A consistently successful e-commerce site depends on myriad factors, and it is near on impossible to control all of them to guarantee success, but one thing you can do is to plug the holes that drain your sales.

Before all else, then, you must get those basics right. Make sure you're not undermining your e-commerce sales in any of the following eight ways.

1. Having an Unusably Slow Website

If your website is being served to people at a cripplingly slow pace, they aren't going to stick around long. A few persevering shoppers may battle through a couple of clicks, but in the end they'll fall to the wayside.

A study by Kissmetrics found that 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load! And we haven't even touched on the potential search engine ranking problems because of slow load speed.

Use Google's PageSpeed Insights tool to see how your website performs; and if the results are bad, speak to a Web developer who may be able to enable compression, minify CSS and Javascript, apply browser caching, and try anything else to reduce load times and increase average time on site (and, hopefully, conversions).

2. Confusing Navigation

Have you ever been in a store that's laid out like a maze? No? that's because shops want people to buy things from them, not spend all day walking around in circles before giving up.

So why do so many not apply the same logic to their online shop? If you want someone to buy, or even repeat-buy, you need to make the experience as straightforward as possible.

Imagine Pam's Pet Products, an online pet product superstore. Someone visits looking for hamster shampoo (is that a thing?) and she's met with the following categories in the nav bar:

"Household Pets"; "Small Pets"; "Rodents"; "Misc Accessories"

A Hamster fits three of the four, while Shampoo could be classed as a miscellaneous accessory. So where does the hamster enthusiast click? More than likely, on the back button to return to the SERP (search engine results page) and find somewhere else to buy little Eugene's shampoo. (Yes the Hamster is called Eugene.)

In trying to provide as many category options as possible to people, Pam's has confused its potential customers and possibly driven them away.

We've all seen menus with 20 options, each of which drops down into more and more options. Simply put, that's going to annoy people and put them off. Streamline the experience, trim down on pointless excess categories, make the buying process linear, or at the very least provide an online chat box so someone can ask where to find a product.

3. Not Being Mobile-Friendly

You've likely heard this one before, but it's worth reiterating: Mobile is massive, and by not accommodating for mobile users you're potentially excluding and alienating a big portion of your customers.

Mobile usage continues to soar, and in many areas of the world it's more popular than desktop browsing, so you have to be mobile-friendly.

Make sure your website fits the mobile screen, and it should be responsive and easy to navigate on a range of different-sized smartphones; mobile site speed can differ from that of the desktop version of your website, so ensure that it, too, loads quickly. Also ensure that the buying process is safe and straightforward, and you're much more likely to make sales from mobile users rather than turn them off and lose sales.

Moreover, mobile-friendliness is now a ranking factor, and sites come with a "mobile friendly tag," and not being mobile-friendly can send your traffic plummeting, too. Use the Google mobile-friendliness test to check whether your website is mobile-friendly.

4. Not Enough Product Information

The biggest difference between online and offline shopping is that online you cannot see the product in real life. You cannot examine it, hold it, play with it, or wash your hamster with it; you simply have to go on the pictures and information the retailer provides.

So, what happens when that information is vague, poor, or missing? Many people will get put off from making the purchase. People are protective over their money, and the last thing they want to do is spend it on something that doesn't fit their requirements or expectations.

Clear photographs, usually several, are a large part of convincing someone that a product is for them, so ensuring you have them is key; but text information also plays a big part, so make sure that any questions the customer has are answered. What are the dimensions of the table? Is the coat waterproof? Is the soap skin-friendly? It's all critical information that could make the difference between making a sale and leaving someone confused.

Amazon is a prime example of how this approach is applied brilliantly. For example, a bottle of Hamster shampoo (It is a thing after all!) includes all of the following:

  1. Product title, price, delivery date, and buy button
  2. Large clear photo of the product
  3. Suggestions for a great product to go with the shampoo
  4. Items other customers purchased too
  5. Technical Product information (dimensions, weight, usage)
  6. A description listing what animals the product is for and the benefits of usage
  7. Potential items to purchase afterwards (with ratings)
  8. Searchable Q&A section
  9. Customer reviews, showing me this shampoo is rated 4.8/5

That is a lot of information, all enough to answer pretty much any questions I have about the product. Best of all, it was laid out in a straightforward, scroll-down manner. If I wanted to just buy the product straight away I didn't have to scroll an inch, but If I wanted to learn more I could digest it all quickly and easily, and the "Add To Basket" followed me the whole way to ensure I didn't have to scroll back up.

