10 Survival Tips For E-Commerce Websites

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abandoned shopping cart

The last decade has seen nothing short of a revolution in the way that we shop, with the number of purchases from online stores rising with each year. 

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2013:  “72% of adults bought goods or services online”

As an e-commerce store owner, the online marketplace is becoming an increasingly competitive environment, where turning clicks into profit is an art form in itself.

Here are my top ten survival tips to help you enhance your users’ experience, increase conversions, and ultimately boost overall revenue.

Tip 1: Keep Delivery Charges Minimal

Everybody wants to feel like they’re getting a good deal, and there’s nothing more dispiriting than finding that perfect purchase, only to discover it will cost the earth to ship it. For e-commerce store owners, shipping charges may be one way to increase margins on each sale, but it is also a sure-fire way to see abandoned shopping carts and lost sales.

E-tailing Group released details of a survey which revealed that unconditional free shipping is the most important element in making a purchasing decision on a website. With more and more web retailers offering free shipping, applying an extra shipping fee – especially with the intent to increase profits – is effectively pricing yourself out of the market. If you are unable to offer free shipping, then it’s simply a case of keeping shipping to a minimum, or alternatively you could follow Motel’s lead and offer customers free UK next day shipping on orders over a certain amount:


Screen shot from www.motelrocks.com 14/04/2014

Tip 2: Know Your USP – and Tell the World

As a business, your first point of call is to know your demographic, and by association, your niche and your Unique Selling Point (USP).

A USP not only helps to describe and align your brand, it also allows you to target your audience effectively, and attract more buyers that are likely to result in sales.

If you haven’t established your USP, then you need to ask yourself two fundamental questions. First: what sets you apart from your competitors? And second: why should a customer choose your store over your competitors?  Nail these two questions and you’ve got your USP that will help to carve out that all-important niche and capture the market — and convert clicks into sales.

Of course, when figuring out your USP, it’s good to always keep the customer in mind – what is it that you offer that is of benefit to your potential customers? How will your products or services enhance or benefit them? Is it your website’s super-fast delivery service? Perhaps you offer only the best quality products or services in your field. Or maybe it’s simply offering the lowest prices.

On their website, Kiddicare provide a great example of how USPs can be turned into tangible customer benefits:

kiddicare benefits

Screen shot from www.kiddicare.com 14/04/2014

The lesson here is to really know your USP, and make sure your customers know about it, too. Don’t be afraid to make your USPs a feature across your online assets

Tip 3: Be Transparent and Offer Reassurance

The laws that govern online shopping stores ensure important details such as business contact information are always displayed, and product information is accurate. But many people still have anxieties about purchasing online.

You can increase buyer confidence by including content that answers many questions – such as queries around returns, delivery and cancellations – that might be asked before making a purchase. The aim is to demonstrate that you are an open, honest, and upfront business. This can easily be done by creating a dedicated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page that is seen or quickly navigated to from your website’s landing page.

Collectif Clothing are a great example of how to actively reassure and empower buyers to complete their order:


Screen shot from www.collectifclothing.co.uk 14/04/2014

Tip 4:  Safe, Secure and Seen

Whether it’s by credit card, PayPal, or entering bank details, safe and secure payment options are a must for any online business. Customers are more inclined to make a purchase if they are able to see their trusted options before they commit to buy. Displaying payment options alongside a secure payment banner reinforces the message:

secure payment

Screen shot from www.kiddicare.com 14/04/2014

Clearly displaying your secure payment options will give your website visitors peace of mind. Since many customers having a preferred method of payment, it’s important that you offer a variety of payment methods to make sure nobody misses out.

Tip 5: Streamline to the Shopping Cart

Capturing visitor details with account registration has many benefits to your business, but for some customers this extra step takes too much time and effort and could result in a lost sale.

When it comes to online shopping, it’s all about allowing your website visitors to get where they need to go in as few clicks as possible. So offering an express checkout or ‘guest’ option is one way to capture important user information for marketing, whilst giving the customer a streamlined experience.

My Train Ticket offers a hassle-free guest checkout option for those who are in a hurry to collect their tickets:

my train ticket

Screen shot from mytrainticket.co.uk 14/04/2014

Tip 6: Follow Up Abandoned Shopping Carts

We’ve previously mentioned shopping cart abandonment – where customers drop out and fail to commit to a sale, despite having placed items in their cart.

