Six Chronic Sins of Ecommerce Sites

Consumer facing companies continue to try to reduce costs by eliminating service and support. In effect Confused?they push customers to serve themselves. As with a discount store, the assertion is that shoppers will wander the virtual aisles, select what they want, add some extras because of displays and coupons, check out and pay – all with minimal intervention or effort by the merchant.

When this works, it becomes part of an invisible low friction experience such as on shopping on Amazon, Netflix, REI, Zappos and numerous others. These customer service stars profitably serve customers through easy to use sites and robust information architectures. They do provide human assistance when desired, but they have engineered their process such that most customers feel well served without further intervention.

Unfortunately, the online shopping experience sometimes fails. The site is difficult to use, confusing and time consuming. It demands answers to intrusive and unnecessary questions. At check out, the customer faces surprise or just plain incorrect charges. The process is at best awkward and uncomfortable. If the customer goes through all of this without abandoning the transaction, she may never return and tell her friends to avoid your business.

None of this should be news in 2011, but a recent attempt to book an international trip on sites including American Express Travel and American Airlines, which should know better, indicates that even they don’t always get it. In my recent experience, they seem to have outsourced their online shopping to Elbonia.

Ironically American Express  just released a study supporting the profitability of live human customer service. Apparently the architects of their ecommerce didn’t read the study. After several attempts, it appeared “you can’t get there from here.” I booked my trip on a separate carrier’s site.

Of course, producing a satisfying online experience takes thought and effort. If you can’t do that, how about at least avoiding these big dumb mistakes. Customers will reward you by returning.

  • Have a web site, which only works in Internet Explorer. This is still the single most popular. Yet according to NetMarketShare,  its usage has fallen to below 60%.  Do you want to really want to tell more than 40% of the market not to bother? By working, we don’t just mean you can view the page. Every button and link must function such that a visitor can find what she wants and complete the transaction.
  • Require customers to register. Registration should be an option. If you give her good reasons to register, she may well. If she’d rather not, let her buy anyway. You’ll get all the information you need at checkout. Don’t risk the sale for some nice to have information, which you may not use anyway?
  • Reset or clear fields if the visitor navigates to previous steps. The fewer screens in your shopping process the better. Until you simplify the process, make it easy for the customer to go back and change whatever she wished without having to reenter choices.
  • Arbitrarily time the user out. If the user has, say 15 minutes, say so up front. Display a timer, give a warning, save what she has already entered.
  • Go to great lengths to make price comparisons difficult and hide the true price by not including taxes and fees until the end of the checkout
  • Post a phone number and then be reluctant to talk with the customer or bounce her from call center to call center.

Which of these have you committed lately?