Simply put, provide information that answers questions and comforts buyers, letting them know they're making the right choice.

5. Providing Confusing or Conflicting Information

So, information is vital, and providing lots of it is a positive thing, but delivery is key, too.

The content should be laid out in a way that does not intrude on or hinder the user's buying experience. The product, and the means for purchasing it, should remain always on screen, scrolling down the page with you; also, all of the information should be in a linear, straight-down layout with no jumping from side to side or getting lost. The flow should be obvious and easy to follow.

Another important point: Information must be consistent. Consider, for example, an office chair in red: The product title says red, the image shows a red chair... but in the product description, it is referred to as "lime green." But this chair is red, isn't it? Then why does it say lime green? And once an element of doubt is placed into someone's head, it's difficult to get it out. There's a 90% chance the chair is in fact red, but there's also a chance it could end up being lime green, and that chance is too big, why would anyone take the risk when they can find somewhere else that guarantees them the red chair they're looking for?

The same concept applies to a wide range of information, including conflicting size information in titles and descriptions, or even "Free Delivery" in the header but a "Delivery: £3.99" in the description is enough to plant that seed of doubt.

Check your information thoroughly for accuracy, and remove all doubt.

6. Unnecessary Checkout Fields

Remember when you last went to the shops for a pint of milk and some cheese, and at the checkout the worker asked you for your name, your bank details, your email address, a username, a password, a phone number, a secondary phone number, your hamster's favorite shampoo, how you found out about the shop, and what you're going to do with the milk and cheese when you get home? Hopefully, never.

You definitely should not be asking those questions on your e-commerce website, either.

Just because someone has reached the checkout stage does not mean the purchase is guaranteed. This is the most critical part of the whole buying process, and you need that extra push to send them over the line and make the sale. If people feel that the process is taking too long or that they are being asked unreasonable questions, then an exit is on the cards and you've killed the sale.

Checkouts should be simple. Ask only for the information you need to take a payment and to get the product to the customer as quickly as possible.

You may want to collect more information for research and marketing purposes, but is now really the time? You can send surveys and newsletters to people after the buying is done, but leave the checkout for checking out.

7. Not Being Transparent or Accountable

A massive part of succeeding in selling online comes down to building trust: If people trust you, they're more likely to send you their hard-earned cash.

A large part of building that trust is simply being honest, transparent, and accountable. It may not be the thing that crosses people's minds when building an online shop, but the part that contact details can play in developing that trust is underestimated.

The key to making a sale is to remove any element of doubt in a person's mind, to comfort them, make them rest assured that everything is going well. A clear phone number and address shows accountability: If something goes wrong and the customer is not happy, he can give you a call or even come down to your premises to sort things out. On the flip side, having no contact details whatsoever suggests the complete opposite: You're trying to hide from responsibility.

The same applies in other areas, such as returns policies. If you hide your returns policy away or don't even have one, that instantly raises questions in the shopper's mind: "What if the product is broken? what if it doesn't fit? Will I get my money back?"

Being open and honest about your policies and providing clear channels of contact will go a long way.

8. Offering Too Many Discounts and Perks

Despite your intention to increase sales via more discounts and perks, offering too many will actually kill some of your sales.

Everyone loves an offer, and they can be a great way to drum up publicity and increase orders; however, if you go overboard, you can do the opposite. To work as you intent them to, discounts and perks must not be...

  • Distracting
  • Difficult to obtain

Once someone is on the path to purchase, the very last thing you want to do is distract them and push them off the purchase path. If someone is on the way to buying and then finds that you're holding a sale in 10 days' time, they're going to think, "Oh, well, I'll wait 10 days and return then as it will be cheaper." You have just driven them off your website, and you now have to hope they'll actually remember to return in 10 days.

Price-match guarantees are also problematic: They're great when someone chooses you because you can match the best price AND provide better service, but not so great when your price-match banner sends people off to your competitors' websites looking for a price that you can match, only for your competitors to provide a more engaging experience and take the sale away from you.

There's a time and a place for great offers: upon entry, after purchases, or on social networks, but if they're throwing people off of the purchase path, then they're failing you.

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image of Danny Watkinson

Danny Watkinson is digital marketing manager at Dijitul Marketing. He is a digital strategist, marketer, and SEO in the UK and has worked for Dijitul since entering the industry 2010.

Linkedin: Danny Watkinson