18 Elements of a Successful e-Commerce Website

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While online shopping has yet to topple brick and mortar businesses, the consistent growth of online stores confirms that they are not going anywhere.

In fact now is a great time to jump on the bandwagon and start your own store. Whether its digital or physical products, dropshipping other people’s creations or hawking your own, there’s profit to be had from creating your own web shop.

There are also a lot of online stores out there that simply put, are doing it wrong.

In fact, creating a web store for your products takes a lot of work and not just the grind of getting products listed and making sure the site has a cart.

When creating a successful e-commerce website or even just updating your existing site, there are several factors you need to keep in mind. Here are my top 18 elements to a successful e-commerce site.

#1 Product names

Product names are immensely important for two reasons. Firstly the customer needs to know in an instant that the product is what they are looking for. Secondly, the product name will be used by search engines.

As such product names need to clearly define a product in as few words as possible, while not being too vague.

For example, instead of listing a product as leather jacket, list it as an Oversized Faux Shearling Leather Jacket. Or instead of listing a necklace as Gold Necklace, list it as 24 Carat Gold Link Necklace.

These details help both audiences and search engines find and understand the product quickly.

What you should avoid is keyword stuffing the product description, as so often found in Amazon.com listings.

Amazon Keyword Stuffed Product Title

#2 Descriptions

The description helps with two important elements of your site: the sales pitch and the product details.

The description will depend on your audience, so some stores will be a little bit more playful than others.

Funny descriptions over at ThinkGeek

For the most part you want to keep the description as concise as possible, while listing the necessary details. Using lists helps a lot with this.

#3 Images

The web is a visual medium and as such images can play a key part in the sales process.

Every product you list must have several images, ideally with at least one or two that are high resolution.

Being able to provide potential customers with different viewpoints of a product can not only help with sales but also reduce return of products that didn’t live up to expectations.

If you do supply a high resolution image, make sure that users can easily make use of it – you could open the image in a pop up window or use a “magnifier” system to let people see the details of the image easily.

Amazon's image zoom feature

ASOS goes one step further than this, by offering “cat walk” views which are mini videos of a model wearing the item of clothing and strutting their stuff. This really helps give a better view of the item.

Videos are also useful for providing use cases for products, such as kitchen appliances.

The more visual input the potential customer has, the more information they have to decide whether to purchase or not.

#4 Price

Clear pricing is vital. Yu should make sure the pricing not only shows the current price but any discounts as well.

If you do have discounts, offer both the dollar amount discount as well as the percentage: people prefer one or the other, so offering both covers all bases.

If there are any additional costs, such as taxes, shipping, etc., make sure to if not sure it, at least mention that there will be additional costs.

If you don’t people are more likely to abandon their cart when they find out about the additional costs.

#5 Call to Action Buttons (CTA)

If you want your visitors to take action, then you need to make sure your call to action (CTA) buttons are clear and obvious.

One of the best ways to do this is to make sure the button coloring is not only different from the rest of the surrounding website, but contrasting as well.

Bold CTA at Aliexpress

You also want to make sure that the action is clear, so if you want them to add to cart, put that on the button!

#6 Reviews & Testimonials

Social proof is often a double edged sword, but the use of it in ecommerce sites can have a marked effect on sales.

The basics behind it are that people are more (or less) willing to buy something if others have already done so and found the product to be as stated and decent.

By leveraging user reviews and testimonials an e-commerce site can provide a viewpoint that isn’t just about selling the product. This might seem counter intuitive but it works.

That is, unless the product gains a lot of negative comments. However, even that can be seen as useful as the product can then be pulled or work can be done to improve the product.

#7 Check Out/Cart

Whatever system, platform or software you use to create your e-commerce site, having an easy to use cart system is paramount.

One of the reasons for cart abandonment is simply not being able to navigate the cart itself!

With that in mind your chosen cart must be able to lead people through the final part of the sale with ease and provide them with enough information.

The cart should allow them to change quantities, remove items and get back to a sales page. It should also state taxes and shipping costs.

From a sales point of view the cart area should also allow upsells, though not to the detriment of making the initial sale.

#8 Wish List

Not everyone shopping at your store has the means or desire to make a purchase right then and there.

As such, implementing a wish list system can allow people to come back to their saved items at a later date.

