The completely biased unwritten (but now written) rules of ecommerce

March 28th, 2010

And they are as follows:

  • Do not make me register before purchasing. This is like me going into a store, picking up a t-shirt, trying it on, showing it to my fiance, deciding to purchase it, then you ask me to fill out a form before I can buy the dam thing. By the time people want to buy products let them buy it! Use some special magic to turn their first order into an account but do not ever make me register to give you dollars.
  • Show me what I’m buying! Tiny pictures are useless. What if I want to show my grandma? She will just say go to the store buy it there. Give users all the media you can (without overwhelming them).
  • Don’t show me stuff that I’m not interested in. Set a cookie on the visitors computer and show me stuff I’m interested in when I return. Show related items. Upsells. Things that improve my life (or the product I’m buying). That leads to the next one
  • ALWAYS HAVE A MOST POPULAR SECTION. People like to be reassured, why do we buy fashionable clothes? It’s what everyone else has. Make it easy for someone who needs reassurance, oh that’s the most popular speakers maybe I should look at them. Not rocket science.
  • Make it interesting! Give categorisations, tags and lists that are meaningful. Girlfriend Gifts, Valentines, Ways to say your sorry, Keep your guy happy, Nieces, Difficult Teenagers lists. You get the idea – don’t make me question whether my little sister will need this. Tell me, show me and then convince me she needs it (difficult teenage girl list).
  • Provide diverse (and easy) payment options. Credit Cards #1. Paypal.
  • SSL. Tired argument, but protect my data! Even 8 year olds can tell a website isn’t secure.
  • Do not show dollar signs (where you don’t have to), stick to digits, $50.00 looks more painful than 50.00 (restaurants do this all the time).
  • Also ALWAYS indicate currency. Even if you assume USD do not give anyone nasty surprises.
  • Keep shipping to an absolute minimum, set expectations, free shipping with x spend. People don’t like to be surprised, the last thing you want is them to leave because shipping is unexpectedly high. Give FREE shipping wherever you can.
  • Return Policies. Like the informercials widely offered never used. Return policies allow people to overcome the ‘I don’t know if that hoodie is nice in real life’. If it isn’t I can send it back. Works a dream for Zappos will work a dream for you.
  • Tell me when you ship! And give a tracking code. It keeps you honest and me in the loop.
  • ALWAYS SEND YOUR PRODUCTS IN UNIQUELY YOU PACKAGING. Let me say that again, when I receive my products from you (unless this is a discrete industry) everyone in the office or who walks by my desk should be able to identify it was sent by you. If they don’t, they will ask, this gives me the opportunity to share my story. Who doesn’t like showing off what they just bought? Each and every shipment is the opportunity for your best sales people (your existing customers) to sell to new customers. Facebook is built on this and it’s been a backbone of Amazon since the start.
  • Newsletters. Newsletters are a must – how do I know when you get the new product in? Or there is a line extension? Or hey Ben you have the t-shirt why not get the hoodie? Remember my sizes. Follow up. Remember your customers are a club, a family, respect them and you will grow with them.
  • Ask for permission. Don’t have anything in stock, let me tick a box or get an email when it’s back in stock. I will give you my permission – if only you asked. If in doubt ask permission.
  • Engaging copy. I don’t want the stock standard copy. Let me know what it is, why I should buy it and how to do so. If this product is useless without another component, say so, and give me a link to buy that too (or better yet sell as a pack). Do not ever copy/paste the suppliers descriptions. That sells to people price comparing not to those who don’t understand what a 32gb ssd is.
  • Avoid jargon wherever possible. Using intimidating words like ‘rephrase’ and ‘synonyms’ severely hurt MSN search engines early uptake. Use language that a 12 year old can understand and you’ll be fine. Expecting all your users to have degree level English is insanity.
  • Remember what I looked at before! Amazon does this. I might have forgotten that last time I was looking at a surprise gift for my fiance. If you remind me I’ll probably grab it now that I’ve had time to think it over. It also engages your users very very quickly.
  • Ship everywhere. Even if it’s extremely expensive. For the right product to the right place people will spend more on the shipping than the product (I know I’m from New Zealand and everything is expensive to be shipped here).
  • Have less in your catalogs. Yes the cost of adding a new product is zero. But the cost of clutter is everything. If something is a dog don’t sell it. Sell less, sell the best.
  • Have a blog. Take products, trial them yourselves, unbox them, make videos. Break them, construct them, deconstruct them. Whatever. Give me an angle on the products which I haven’t seen before or which answer my initial fears about the product. Be honest.
  • Allow product feedback. People will buy (or be convinced to buy) just off the feedback. Don’t fret if it’s bad, your customers can read between the lines if that bad review was biased or unbalanced.
  • Do not, I repeat not, ever have adverts to other websites. You’re wasting real estate. If you think you can make more money pushing visitors to others websites where they then purchase, close down your shop, you’re doing it wrong. The google ads tells me you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Do something unexpected. Give me a nice little surpise. Maybe a thank you note in the order, a gift voucher or some free stickers. I’ll probably talk more about that than what you actually sent!
  • Exclusives! Have exclusive members areas, maybe people pay for them (ie $50 for 10% discount on everything) or newsletter only specials. Make me feel like I’m special (aka status). I might not order but I’ll buy for someone else. #1 Rule in sales is the easiest sales are to your existing customers.
  • Finally most of all obsess about your customers. Give them a call if there are any hick ups, let them know, the last thing people expect from ecommerce is a real life transaction (other than the end product) but when it happens it means the world. They’re really there and they really care.

Track, measure, slice/dice data every which way. Analyse, interpret, make changes. Measure again.  Learn to adapt from what your users tell you through their actions. the answers are already there you just need to find them.

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2 Responses to “The completely biased unwritten (but now written) rules of ecommerce”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    Also, don’t show a “discount code” box too prominently or I feel like the full price I’m paying is too much.

  2. Aidan Rogers Says:

    Spot on with all of it. The not showing the $ is news to me – never noticed on menus either. Will test it out see how much an impact it makes.

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