Menu Search
Jump to the content X X
Smashing Conf New York

We use ad-blockers as well, you know. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. upcoming SmashingConf Barcelona, dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.

15 Common Mistakes in E-Commerce Design

Selling online can open up huge new markets for many businesses. When your store can be open 24/7 and you can reach a global market without the costs of mailings and call centers, it can be a huge boon to your business. But there are plenty of things to consider when designing an ecommerce site. It’s not as simple as throwing up some shopping cart software and plopping products into a database.

There are tons of mistakes that online retailers make every day, all of them avoidable with a little careful planning. And even if you’re already committing some of these mistakes, most of them are easy enough to fix. Avoiding them will greatly improve the experience of your customers.

Below are 15 of the most common mistakes that e-commerce sites make, as well as advice on how to avoid or fix them. Take the advice under consideration before embarking on a new e-commerce project or when thinking over your current ecommerce site, and make efforts to follow the recommendations outlined here.

1. A lack of detailed product information Link

When you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, you have the advantage of being able to pick up an item, feel it, look at it from every angle, and read any information on the packaging or labels. Shopping online removes that interaction. Ecommerce sites need to do the best they can to improve upon the in-store shopping experience.

How often have we gone to an online store and found their descriptions to be completely lacking? And if a customer is left wondering about the specifics of a product, they’re more likely to go look for the information elsewhere. And unless your site’s price is significantly lower than your competitors’, they’ll likely just buy from the other site.

What To Do About It Link

Provide as much product information as you can. Sizes, materials, weight, dimensions, and any other pertinent information depending on what the product is. For example, in an online clothing store, you might include the fabric type, sizes and colors available, a size chart (usually linked from multiple products), the weight or thickness of the item, the cut and fit of the item, care instructions, and comments about the brand or designer. Using descriptive words rather than simply technical terms can have a greater impact on the consumer.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot1
ecommerce screenshot2
ecommerce screenshot3

2. Hiding Contact Information Link

Consumers want to know that they’re dealing with a real company when they hand over their credit card information. They want to know that if they have a problem they’ll be able to talk to a real person and get the help they need. If your site doesn’t provide any contact information, or hides it so the consumer can’t find it easily, they’re less likely to trust your site, and therefore less likely to do business with you.

What To Do About It Link

Put your contact information in an easy-to-find place on every page of your website. The most obvious places to put your contact information are either in your header, the top of your sidebar, or in your footer. Provide multiple means of contact if possible. A contact form, email address, phone number, and mailing address all add to the level of customer trust. Remember, too, that the more expensive or technical the product you’re selling, the more likely a consumer is going to want more contact information.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot4
ecommerce screenshot5

3. A Long or Confusing Checkout Process Link

This is one of the most damaging mistakes an ecommerce site can make. You have to make it as easy as possible for your customers to hand over their credit card information and complete their order. The more steps you put between them placing an item in their cart and actually paying for it, the more opportunities you give them to leave your site without completing their purchase.

The ideal checkout process includes a single page for consumers to check their order and enter their billing and shipping information, and a confirmation page before they submit their order. Anything more than that is only an obstacle to completing the checkout process.

What To Do About It Link

Follow the ideal model as closely as you can. If you have to include other pages, try to make them as quick and easy to fill out as possible. Combine pages if you can, and use two-column layouts for certain sections (like putting billing and shipping information next to each other) to make pages appear shorter.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot

4. Requiring an Account to Order Link

This ties in directly to the previous item. If you require a customer to sign up for an account before they can place an order, it’s another obstacle you’ve placed in their path. Which is more important to you: getting the order or capturing customer information? Remember that the second option may mean losing some customers.

What To Do About It Link

There’s an easy fix for this. Instead of requiring a customer to sign up for an account before they order, offer them the option at the end of their ordering process. Give them the option to save their account information to make placing future orders easier or to track the status of their current order. Many customers will opt to save their information, and you won’t be driving away customers before they’ve completed their order.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot6
ecommerce screenshot7

5. An Inadequate Site Search Engine Link

If a customer knows exactly what they’re looking for, many will opt to use a search engine instead of sifting through categories and filters. You need to make sure that the search feature on your site works well, and preferably has filters for letting customers refine their results.