This sort of system has extra benefits as normally it means they need to sign up as member of your site. This allows for possible marketing promotions both in respect to the wish list and offer promotions.

#9 Cross and Up-Sells

Any e-commerce store worth its salt, knows the power of upsells and cross sells.

Upsells are when a store tries to sell you a better version of what you’re trying to buy, for example a faster (and more expensive) computer.

A cross sell is when they offer additional products that complement your purchase, for example ink cartridges could be offered when you add a printer to cart.

Depending on your products and set up there are two ways to offer these products.

The first is at the cart. This is commonly used for cross sells, but could also be done for upsells in some situations.

The second is on the sales page. BestBuy adds a section to their sales page for computers offering the product as part of a package deal that is usually more expensive than the individual item.

BestBuy Upsell

Offering upsells and cross sells helps increase the chance of impulse buying, especially when there’ s a good deal involved.

#10 Related Products

Similar to upsells and cross sells, related products can help the customer see additional products that might be more suitable, and of course to purchase.

Not only can you show products in the same category, but if your e-commerce system allows, you can show what people who have viewed that page bought – Amazon does this extremely well, and so do Reebok.

Reebok you may also like

#11 Social Media

While social media might not always increase your sales in a direct fashion, allowing people to be able to easily share products and deals with their peers can help increase brand awareness as well as sales.

Hiding your social accounts at the bottom of the site is basically pointless, so make sure the sharing links are visible on the sales page.

#12 Discounts & Promotions

This might seem obvious, but if you have a discount on a product or a particular promotion, make sure it is truly visible. You want people to realise there are savings to be made, as a bargain is hard to resist!

#13 Shipping & Returns

Physical products need to be shipped and sometimes they are returned, so a delivery and returns policy will be needed.

Not only that but it has to be easy for people to be able to find this information, especially shipping. I’ve personally given up on sites before when unable to find out the cost of shipping, because it can add a lot to the product price so it has to be carefully reviewed before purchase.

#14 Navigation

If the visitors to your site cannot find what they are looking for, they will never become customers!

Your navigation has to be easy to use and it must clearly define the different product categories and sub categories.

Using a “breadcrumb” system is also advisable if you have a large number of products, as it makes it easier for people to retrace their steps and find the broader categories directly from the product sales page.

#15 Search

To complement your awesome navigation, you need to have an awesome search system!

While navigation is great for browsing, a search system can get your visitors to the products they want quickly.

Not all search engines are made equal so having one that offers auto complete and suggests results is ideal.

#16 Mobile Friendly

Browsing the internet and even shopping online via mobile devices is on the increase. As such your e-commerce site should be responsive and mobile ready.

According to the Telegraph.co.uk, online shopping is worth approximately £645 billion (about $787,493,000,000) in the top four countries of the UK, US, China and Germany.

In the UK alone, 59% of online sales are done via mobile devices.

Are you ready to make sure your site is mobile ready now?

#17 Support

Support isn’t just about helping people after purchases, but can also mean helping people to decide what they are going to buy.

You could do this via email, but let’s face it email isn’t going to be speedy enough to help people buy something right now.

Instead you should look to have live support chat on your site.

This way, people can ask questions and get (almost) immediate responses. Live chat has the added benefit of being able to resolve buyer obstacles while people are still in a buying frame of mind.

#18 Security

My final element for e-commerce sites has to do with security. Hacks, and leaks and viruses are rarely out of the news these days, so your need to make sure that your customers know that your site is as secure as possible.

The absolute minimum you need to do here is to obtain and SSL certificate for your site. An SSL certificate helps to encrypt data on your site, so things like credit card numbers are not visible to anyone and everyone.

After that a privacy policy is a good idea – this outlines how you will handle and treat your customer’s data, what is stored onsite and what isn’t.

Security seals can also be useful to help confirm your site is trying to be as secure as possible. In 2011 Actual Insights did a survey asking people which signs they recognised and which they trusted. While this data is somewhat out of date, it does confirm that people do recognise and trust in at least some security seals.

As such it can only help to have them.

Bottom Line

Creating an e-commerce store takes a lot of effort, but hopefully you’ve taken something away from this list of elements of a successful online store.

There are two broad things to take away from this, first is that you must make it so that your customer finds the whole process easy and seamless. Second that security can never be overlooked!

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