An online merchant understands the importance of a professional looking website. However, in the age of hyper-competition, this is not enough. An eCommerce website without the following ten critical features may as well as shut shop!
1. Shopping Cart: Obvious as it may sound, a shopping cart is the number one requirement for an eCommerce website. It is technically possible to have an eCommerce site without a shopping cart, but eCommerce sites without one would resemble a supermarket without checkout tills. Online merchants are now vying with one another in matters of advanced shopping cart technologies. The best shopping cart makes it easy to add or remove products, and go back to the store to make changes or purchase something new.
2. Mobile Enabled Shopping Site: According to e-marketer, 15 percent of all eCommerce sales were through mobile devices in 2013, and this is predicted to jump to 25% of all eCommerce sales, or $87 billion, by 2016. A stripped-down mobile site, lacking in key features, giving the viewer the option to “view full site” is archaic and sure to turn off the mobile shopper. In an age of device fragmentation, websites need to incorporate responsive web design. This ensures that the user gets the optimal experience regardless of whether she chooses to shop from a smartphone, tablet, or a personal computer.
3. Security: Many eCommerce vendors underestimate security and pay a hefty price for the same. In an age where roving cyber-bandits attack websites at will to cart away financial and other information, it is important to host the website in a PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant environment, when accepting online payments. PCI makes the website responsible for complying with the laid down Data Security Standards (DSS). Any merchant that stores or disseminates credit card data has to be PCI DSS compliant.
4. Social Integration: Social media has changed the nature of online shopping in a big way. Consumers are increasingly discussing their experiences with products through social media in a big way, and prospective buyers value such real-life experience over overt marketing pitches. eCommerce websites have no option but to join the game, and incorporate real life product reviews and encouraging discussions centered on the product. Such reviews may be direct, or through social integration – links to the relevant social media pages. Brightlocal’s 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey reveals that 79% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
5. Powerful Search: Today’s customers are impatient. They cannot be bothered to click through the site directory to search for what they want. A search box within the site is a basic requirement. The ideal search box should be faceted, and type-sensitive. This will bring in more details, making it easier for the customer to identify what they want. Make sure that the search parser is forgiving of typos and selects the closest, most likely match – rather than returning zero results. Search within the site also offers a residual benefit, in that it boosts SEO rankings.
6. Up-Selling and Cross-Selling: Up-selling is offering products of greater value that what the customer currently considers, or suggesting more add-on features to a product. Cross-selling is promoting complementary items to a product under consideration. Any modern eCommerce site worth its salt would be able to identify the items selected in the shopping cart and automatically highlight up-selling and cross-selling items available in the store. For instance, an eCommerce store that does not suggest a case when the customer buys a mobile phone, or even a higher value phone, is letting go of a good opportunity.
7. Integrated Shipping: The delivery mechanism can make or break the eCommerce website. The best of them integrates the delivery options, such as UPS, FedEx or anything else with the shopping cart. This not only makes the process seamless, but also makes it easier for the customer to track their products. This will also make the process of charging delivery fees more transparent.
8. Deals and Freebies: If there is one area where following the herd pays dividends, it is in offering deals and freebies through eCommerce websites. It is now proven that customers have a psychological inclination to buy when the product they seek is offered at a discount or has some freebie thrown in. People usually spend only a few seconds on a website before they move elsewhere, and nothing works better than a hot and attractive deal to persuade them to stay. The deals could assume the shape of discounts, markdowns, gifts, free shipping, bundled offers, or anything else. Such deals also offer a good pretext to reach out to regular and previous shoppers and remain visible. The fact that millions of people lose their minds during sales and discounted periods, and indulge in binge purchasing is an added bonus.
9. Gift Certificates and Wishlists: These are two website features that play a crucial role in holiday sales conversions. Gift cards are a perennial favorite of gift givers, and a sure way to attract holiday shoppers. The 2013 National Retail Federation’s Gift Card Spending Survey estimates that 80.6% of customers would buy at least one gift card during the holiday season, of which 12.7% of shoppers plan to buy online. According to a Demandware survey in the past, gift certificates equaled a quarter of all purchases for 64% of the respondents, and half of these surveyed shopped using someone else’s wishlist. The whishlist incidentally, is also a good way to make a person come back to the website.
10. Phone numbers and online chats: Online shopping replaces brick and mortar stores and real life salespersons, but people still crave for personalized dealings. They prefer to speak to a real person in case they want to clarify something. In this context, 24×7 hotlines and live chats constitute highly appreciated forms of value-added customer service. And in these days of hyper competition, they are must have features for any eCommerce site looking for substantial sales. These services assure the customer that they can redress issues such as delayed delivery, unauthorized billings, returns and more.
In today’s highly competitive online world – where every earning every single view and penny is a challenge – it is important to cover all bases, and present the best face to the customer.
Image Credit: A J Cann on Flickr