How often have you searched for a product on a large ecommerce site and been returned with hundreds of applicable results? While the variety of options can be nice, if half of those results are nothing like what you’re looking for, it’s more an inconvenience than anything else. Including a way for customers to filter their search results by category or feature eliminates this problem.

What To Do About It Link

Make sure the ecommerce software you’re using has a good built-in search engine, or look for plugins to extend its functionality. Ideally, an ecommerce search engine should let users search by keyword and then refine results based on the categories your site includes. Let users sort their search results based on standard criteria (most popular, highest or lowest price, newest item, etc.) as well as eliminating items that don’t fit within a certain category.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot8
ecommerce screenshot

6. Poor Customer Service Options Link

This is similar to the hiding contact information bit above. You need to make it easy for customers to get in touch with you if they have a problem or question. Make it clear what the best way to contact you is if they have a technical question, a sales question, or they want to return an item. Offering a help request form for customers to fill out can instill more confidence than just an email address.

What To Do About It Link

Use a ticketing system for customer service inquiries, especially if you don’t have a phone number available. Make sure that you post a FAQ that covers common questions customers might have, like what your return policy is or what to do if they need to order parts or replacement items.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot9
ecommerce screenshot

7. Tiny Product Images Link

Since consumers can’t physically handle the products you’re selling before placing an order on your website, you need to do as much as you can to recreate and improve upon that experience. Tiny product images don’t effectively do this.

What To Do About It Link

Either provide large images right on the product page or allow users to click on an image to zoom in. You want users to be able to view the image as large as is practical on an average monitor. This means an image that enlarges to 1024×768 pixels is a good size to aim for.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot10
ecommerce screenshot
ecommerce screenshot11

8. Only One Product Image Link

Unless your product is delivered digitally (and even sometimes if it is), you’ll want to provide multiple images from different angles. An image in each color, of the front, back, and sides, and even detailed shots of specific features can all go a long way toward making a consumer more likely to buy from you.

What To Do About It Link

This one’s simple: include more images. Four or five images of each product are ideal, offering enough views to allow a consumer to feel comfortable that they know exactly what they’re getting.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot12
ecommerce screenshot13
ecommerce screenshot14

9. A Poor Shopping Cart Design Link

Your shopping cart is an incredibly important part of your ecommerce website. It needs to allow users to add multiple products, to revise the quantities or other options about those products, and it needs to remain transparent at the same time. Not exactly the easiest thing to do, right?

What To Do About It Link

Make sure your cart lets a user add an item and then return to the last page they were on. Even better: allow them to add an item to their cart without ever leaving the page they’re on (by using a mini cart). Let your customers edit the quantities of items in their cart or remove an item from their cart. And let them preview what shipping charges will be before they start the checkout process.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot15
ecommerce screenshot16
ecommerce screenshot17

10. Lack of Payment Options Link

There are plenty of sites out there that only allow users to pay with Visa or MasterCard, or to only pay with a PayPal account. There’s no reason for this anymore. What about the person who has an AmEx and doesn’t have or want a PayPal account? What about the person who doesn’t have a credit card and wants to pay straight from their bank account? You need to provide as many payment solutions as is practical to optimize the number of orders you get.

What To Do About It Link

Use a payment service that lets customers pay with each major credit card, and preferably also with an electronic check. Adding a PayPal checkout option increases the choices your customers have, making them more likely to purchase from you. Considering different consumers have different preferences when it comes to making online payments, catering to as many as you can means you’ve expanded your customer base.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot18
19

You’ve probably noticed when you go to a brick and mortar store that they group similar products together, or otherwise make it easy for you to find products that are related to you. They’ll put a battery display in the electronics section, or include cell phone cases near the cell phones. The same can be done on your website, and can increase add-on sales for you business.

What To Do About It Link

Use an ecommerce platform that lets you include related products on product description pages. A platform that will let you manually choose related products can also give you a big advantage, since you may see relations that a software program doesn’t (such as coordinating clothing pieces to create an outfit).

