eCommerce

9 Things Every Modern eCommerce Store Needs

This best practices list looks at nine of the most significant needs and changes for a modern eCommerce store and how you can start to implement them. You'll learn why they're important too. And, thankfully, many can help you not only generate more revenue but ease the stress of running a business.

9 Things Every Modern eCommerce Store Needs hero image

eCommerce has been steadily on the rise, but the coronavirus pandemic created an immediate surge with online sales growing 76% in June alone. That's a massive opportunity and has the potential to create a permanent shift in the things we buy online and our overall economic habits on smartphones and laptops compared to walking into a neighborhood shop or hitting the mall.

Instead of trying to take out the crystal ball to see if these changes will become long-standing or something that's a fad slowly receding, the best thing your eCommerce business can do is to plan for how you'll meet the demands of these new shoppers. 

Even if things slowly go back to normal, doing the legwork now will give you the best eCommerce store you can have, helping you capitalize on the digital dollars that remain.

This best practices list looks at nine of the most significant needs and changes for a modern eCommerce store and how you can start to implement them. You'll learn why they're important too. And, thankfully, many can help you not only generate more revenue but ease the stress of running a business.

So, let's dive right in with something focused on your most valuable asset: satisfied customers.

01Real User-Made Reviews

Reviews from real, living customers are a must-have for any eCommerce store right now because of how trusted they are. BrightLocal does an annual Local Consumer Review Survey looking specifically at this trust, and it's 2019 edition has some great stats for you:

  • 76% of online shoppers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
  • Trust increases to 89% of those aged 35 to 54 years old
  • 91% of people say positive reviews make them more likely to buy from you
  • Businesses without a 5-star ranking can risk losing 12% of potential customers, and that jumps to 47% if you have less than a 4-star ranking
  • People read at least 10 reviews before they trust you

Source

That data shows multiple needs for your online store. First, you should have at least 10 reviews so that people trust your business at all. Second, you'll need reviews from people who liked you just to prevent some customers from leaving your website. Third, the more positive reviews you can land, the more likely people are to trust what's said and to buy from your store.

How do you tackle all of those goals? You ask customers and fans to leave reviews, and you leverage reviews from across the Internet on your site.

One of the better options is to allow people to leave a review of products on pages and let them include photos and other media. Visitors get to see how real people use and enjoy your products, plus see products as they'll arrive. High-quality photos are a must-have for any eCommerce store, but user-generated content gives anything you provide an air of authenticity.

Amazon is extremely well-known for its rating system and has expanded that to not only allow people to include photos but also videos of their reviews. It's a brilliant move, especially for products like Halloween costumes for the little ones — where you want to know if your child (and plenty of us adults) are going to be excited by what arrives. The video makes that happen instantly because the customer not only gets to see the costume in action but can hear what kids and parents are saying.

Source

You don't have to go all-in on video yet but do start with customer reviews and try to allow them to include photos. It makes the reviews feel more "real." The best news about them is that most eCommerce platforms have options built-in or free plugins — like this one — that you can use to add and customize authoritative customer reviews in a snap.

02Crisp Deals and Giveaways

Comparison shopping has long been a bargain hunter's passion. For eCommerce, your savvy customers can instantly browse your shop and dozens of others thanks to a quick search, whether that's on Google. Facebook, Instagram, or any other social channels and search engines. So, you've got to grab attention quickly and effectively.

One of the best ways to keep eyeballs on your products is to offer a deal and make it simple and related to what's on the page. You know that deals are a significant driver of sales, especially when considering the upcoming year-end sales season. Big promotions, from significant discounts to free shipping or extra items, all can drive people to engage with you and start shopping.

Getting deals correct has two core components:

  • Offering something people want
  • Making the offer visually appealing — this includes being easy to understand at a glance

Nailing the first part depends significantly on your audience and product lineup. Look at the best-sellers and fashionable items that you offer. Then, look at past efforts to see where people have splurged for a little something more. You might have a single item that is in every cart and can be an excellent place to start for a buy-one-get-one offer. 

Popular add-ons can be the right items to offer for free when someone gets to a specific price point or signs up for something like a recurring subscription.

If your audience is willing to pay for faster shipping, consider offering it for free at a specific order value or allow someone to sign up for an account to get free shipping more often. You can leverage these first coupons and deals to get people to provide contact information or join a rewards program if you offer something that people want to buy more than once.

Once you've got your deal, it's time to make it shine.

Highlight the savings or offer in plain language, use clear text, and keep it relevant to the product. If you're running a deal on jeans, let people know that it can apply to "these" jeans on the page — or if they're not looking at denim, give them a button to click to jump to the sales content. Bold, brand colors work well.