Fashion and lifestyle brand, Quicksilver, has tackled this very problem with an automated but personalized follow-up email:


Image taken from https://econsultancy.com/blog/63925-cart-abandonment-emails-how-five-retailers-retarget-lost-customers

The follow-up email should be sent out as soon as possible after shopping cart abandonment, to help capture the sale while the customer is still looking to buy.

It’s also crucial that the email is customized, containing specific products or services and special offers with highlighted benefits (i.e. free shipping rates) to encourage the customer to go back and make that purchase.

Another way to reduce shopping cart abandonment rates is to provide a direct link back to the abandoned shopping cart, so that the customer only has to click once to get back to where they were before they jumped ship.

Syncing your follow-up emails with your Customer Relationship Management software, as well as Google Analytics, will help you to measure the success of the emails. It will also help you to understand your customers’ preferences and behaviours on your website – valuable data that could increase future conversion rates.

Tip 7: Live Chat

With a lack of face-to-face interaction, online businesses are at risk of seeming impersonal and out of reach. But a live chat and prominent contact section on your website offers a direct line to a real person.

Best practice is to display your business’ email and telephone number clearly, as it reinforces the message that you’re more than happy to be contacted by customers if they have any queries or feedback regarding their purchases. If possible, it’s also worth setting up a live chat function on your website so customers are just a click away from a real person. Here’s an example from Harvey’s Furniture Store:

Harveys Furniture Store

Screen shot from harveys.co.uk 14/04/2014

Live chat should only be implemented if you have the resource to offer the facility between set hours each day.

Tip 8: The Best Possible Product Photos

One of the most significant cons of buying online is the inability to hold the product in your hands and try before you buy. From clothing to jewelry or white goods, product quality is often discerned through touch alone.

To tackle this issue, using high-quality images of the product from various angles to provide the best overall impression, helping customers to make a more informed purchase.

Here’s how alternative clothing and footwear brand Vans has implemented a photo gallery on each piece of footwear, that showcases the product from a number of different angles:


Screen shot from vans.co.uk 14/04/2014

The gallery allows the user to click on a thumbnail to get a better look.

For products with particular details or decoration, offering a photo zoom function to view the features up close is another great tip – customers are able to get a real life impression of the product and study it in even finer detail than if they were holding it in their hands. Many brands such as Watchco.com are fans of this zoom feature:


Screen shot from watchco.com 14/04/2014

Tip 9: Don’t Keep Customers Guessing – Estimated Delivery Times and Returns

For a customer, it can’t get much worse than ordering a product and sitting around for days with no idea of when (or if) the item will arrive. Help your customers feel confident about purchasing from your store by displaying an estimated delivery time.

You can provide this information based on your standard delivery service, or if applicable, recommend a number of delivery options that allow your customers to choose the speed and cost of shipping, for example express courier service, first class tracked, or super saver delivery.

It might feel counterintuitive, but reinforcing the message that customers are able to easily make returns once an item has been received will actually help to bolster confidence in buying in the first place, and could even increase your sales. BMX.co.uk offer a perfect example of how delivery and return policies can be displayed on product pages:


Screen shot from bmx.co.uk 14/04/2014

Tip 10: Encouraging Customer Reviews

Along with shipping costs, reviews of products and services by other customers is one of the biggest factors in online purchasing decisions. Customer reviews are now regarded as an essential element of e-commerce sites, and substantial numbers of positive reviews help eradicate any anxieties about purchasing a product and often steer product selection.

Customer reviews also have another benefit, in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO). Customer reviews create fresh and unique content (loved by Google) and can feature in search engine results pages, whether paid or organic, which in turn boosts click-through rates (CTRs).

urban decay make-up

Screen shot from urbandecay.com 14/04/2014

Bold make-up brand Urban Decay, allows customers to publish both reviews and comments upon individual product pages:

Publishing genuine reviews shows prospects that you feel confident in the quality of your products and sends out a strong buying signal that can literally be a call to action. Remember, you can make reviews show up in organic search results by implementing rich snippets on your webpages.

The only way to get customer reviews to display in the search engine results is by adding sitelink extensions to your paid listings. Receptional recently published a guide about using sitelink extensions, if you want to learn more.

And last, but not least…

Your website is the face of your business.  Since first impressions can make the difference between a purchase or a bounce, you need to get everything right first time around to inspire confidence and return business.