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot20
ecommerce screenshot21
ecommerce screenshot22

12. Confusing Navigation Link

There’s nothing worse than trying to find a product on a site with confusing navigation. Or even worse, an online store that doesn’t use categories or otherwise separate their merchandise to make it easier to find a specific type of product. The same goes for sites that have categories with no products in them or with only one or two items. Why even bother with a category?

What To Do About It Link

Think through your categories and navigation elements carefully before you start putting products in your catalog. Make sure that every category has at least a few products in it, or else group smaller categories together (or include them in larger, similar categories). Make it easy for customers to look through different categories, get to their shopping cart, and otherwise move around your site.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot23
ecommerce screenshot24
ecommerce screenshot25

13. Not Including Shipping Rates Link

There’s no good reason not to include accurate shipping rates on your site. I’ve abandoned purchases on numerous occasions because it said something like “We’ll email you with an accurate shipping quote for approval before processing your order.” When shopping online, I want to be able to complete my order all at one time, without having to wait around for an email to decide whether the shipping charges are too high. Include your rates on your site, no matter what.

What To Do About It Link

Most major shipping companies and the USPS offer shipping calculators on their website, and there are plugins or widgets available for most major shopping cart systems to figure shipping charges on your site. Use one. If you can’t use one for some reason, then use a flat shipping rate that’s high enough to cover whatever it is you need to ship. For particularly heavy or large items, you can always include a freight surcharge in the price (just be sure to indicate that’s where the additional cost is going).

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot26
ecommerce screenshot27
ecommerce screenshot28

14. Not Including Store Policies Link

Before a customer buys from you, they’ll likely want to know what your shipping policies, return policies, and other store rules are. And there’s no reason not to post this information in a FAQ or somewhere else on your site. Making your store policies clear upfront can save a lot of headaches later on from customers who are unhappy with an order they’ve placed.

What To Do About It Link

Use an FAQ or store policies section on your site to spell out exactly what your rules are for different kinds of customer interaction. It’s something that can save you tons of problems down the road.

Examples Link

ecommerce screenshot29
ecommerce screenshot30
ecommerce screenshot31

15. Not Putting Focus on the Products Link

The goal of an ecommerce site is to sell products (or, at least, that’s what the goal should be). If your site puts more focus on bells and whistles or the design itself, it’s not achieving that primary goal. Make sure your site displays your products first, and everything else second.

What To Do About It Link

Think about how products are displayed in brick and mortar stores. While an in-store or window display may show a lot more than just the products for sale, they all contribute to showcasing the products in their most flattering light. Do the same with your website. Make sure that every design element present is doing something to showcase your products in their best possible light.