What's most important is that your offer is useful and useable. A way to ruin your reputation with someone is to hide a restriction that they don't see until checkout.

03A Mobile Presence

Your eCommerce business needs to support a mobile shopping experience. The flavor can differ depending on your size and capabilities, but the bare minimum for everyone is mobile-friendly.

According to SaleCycle data, nearly two-thirds of retail web traffic and half of the eCommerce sales happen on a mobile device. Fashion retailers and eCommerce stores can see smartphone traffic rise to 75% of their total. The data also shows that fashion retailers can convert nearly 90% of mobile traffic into sales.

That's a significant opportunity for your web business. You risk losing sales if you don't have a mobile-friendly site or certain features like forms and shopping carts are hard to use.

Landing sales on mobile requires your products to be easy to see and learn about, making it necessary to have high-definition pictures and clear sizing charts or other details. If you have special restrictions or policies, this information should be prioritized on the mobile device layout to avoid upset customers.

What this will likely mean for you is creating a website specifically for the mobile experience. If you're using a platform like WordPress, you should be using a theme that offers a mobile-friendly variant. This build will help you capitalize on project growth of eCommerce to reach $845 billion by 2020, per eMarketer's Future of Retail 2020 report.

A core takeaway of that report is that your eCommerce store is going to need to tackle eCommerce personalization to make the most of that growth. Mobile apps can speed up this effort if you build out a simple app that's easy to use. Highlighting the customer account, showing what's relevant, and building a community within the app before trying to add all the bells and whistles.

Source

Sephora is a good benchmark for companies to use. Its app is about a decade old and was initially minimal and designed to share product reviews and push some small shopping. As the popularity of the Sephora brand increased, so did functionality within the app. An AI-driven recommendation engine for products to buy and looks to try based on the individual helped the company reach millions of fans.

Fans of Field of Dreams are going to need to dig a little deeper. It's not only "If you build it, they will come," but if they show up, you need to keep building, too.

04Easy-To-Read Policies

One of the simplest things your eCommerce store can do to win hearts and influence wallets is to keep your policies transparent and straightforward. Avoiding confusion around what is and isn't acceptable helps people trust you and lead to better sales overall.

Get your policies in plain language and share things like returns requirements on product pages, your FAQ, and in the emails, you send to people after a purchase. Having a straightforward setup can also help your sales and service teams explain policies. They'll deal with fewer upset customers in tricky situations, too.

What's often useful for keeping customers satisfied and managing your business costs is to drill down to what your business needs to survive and then write policies around that specifically.

Source

If you can safely afford to give away shipping on every order over $50, do that and say that. Whenever possible, get rid of the "terms and conditions may apply" language in how you run your store. In the eCommerce space, this can be important to how likely people can come back and help you in other management areas.

Let's stick with that same example and think about how it impacts your inventory levels and related costs. Some traditional businesses don't apply discounts to products on sale. If you did the same, you'd need a smart eCommerce platform that could recognize the difference on the backend, while your development team created a way to visualize this difference for your customers. 

They'll need to see what is counted toward the promotion clearly, or you risk a spike in customer service requests and abandoned carts.

If that happens, you become less likely to move these sale items. Then, your business is stuck with paying inventory and storage costs associated with those products. You're limiting your ability to expand fast-moving inventory and holding on to items that have a lower value to your business. 

If you partner with a 3PL and pay for storage-on-demand, then you're incurring additional monthly costs that you could avoid.

Allowing sales items to be applied to your standard discounts and specials would simplify the purchase process for your customers and potentially decrease the workload on IT and customer service while cutting down monthly overhead.

It also helps you respond to more significant events, like the coronavirus pandemic, which threw everyone for a loop.

Source

Simplifying returns and refund policies can encourage people to stick around and shop with you again. If the cost of a return to you is less than the cost of acquiring a new customer, some research suggests that free returns without qualifications or limitations can make up any losses by significantly increasing customer lifetime value.

05Reliable Shipping

Customers love fast, reliable shipping. It's a big reason Amazon has more than 150 million Prime subscribers. At this point in the game, you've got to offer speedy shipping to compete with small sellers and top marketplaces alike.

We've seen shipping improvements lead to better reputations for stores and higher customer satisfaction levels. Shipping also is one place where customers repeatedly interact with your business. They want email updates to confirm their order and then get tracking details. If there's a question on shipping, they want to be able to reach you, too.

Source

A good shipping experience — focused on updates and clear information — helps build suspense for a purchase to arrive. When done well with a great box and filler, plus branded packaging and tape, then the customer can be delighted just by the experience of opening their products. Unboxing is such a popular event that it still generates millions of monthly views on YouTube.

