If you want to win in the competitive ecommerce industry, you need to avoid the pitfalls that will cause half of your peers to crash and burn along the way.
Mistakes are learning opportunities. There’s no doubt about that. But I think we can all agree it would be better not to make the mistake in the first place.
Here are 15 mistakes new ecommerce sites should avoid making.
1. Reinventing the Wheel
A new ecommerce brand tends to fall into one of two traps:
- Slapping something entirely derivative together.
- Attempting to build a unique solution for everything.
You absolutely should not be wasting resources on developing custom solutions to the problems you face unless that customization has a very clear and direct impact on your branding and your ability to offer a unique selling proposition (USP).
You should almost certainly use an existing ecommerce platform like Shopify or Magento, rather than attempt to put something together yourself unless a unique platform is the selling point of your brand.
I will warn you right now: most customers are looking for a familiar shopping experience, with a familiar design and navigational elements.
This goes for your shopping carts, your shipping fulfillment, and virtually every other piece of your business. If it’s not your selling point, let somebody who specializes handle it.
Focus your energy on the key differences between you and other brands in the industry.
2. Untrustworthy Design
A study conducted by researchers at Northumbria University found that the design of a site factors more into whether users find it trustworthy than any of the content on the site.
This is one of those areas where you absolutely should not try to go it alone unless you happen to be a highly qualified designer yourself.
Use a trusted, tested ecommerce platform with an up-to-date, modern theme if design is not a differentiating factor for your brand. If design is central to your brand, invest in top talent and do not cut corners.
3. Redundant Product Descriptions
From an SEO perspective, the most common issue I see with a new ecommerce site is redundancy in the product descriptions.
If your descriptions are nothing more than republications provided by the product manufacturer, you can count on receiving next to no search engine traffic on your product pages.
Google will view these product pages as duplicates of others that exist elsewhere, and your results won’t show up on the first page.
It’s also common for product descriptions to make no effort to overcome buyer objections, to understand the buyer’s journey, or to make comparisons that will give them a reason to buy the product from your site rather than from somebody else.
Product descriptions make up the most important content on a page and should never be neglected. If your inventory list is enormous, follow the Pareto principle and focus on your highest selling or most promising products.
4. Not Being Profitable (No, Really)
I recognize that this point sounds laughable, but it’s incredibly common for a new ecommerce site to be based on a business model that can quite simply never be profitable.
You must think in terms of how things will scale and be willing to do the math and make extrapolations. If your business isn’t profitable now, and your costs scale with production, you will lose money if sales spike.
Profitability is a far more important goal at the beginning than growth, and you absolutely must prioritize it over scale while you are working out the kinks in your business.
5. No Responsive Design
It’s less common to find a website that isn’t using a responsive design than it once was, but I still see it with some frequency. Your site needs to function well no matter what device someone uses to view it.
Here, again, is one of the main reasons to use a widely tested theme with only minor customizations, unless novel design is central to your brand. Test your theme with Google’s mobile-friendly test and stress test it with as many devices as you can get your hands in.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to make a test order from a mobile device. All too often a shopping cart will look fine on mobile but fail to actually submit an order.
6. No Target Audience
Consumers need a reason to shop from you instead of Amazon, and a major part of that is always going to come down to culture. If you want to beat the ecommerce giant, you need to choose a specific audience and earn that audience’s trust.
Central to this is a customer profile, a portrait of your ideal customer and the context that will lead them to you. This includes:
- An understanding of their interests.
- Any subcultures they may be a part of.
- Values that are important to them.
- Needs that your product solves for them.
- Places where they “hang out.”
The only proper way to accomplish this is with a solid mix of data analysis and intuition, ideally with some real-world conversations involved. The more focused you are, the better you will be able to connect.
7. Technical SEO Errors
Ecommerce sites, especially marketplaces, are prone to more SEO errors than virtually any other type of site. These errors can be a major obstacle to search engine traffic, which is all but necessary for an ecommerce business to thrive.
Here are a few of the most common issues to watch out for:
- Duplicate versions of the same page, usually caused by URL variables (those things in your URL that follow a question mark). Resolve these with canonicalization.
- Links to pages that don’t exist (that are 404). Use a crawl tool like Screaming Frog to find these.
- Similarly, links to redirected pages (that are 301 or 302). While clicking on a redirected link will still take the user somewhere, hopefully to a page that still matches what they are looking for, redirects diminish Google PageRank, which is an important factor in determining where your site will turn up in search results. You can use a crawl tool to find these as well. These should be replaced with links to the final page.