Examples Link

f

ecommerce screenshot32
ecommerce screenshot33
ecommerce screenshot34

Further Resources Link

  • Ecommerce Website Design’s 6 Common Mistakes35
    A quick rundown of some common ecommerce design mistakes.
  • 5 Ecommerce Design Mistakes
    A short article on some common ecommerce site design mistakes.
  • 3 Common Mistakes of the Ecommerce Company
    A short article covering three major mistakes ecommerce sites make.
  • 5 Big eCommerce Design Mistakes
    A very well-written article that covers some of the most common mistakes ecommerce sites make.
  • Top 10 E-Commerce Mistakes to Avoid
    An excellent article covering some of the most common ecommerce mistakes.
  • How to Avoid 7 Fatal Ecommerce Mistakes36
    Covers taking a proactive approach to your ecommerce design to avoid mistakes.
  • 5 Common Ecommerce Mistakes37
    A great article from Boagworld on common mistakes in ecommerce design.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.rapha.cc/rain-jacket
  2. 2 http://www.20x200.com/art/2009/09/midwifemiddle-school-science-teacher-san-antonio-tx-3person-household-including-dog-first-week-after-deciding-to-eat-locally-grown-vegetables.html
  3. 3 http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/product/womens-guidewater-jacket?p=81910-0-632
  4. 4 http://www.zappos.com/
  5. 5 http://www.wshome.com/shop/bedding-sets/index.cfm?cm_type=gnav
  6. 6 http://www.ikea-usa.com
  7. 7 https://secure.potterybarn.com/checkout/signin.html
  8. 8 http://www.designbyhumans.com/shop/browse/mens
  9. 9 http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/customer_service/splash.html
  10. 10 http://www.creativesoutfitter.com/Products/Dot-Grid-Book/9
  11. 11 http://www.jcrew.com/AST/Browse/WomenBrowse/Women_Shop_By_Category/suiting/stretchflannel/PRDOVR~17305/17305.jsp
  12. 12 http://www.designbyhumans.com/shop/detail/5445?category=1
  13. 13 http://www.freepeople.com/index.cfm/fuseAction/products.detail/_/Embellished-Rib-Henley/productID/0c915600-fbd7-47c1-8830-87f36be39f55/categoryID/d863fc7e-c0bf-4948-bc5e-ced8b149dd34/
  14. 14 http://us.moo.com/
  15. 15 http://www.potterybarn.com/products/tao-smart-technology-open-media-stand/?pkey=csale-media-storage-bookcases
  16. 16 http://www.crateandbarrel.com/Checkout/Basket.aspx?guid=0.1.0
  17. 17 http://www.threadless.com/product/1450/When_Pandas_Attack
  18. 18 http://www.bluefly.com/cart/cart.jsp?_requestid=149383
  19. 19 http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=31389310
  20. 20 http://www.saksfifthavenue.com/main/ProductDetail.jsp?PRODUCT%3C%3Eprd_id=845524446233351&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=282574492711822&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395222441&bmUID=1254938380156&ev19=1:3
  21. 21 http://www.freepeople.com/index.cfm/fuseAction/products.detail/_/We-The-Free-Leaving-Town-Tee/productID/5e8aae22-ed8f-4ca1-b8e3-fd055c32d432/categoryID/33a3e368-ff60-44fe-a98d-142d55ca53ee/
  22. 22 http://www.jcrew.com/AST/Browse/WomenBrowse/Women_Shop_By_Category/dresses/solidstextures/PRDOVR~17775/17775.jsp
  23. 23 http://www.instabox.com/boxes/die-cut-boxes/
  24. 24 http://www.wshome.com/
  25. 25 http://www.ikea.com/us/en/
  26. 26 http://www.bluefly.com/custom/custom.jsp;jsessionid=CD9b4Pt4EdyLl17jEQ3AYw**.app_node3?promoId=m480130
  27. 27 http://www.zappos.com/shoes
  28. 28 http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=31513961
  29. 29 http://www.pureandlittle.com/customer-service
  30. 30 http://www.bluefly.com/custom/custom.jsp?promoId=m480007
  31. 31 http://www.etsy.com/shop_policy.php?user_id=6604229
  32. 32 http://www.studiobonsai.pl/
  33. 33 http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/shop/alpine-climbing?k=3f
  34. 34 http://www.potterybarn.com/
  35. 35 http://blog.edynamo.com/2009/07/ecommerce-website-designs-6-common-mistakes/
  36. 36 http://onlinebusiness.volusion.com/articles/avoid-ecommerce-mistakes
  37. 37 http://boagworld.com/business-strategy/5-common-ecommerce-mistakes
SmashingConf New York

Hold on, Tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? Like SmashingConf Barcelona, on October 25–26, with smart design patterns and front-end techniques.

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

  1. 1

    Armig Esfahani

    October 8, 2009 5:09 am

    Great post.. these mistakes are really so common.. Specially in Middle East :)

    2
  2. 2

    Next time, please summarize the 15 points as headlines preceding the paragraphs!

    As it stands now, the main things I see on the page are “What to do about it” and “examples,” which makes reading/scanning/processing the information difficult. We may not all have the time to cherry pick the ideas out of your paragraphs. Having meaningful headlines will also help your SEO!

    -1
  3. 3

    Good article, but 2 spelling fails in this sentence:
    “Consumers want to know that they’re dealing with a real company when they hadn over their credit card inforamtion.”