Now, let's look at what "reliable" means in terms of your shipping. Customers will expect a few things, and these present themselves at different points in the buyer's journey.

  • Shoppers often abandon shopping carts if they realize they don't qualify for your free shipping at checkout.
  • Unexpected shipping costs are the most significant reason people abandon shopping carts.
  • People will add items to their cart to meet your shipping thresholds if they see it on product pages.
  • The bulk of your audience will expect two-day shipping options, and many will want it for free.
  • After a purchase, people want an order number and receipt emailed to them, including shipping details, if possible.
  • Notify customers when their order ships to keep the excitement going and avoid customer service interactions.

Being reliable also means notifying people as soon as there is a problem. Packaging tracking within your eCommerce platform can help you automate this task. Communicate early and often. If there is an issue with on-time delivery, make it right with a refund of shipping charges or consider sending over a discount for the customer's next order.

"Offering free shipping isn't a silver bullet, particularly as it becomes the go-to shipping experience merchants offer. There are several ways merchants can create a positive customer experience," says Jimmy Duvall, Chief Product Officer at BigCommerce.

06Hassle-Free Shopping Carts

Cart abandonment is a significant eCommerce fear because each discarded cart essentially is a lost sale. You're losing people after they've expressed interest, usually because of a process issue. 

Common frustrations include hidden fees, extra costs, and a disjointed process that makes it hard to purchase from you. So, your first point of order is to get rid of any surprises and confusion around your shopping cart.

Source

Thankfully, there are built-in options for most eCommerce platforms right now to help you with these processes. Systems offer plugins and tools to make it easy to calculate shipping costs and display it. 

You can estimate tax as soon as you ask for the customer's shipping data. Offer checkout without needing to create an account — ask for an email to send a receipt and use your CRM to build an account for internal use.

If you are requiring signup or account creation, consider limiting the number of form fields you use. Slimming down to just the necessities can keep people moving and avoid that "too complicated" concern.

Another useful element is to have the shopping cart visible no matter how someone scrolls. Most people will point out that Amazon does this, but it's something so successful we see it in all kinds of locations. Food delivery apps have made it a standard, for example, because it quickly lets you see what you have in your cart and check the price of goods. When someone offers a deal based on cart size, seeing the price makes that simple.

Source

Uber Eats does an excellent job of showing the cart and notifying its subscription holders if their order has not yet met its $15 threshold for the Eats Pass savings via the green banner on the top of the screen.

If your shoppers tend to abandon carts and come back when you use retargeting email campaigns, look for tools that automatically save carts. These options are usually suggested when someone is navigating across multiple tabs, but they can also help returning guests get back to buying a little faster.

07New Support in Channels

Your customer's demand for speed isn't just about shipping. In many cases, they'll want quick answers to usual questions but aren't necessarily willing to dig through your FAQ. One quick, effective way is to add chatbots to your sales channels. Start with your website and social options, especially Facebook.

Chatbots generally follow one of two methodologies:

  • Dynamic: Chatbots use AI to communicate with customers. You train them on your business and shoppers, and then these bots do their best to answer questions. If something is beyond them, they usually attempt to answer it once and elevate the concern to a human agent.
  • Scripted: Chatbots use specific decision trees and paths to ask a set of predetermined questions and offer predetermined answers. You've likely experienced these as a chatbot that gives you buttons to click or items to select from a dropdown menu.

Both can be helpful to businesses and customers. And there's no set way you must use either one. Customers will enjoy seeing your personality, so avoid the temptation to recreate your FAQ page as a clickable list.

Source

Chatbots are a must-have because they save your employees time. You do not have to do as much customer service for repetitive inquiries. Customers also save time because they get their answers faster and don't have to wait in a queue for support. 

Combine this data with the suggestions in #9, and you'll also get a list of things people ask that you might want to clarify on your product pages.

Chatbots can also help you leverage things like blog content that has a chance to increase your sales.

Depending on your staff and customers, a chatbot can also reduce your costs. They're available 24/7 and could limit the need for live agents outside of your regular business hours. Chatbots also scale because they load with the website, so one program can simultaneously field hundreds of questions. 

Cost savings can also include a reduction in returns or refunds if you're having an issue where a confusing or unclear policy causes customer headaches. Program a chatbot right, and it'll eliminate human error around explaining policies, requirements, and more.

Reviews of customer service bots also note that many different kinds and complexity levels are available at prices SMBs can afford.