Featured image courtesy Brian Barnett

Zoe-Lee Skelton

Zoe-Lee Skelton

SEO Content Marketing Consultant at Receptional
Zoe-Lee Skelton is an SEO Content Marketing Consultant at Receptional, blogging about content marketing, SEO, website best practices and compiling content marketing strategies for clients. In her spare time Zoe-Lee continues to develop her artwork. Feel free to connect with me to talk about art and all things digital!
Zoe-Lee Skelton
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  • https://plus.google.com/117387862298954712610 Jason North

    Great tips! Especially about customer reviews. I always knew reviews were valuable, but didn’t think about their SEO value. This was a particularly great tip because we don’t have a blog yet, nor would I feel confident blogging about my industry yet because it’s highly technical. So, I was trying to think of ways to deliver fresh content without having to blog – problem solved. 🙂

    • https://plus.google.com/+ZoeLeeSkelton Zoe-Lee Skelton

      Hi Jason, thanks for your comment! Yeah reviews can be extremely beneficial. I trust the advice of an actual human being rather than a business’ website copy!

  • http://twitter.com/Think_Traffic Mark Johnson (@Think_Traffic)

    Great post Zoe-Lee. We were working with a client just recently who offered free shipping only on orders over a certain amount. They were worried that unconditional free shipping would cut too much into their margins, but in reality the increased sales more than made up for the small number of loss-making orders that resulted…

    It meant that they occasionally sent out small orders at a slight loss, but overall profits increased. Fortunately of course, split testing allows you to track that sort of thing – so it’s hard to argue with the numbers.

    • https://plus.google.com/+ZoeLeeSkelton Zoe-Lee Skelton

      Hi Mark, it’s great that your clients have seen increases in sales. Making the change to lower or free postage can be scary, but it just goes to show that your customers will appreciate it.

  • http://www.guestcrew.com/blog/ Arun Kallarackal

    A concise article covering all the crucial topics! Well, I’m not planning to create an E Store or something like that. But on going through the article, I could easily relate to the tips and suggestions shared in it.

    According to me, my personal favorite tips are- #1- keeping the delivery charges minimum. This small step will help an E Store convert a first time visitor into a long term one with ease. Personally, I prefer sites that offer the lowest delivery charges.

    Having live chat support is also an attractive prospect. I’ve often wished some E stores I frequently use to have live chat feature. The traditional mode of communication- emails, is time consuming.

    Putting up the best product photo will also catch eyeballs of the customers easily. Little things like offering different angled views of products and zoom in feature will help customers a lot!


    • https://plus.google.com/+ZoeLeeSkelton Zoe-Lee Skelton

      Hi Arun, I agree, pictures are a must! Shopping online for clothing and shoes can be quite risky, but pictures that provide a 360 degree view, or even put the item into context like how it will with other clothing is really useful.

  • http://twitter.com/pblomsterberg Philip Blomsterberg (@pblomsterberg)

    If I were to add 1 thing to that awesome list, it would be: GO DEEP. It’s easy to go wide in ecommerce and offer all the surface stuff of a product category. But if you want to truly establish a loyal customer base, specialize and go deep.

  • http://www.alltechtrix.com Abhishek Tavasalkar

    I really appreciate tip #2, #4 and #9.

    Starting with #2: Its really important for an ecommerce shop to find its USP and deliver on it. Not just an ecommerce, any other website or business has to find its USP; which does make it stand out from the crowd. Finding a USP the big part and then delivering on that USP is another great thing!

    The Tip #4: is one of the major decider in making the sales, As talking about the ecommerce scene in India, people aren’t open to using Paypal or credit card to make payments. In India, 86% of payments are done through Cash-on-delivery, which is a major sales driver in India.

    And Yes! The tip #9: The customer likes to treated as a King, and making them guess about delivery time and return policy will make the relationship more worse between the buyer and the seller.

    Miss Skelton, you’ve put up a great article and bookmark it for future references. Tweeting it too.

    • https://plus.google.com/+ZoeLeeSkelton Zoe-Lee Skelton

      Hi Abhishek, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worried about an item not being delivered! Estimated delivery times make the customer feel at ease. Thanks for tweeting!

  • Zoey Richardson

    Thanks for sharing! Talking about live chat, I accidentally came across Inside, and after looking through their site, it morphs a business website into a virtual storefront so business personnel can see and help their site visitors in real-time using chat.