    -1
  4. 4

    Robin Robbins

    October 8, 2009 1:13 pm

    Nice article, but so true is your own experience. I spent too long on my iPhone trying to buy something, I got aggravated but kept on because I was too hungry to not complete the steps. BUT man I was in a bad mood when I was finished. Shopping Carts should be almost non-existent until you want to check out. It also provides a kind of out of site out of mind, buy the whole thing kind of flow. When I don’t see my cart with every add, I tend to keep adding things… Then when I check out its like OH MY did I just buy all that… :)
    Oh and btw, spell check is a good thing…

    0
  5. 5

    Nice, but don’t forget to spell check ;-)

    -2
  6. 6

    very useful… thanks!

    0
  7. 7

    The most annoying by far is n.4: Requiring an Account to Order.
    – I’m already buying it is not enough for you? –
    ;-)

    7
  8. 8

    Great post, thank you for sharing with us your knowledge…

    0
  9. 9

    Great post…very relevant info.

    0
  10. 10

    The most important thing omitted from this article is:

    WHERE DO THEY SHIP TO?

    So many times when I see something I want to order from the internet I have to look through a whole lot of text only to discover they can only send to Canada and Mexico. Why isn’t this more visible? If it was they’d probably get a shitload more customers, me among them. Amazon is a BIG offender of this.

    PLEASE MAKE IT EASY TO UNDERSTAND WHERE YOU, THE COMPANY, SHIP TO.

    Thank you so much for your time.

    Signed,
    Frustrated customer

    1
  11. 11

    Samer Forzley

    October 8, 2009 6:18 am

    Great post, great content for those in eCommerce. Every one of these adds a little bit. Site conversion can always be improved, i think the average for eCommerce now is still in the 2% range. Interesting to note too that eCommerce while it continues to grow even in the tough economy.

    Payment options also help bring new customers, its a proven fact, not all customers are the same and people want to pay their own way. (full disclosure, I work for eBillme http://www.eBillme.com where you can pay with cash, without signing up or giving up any financial information).

    Other services such as http://www.bazzarvoice.com has proven to be successful in helping conversion as they allow for reviews. Services like BBBonline, HackerSafe, etc… all help

    As well, don’t forget basic stuff like, a clear return policy, clear service grantees.

    0
  12. 12

    That’s another amazing work! Thanks.

    0
  13. 13

    Great idea. Too bad that most e-comm system budgets don’t allow for the majority of these suggestions. Major brands can afford to implement some of these major e-comm improvements, but most small-biz isn’t going to have that luxury.

    1
  14. 14

    Good article on an interesting yet often misunderstood area of web design.

    Also you managed to get E-Commerce Design as a trending topic on Twitter, mostly from re-tweets of this article, me thinks. Simples.

    0
  15. 15

    Vincent RABAH

    October 8, 2009 6:26 am

    Thank’s for this excellent tutorial !! I will take care of all your advises for my up-coming e-commerce site :)

    0
  16. 16

    Yeah, big up! If you ever bought something online (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t), you’ll prolly recognise some of these problems.

    0
  17. 17

    One issue I have with the ‘don’t make them register’ point – if I offer to give the user an account after they’ve completed a purchase, how can I secure this process? Eg, I could sign them up automatically after they’ve entered an email address, then mail them a password, but what if they make up an address, or worse, use the address of an existing customer? How do I know for sure if it’s an existing member too lazy to log in, or a malicious user?

    0
  18. 18

    Thanks, I am in the process of designing an E-Store, very useful, as usual!

    0
  19. 19

    Yes, I’ve run into most of these problems after using a myriad of ecommerce systems over the years. It’s amazing still how many site require you to login or create an account before you can buy, and how many platforms don’t offer an alternative.

    Have these people never shopped on line before? I’ve yet to come across the “perfect” platform yet, though. The search continues…

    0
  20. 20

    Michel Hendriks

    October 8, 2009 6:43 am

    @Matt
    One way to handle this is to check if the provided e-mail address is in your database already. If it is, then just don’t offer them an account. If an existing member is too lazy to log in you won’t have a problem, and malicious users will gain nothing.

    @John
    The platform is not the problem most of the time. Docdata commerce (my employer) has its own platform, and some customers just want consumers to create an account. For other customers we’ve implemented optional account creation after the checkout. The platform supports both.

    0

↑ Back to top