice visitors in. Use your homepage to promote new products, bestsellers and special offers.

2. Bad product photography

Sticking with the bricks and mortar analogy, real-world shops companies spend a great deal of money on visual merchandising, ensuring every productin the shop is presented in its best possible light. The same is true online – great product photography can make the difference needed to make that sale.

Make sure product photography is well-lit, clear and large enough to see sufficient detail. If possible, show multiple images of products from different angles and ideally show a photograph of the product in context. For example, clothes should be shown on a model and furniture should be shown in a household setting.

3. No testimonials

Some people are still wary of buying online, and even if they’re not, prudent visitors will want to know that you’re trustworthy – particularly when you’re a new player in the online world. 

Showing customer testimonials clearly on your site is a great way to demonstrate a track record of pleasing your customers.

4. Not making use of social media

Fail to utilise social media at your peril – it’s a fantastic way to drive traffic to your online shop and increase revenues.

A simple and effective way to use social media to benefit your online shop is to add Facebook “Like” buttons on each product page, allowing visitors to share products with their friends. This can generate word-of-mouth interest in your products.

This technique is particularly effective for desirable products – things like clothes, jewellery, music and gadgets. 

It is perhaps less effective for more practical purchases – people are unlikely to “Like” your industrial strength drain unblocker (although you’ve got nothing to lose by providing them with the option!).

5. Forcing users to “create an account” before buying

As an online shop, your primary goal is getting people to buy your products. Making the checkout process difficult or lengthy will put a lot of people off.

Don’t force your users to sign-up for an account. This is enough to put a lot of people off completing their purchase. 

Instead, only collect the data you need to process payment and fulfil the order. You can ask the user if they want to create an account after they’ve completed the checkout process, encouraging them by stating benefits of being able to track their order, receive special offers and so on.

6. Only offering a single payment option

Some people prefer to pay with PayPal, others with their credit card. Don’t miss out on sales by only including a single payment method.

Customers that prefer options like Paypal and Google Checkout do so because they are familiar with them and, crucially, they trust them. They’re less likely to trust your on-site credit card processing, no matter how secure you’ve made it.

Other customers don’t want the hassle of going through an external payment process – and having to create a Google Checkout account could be the barrier to payment that results in a lost sale.

7. Making products hard to find

There’s nothing more frustrating than wasting time scrolling through a seemingly endless list of products trying to find the one you want.

Your website should make it as quick and easy to find items as possible. This means giving the users the navigation options they’ll want and expect.

One example of this, that is often done badly, is making sure your website has a good product search feature. As well as the obligatory search box, this should provide functionality to filter search results by category, allowing users to sort results and provide the option to “show all” products rather than splitting into pages.

Another key consideration is the overall navigation of the site. Make sure you split your products into sensible categories and subcategories. If a product fits into more than one category, make sure it appears in both.

8. Missing add-on sales opportunities

If a visitor has viewed or purchased a particular product on your site, you can instantly tell a little bit about what they like or might need. Make the most of this information by employing cross-selling techniques.

On a product page, for instance, you should show alternative or complimentary items –if you’re looking at this dress, why not also try these shoes that go perfectly? 

The same technique can be applied throughout the order process, making offers like “Buy printer ink with this printer for only £10 extra” when a user adds an item to their shopping cart.

Techniques like these are great for keeping visitors on your site and picking up extra sales.

9. Not showing shipping information

Waiting until the checkout screen to show shipping information is a recipe for frustrated customers. People want to see the total amount they’re going to pay up front, so show your shipping rates as early in the process as possible.

You should also and include a “shipping” or “delivery” section on your website that explains these costs and the details of the type of shipping provided. As part of these pages, you should clearly state where you do and don’t ship to. Having your shop online opens it up to a global audience, so you should be clear about where you can and can’t ship to.

Piers Thorogood is a co-founder of We Make Websites

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