- Pages that can’t be reached from any links on your site. You will need to adjust your theme to ensure that all pages are reachable from the navigation. You can find out if this is a problem by comparing your page database with your crawl. If any pages aren’t found during the crawl, they aren’t getting linked to.
Technical SEO is a huge discipline and working with a professional is recommended if it’s within your budget.
8. Complicated Shopping Carts
Eliminate as many steps as possible from your shopping cart process, and do not force them to set up an account in order to give you money.
If a consumer has decided that they want to buy one of your products, you don’t want there to be any obstacles in their way.
Keep buttons big and text small, and remove any unnecessary fields. Do not surprise them with any unexpected fees.
9. No Logo
I’ve been stressing that you should stick to trusted themes with minimal customization in most cases, in order to present consumers with a familiar experience that follows web conventions, the only exception being if novel design is a part of your unique selling proposition.
Logos are one place you definitely don’t want to skip on customization.
Your logo is the face of your brand, and in many cases, it is the only visual image a consumer will remember of your brand if they want to find it again.
Template text with your brand name in the theme simply is not enough to create a memorable brand impression.
It is worth investing in a designer to help produce a logo, but if this isn’t possible, know that there are many free tools at your disposal to help you develop a logo. There are no excuses in this day and age to skip the logo.
10. Empty ‘About’ Page
Many new ecommerce brands skimp on the About page, perhaps because they notice that it doesn’t generally bring in a great deal of search engine or referral traffic.
If you take a closer look at your analytics, however, you will likely discover that a large portion of your visitors stop by the page before they leave.
Your About page is an important place to get your unique selling proposition across, so take the time to flesh it out.
Another common issue is a “bio” About page that provides a lot of context but not a great deal of “what’s in it for me.”
Your About page isn’t really about you, it’s about the consumer. This page should give consumers enough context to better understand your brand, but the goal should be to address how this context serves the customer.
11. Not Addressing a Hole in the Market
The term “unique selling proposition” has showed up a few times in this post, and if you are launching an ecommerce site you probably know you need to have one, but it would be a mistake not to mention this here.
It is very common for new ecommerce brands to fail to differentiate themselves from their competition. It isn’t enough to focus on a particular type of product if consumers can still find those products on Amazon.
Having a unique selling proposition is about more than having a niche or a sector of the market to focus on.
Your business model needs to address a true gap in the market. You need to solve a problem that other businesses aren’t solving in a way that is satisfactory to your audience.
This is in no way easy, but it’s necessary.
12. Poor Customer Service
According to research by the Harvard Business Review, customer service interactions are four times more likely to prevent losing a customer than they are to create customer loyalty. This is a subtle but important difference.
Surveys of executives usually find that their goal with customer service is to “wow” the customer with some big moment, but what really keeps customers is simply delivering on the essentials.
What customers want is for their issues to be resolved quickly, ideally within a single call, without being passed around or given the run around. This is why it is so crucial to factor the cost of effective customer service into the cost of the product.
We also need to recognize that modern customer service should be multi-channel, and is certainly not limited to the phone call.
If you outsource your customer service, invest in a trusted call center, and call your customer service regularly to ensure that they are meeting your standards.
13. Complex Navigation
This is another place where reinventing the wheel should be avoided unless it is absolutely central to your USP.
Do not stray far from navigation best practices:
- Anything clickable should be large enough to tap on a mobile phone.
- Provide users with top-level categories that are accessible from the top menu.
- Allow the user to sort by important features such as price, freshness, review scores, and so on.
- Clicking a product should take the user to a product page with information that will help them overcome any objections, and the “buy” button should be prominent and easy to find.
- Give the user a search function. In most cases, you should use Google Custom Search or a solution like Swiftype rather than developing your own search engine, since building search functions that aren’t too finicky is monumental task others have already gone through the effort of solving for you.
14. Unenlightening Product Photos
It’s obvious that clear, attractive visuals are a must in order for an ecommerce site to do well, but some care is needed in order to make the most of them.
Some products lend themselves more to visual comparison than others.
Product descriptions in the browsing portion of your site can be distracting if you are comparing clothing, but become necessary in other circumstances.
You can’t compare two laptops on sight alone.
15. Insufficient Social Proof
As afraid as you might be to include user reviews on your ecommerce site, I can tell you that this is almost always a win, especially if the reviews are vetted to only include actual buyers of the product.
If you’re afraid of negative reviews, here is something worth paying attention to. The variability in star ratings is actually good for sales.
While a higher average score is certainly a good thing, users expect some negative reviews and get suspicious if they don’t see any.
The best way to do something is rarely the most common way to do something.
If you want to be one of few not only survive, but thrive in this competitive industry, learn from the mistakes of others before learning from your own.
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