However, there's something even better happening in the chatbot world right now: sales. The impact is especially real for Facebook chatbots within the Messenger service. They're AI-based bots and can help you qualify leads, engage people, and generate sales. You can have these chatbots engage with people who land on your page or drive customers specifically to a Messenger interaction through your other ads on the site.

Marvel tapped Jumper.ai to create its Messenger chatbot and wanted the focus to be fun and engaging, hopefully selling tickets to its blockbusters in 2018. Marvel used the chatbot to help identify fans and keep them excited about upcoming movies by sharing content, especially GIFs.

Source

Marvel used traditional and social marketing and ads to drive people to its Facebook page. Consistent engagement and conversational language helped keep everything going strong and build interactions with customers. That chatbot also included checkout support to speed up the ticket-buying process.

According to the companies, deploying its AI chatbot generated a 68% conversion rate and an 18X increase in comments compared to its other social campaigns.

If you're driving traffic and sales via Facebook, it can be a worthwhile investment to use a specific Messenger chatbot to promote a specific product or engage with your customers. Facebook's platform allows you to segment people within Messenger as well, so applying your existing personas and other elements is a reliable way to promote the right message and minimize frustration.

08Security and Trust: HTTPS and Buttons

Privacy and payment security are significant concerns for your customers. Unfortunately, these concerns are continuing to grow.

Source

To combat this, you need first to put cybersecurity best practices in place. Protect your website with a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) setup that uses bidirectional encryption to protect you and your visitors. Your IT team and the eCommerce platform tools you use should also have a series of requirements and suggestions to help you stay secure. Put those in place immediately.

While that's going on, you want to show customers that you're taking steps to protect them. Showing trust badges is one of the most common and popular steps to making your security visible. These seals indicate a variety of things, such as your use of McAfee Secure or being PayPal verified. They're a straightforward way to showcase your credentials and help people understand that you're secure.

Source

There are a lot of trust options to choose from, but a good rule of thumb is to use and display services your customers will recognize. One eCommerce study found that a majority of people say they have decided not to make an online purchase because trust logos were missing or because none of those displayed were recognizable.

Your exact mix will differ, but generally, for eCommerce, PayPal Verisign, McAfee, Norton/Symantec, and the Better Business Bureau are all popular options.

And don't forget your guarantees. Make them unique to your business so that you stand out in the eyes of your customer. Sometimes that means a specific deal or promise, while you can also take standard guarantees and brand them with colors, logos, and other elements.

Source

We hear about data thefts and breaches regularly, and it seems like no one is safe, including accounts that should have incredible amounts of security. So, you can't blame customers for being wary when they're providing personal details and credit card numbers.

Take time to ease their minds. Build trust and demonstrate it. Plus, if you've done the arduous work to get secure and verified, why not show off?

09Robust Analytics and Reporting

eCommerce platforms come with their dashboards, and there is a broad set of other marketing tools that include full eCommerce analytics. These solutions allow you to see and know your store at a glance, monitoring traffic, sales, abandoned carts, and more.

It's never been easier to access the data that can tell you how healthy your store is and where you're trending over time. You can see device types and referral sources to know if your mobile-friendly efforts or those new Facebook ads are working.

The downside to this information is that it can become too much for some eCommerce stores. A flood of key performance indicators (KPIs), heat maps, site activity, and more can make it hard to focus on what's important.

Give yourself time to review your store's data and use the analytics and reporting tools or dashboards to automate as much of these displays as possible.

Source

You want to have your data work for you, not the other way. A growing trend now is to use a tool like DashThis that brings together multiple analytics and advertising programs in customizable dashboards. Similar tools make it easy to create high-level reports and start understanding store performance and how your current campaigns are impacting it.

You can see essential patterns that revenue-only reviews don't demonstrate, such as when marketing corresponds with more orders but at lower values. Those revelations may help you understand total costs and successes. 

If a change creates a higher order volume to reach the same level as past sales revenue, you could be looking at lower profits as you spend more on storage, packaging, shipping, and labor.

Source

The dashboard’s goal is to find a mix of tools that allow you to gather and display store data quickly. Then, you can use analytics programs to give that data the right context. Regularly reviewing this information will help leadership make data-driven insights and business decisions. The more you know about your store, the better you're able to make changes that maximize its potential.

What Would You Suggest?

Those are just nine of the many different things you can do to start improving your eCommerce store now, generally with minimal fuss and small cost. This list prioritizes changes with significant reach and plenty of data to help leaders feel comfortable that the investment will pay off big.

However, those aren't the only eCommerce things that can create near-term gains. Leave a comment below with your favorite hack, trick, and must-have — or the biggest gripe you have about the state of eCommerce websites today — to help your favorite stores keep improving your shopping experience.

Jake Rheude