Updated November 2, 2011Doc Sheldon
There are some basic features that are important to any type of website, if we want to gain and maintain traffic:
This includes such things as clear navigation, concise instructions, and methods to correct errors, among others.
If you’ve ever stumbled upon one of those sites using light gray text on a dark gray background (or yellow on green!), you know how frustrating it is to try to read. Likewise, flashing, skittering animations can be very distracting. Site design should take into consideration the aesthetic aspects, from the users’ point of view.
The content must be of some value to the users, or they won’t stick around. That value may be instruction, information or entertainment. Providing something useful to users is the foundation of any successful site.
Those first three considerations are often even more important for an ecommerce site than for an informational site, however. Readers of a personal blog understand that they’re viewing things from the author’s perspective and tastes. But when they visit a business website, they expect to encounter a more professional presentation. They want to be able to find what they’re searching for easily, be given enough information to evaluate the item and easily determine (and implement) the steps necessary to make their purchase.
There are five additional features, however, that any ecommerce website should always provide, in addition to the basic items listed above.
As a minimum, financial transactions should be protected, such as with SSL, so that they know they can safely enter their credit card data without worrying about it being compromised.
They also will want to know that their contact information isn’t being shared with others, making them potential spam victims. On that same line of thought, they don’t want to be spammed by you, either. If you offer email notifications of news or new products, you need to offer them a means of opting out. Even better, make such offerings opt-in.
2. Terms & Conditions
T&C should be readily available, explaining what is expected of the users and what they can expect from the business. There are many aspects that can be addressed in the T&C, such as cancellation, return and restocking, warranty and conflict resolution, as a minimum. The point of the Terms & Conditions is to ensure that there are no surprises after the purchase, so every likely contingency should be addressed here.
3. About Us
Customers like to know who they’re dealing with. In today’s market, it’s sometimes difficult to determine who is behind the business, how long the business has existed, where its products come from and if it’s even located on the same continent as the user. The About Us page should answer such questions, as well as give the users a “feel” for the business. Values, Mission Statement, owner profiles and testimonials are often found on the About Us page, as well as a bit of history of the business.
4. Contact Us
Aside from the fact that few customers are likely to trust a business that remains largely anonymous, they’ll occasionally have questions about a product or process, or they may spot an inconsistency on the site and want clarification. Would you send money to someone, purchasing an unseen product, without having some way of contacting them if it doesn’t arrive or isn’t as promised? Very few would.
Regardless how clear and concise you may believe your site is, there will always be users that misunderstand or overlook instructions, need clarification or experience difficulty in completing a process. You need to offer those users assistance, or risk losing them in frustration.
One way of doing so is via a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, which addresses commonly asked questions and answers. This has the benefit of reducing the need to repeatedly answer the same question via email. However, avoid overdoing it. Two or three pages of clickable questions may overwhelm some users, and cause them to go elsewhere. Offer them the most frequently asked questions, but don’t try to address every possible question there.
Email response to queries is certainly an advisable option to offer. However, a live chat session with a customer service representative is an excellent alternative, even if only offered during normal working hours (based upon your market area). It’s more personal, offers assurance of a quicker resolution and is often much more efficient in resolving the customer’s issue.
The End of the Funnel
As you can see, these five features are those that you’ll find on most ecommerce sites. Whether they’re common because people expect them or if people expect them because they’re common is open to interpretation – perhaps a bit of both. However, most marketing experts will agree that any ecommerce site that fails to offer any of them stands to risk losing potential customers for the oversight. They are important considerations, near the narrow end of the conversion funnel and as such, shouldn’t be ignored.