May 20, 2011 By BJ Cook,
Top 5 eCommerce best practices

A frequent question among our web development clients is "what are your favorite eCommerce sites and why?". To best answer this question I regularly spend time with various eCommerce best practices articles, read the latest blogs by thought leaders and most importantly, I visit actual eCommerce stores, analyzing what I do and don't like about their user experience. This list of 5 eCommerce best practices are must haves!

1) Transparent Policies: Shipping / Returns / About / Privacy Don't hide your policies! Don't make people guess! Let people know who you are! Ample contact and "about us" information will help to build consumer trust. During the web design phase, be sure links to this information are included in the header and the footer - don't hide it, be proud of your story and how open you are to communicating with potential and existing customers. One example of this best practice is SmartPac. They really go out of their way to explain who they are and what they are about. 2) Unique Copy
Retailers who use manufacturer's suggested copy are shooting themselves in both feet: The SEO foot because the copy is not original - hundreds of other retailers will be using the same copy and you cannot differentiate yourself. The branding foot because well written, unique copy will inspire confidence in your brand and therefore the products you sell.
I recently bought a pair of SSG brand gloves from "Bit of Britain". This US retailer has an interesting story as depicted in their "about us" section and  uses very custom product description copy, positioning themselves as industry experts and going as far as to describe when and why the company began carrying the SSG Eventer Gloves. This type of copy makes for a more trustworthy place to purchase from and sure beats the borring manufacturer's description.
3) First Class Checkout Process & Error Handling
Don't force your users to register! Do you have to register at the brick and mortar to buy soap? If you want to have users register, make it an option at the end of the checkout process in the form of a check box - and let them know the benefits such as the ability to track their order and if you have it, a rewards system. Keep the checkout process simple and clutter free, avoid the temptation to include up sells or cross sells within the checkout process - keep it linear and allow the customer to pay you without distraction. When your customers make mistakes throughout this process, handle those errors gracefully. Error 25 doesn't mean anything to a customer, put error messages in red and be sure they show up where the error occurred.
Straight from Nielsen Online is a top ten converting eCommerce site, ProFlowers. This site breezes you through the checkout process while handling any errors  accurately and clearly. 4) Lots of Product Information You can't feel, play with or try on eComm products, so how does an eMerchant capture those priceless product interactions? With gobs of information! owns this eCommerce best practice! Videos, user generated content including reviews and ratings, detailed product information, a sizing chart, multiple high quality product pictures and even an "about the (manufacturing) company" section. When buying from Zappos, I really feel Zappos has done its homework on the product and is offering it through their channel because they truly believe its of high quality and value.
5) Site Search Its pretty simple, allow customers to quickly find exactly what they are looking for. This can be facilitated through an intuitive user experience, but growing to be just as important is the on-site search functionality. Digital Operative highly suggests the Magento eCommerce platform for multiple reasons. One of those reasons is how it handles site search. The quality of any site search relies on how well the information is organized. You must spend time categorizing your products correctly, write great descriptions then get into your search tool and optimize. Where Magento can help you out is through is in the modification of your site's search results, and therefore your on-site search optimization. As a Magento admin, you can look through the queries your customers have made. You can use this information to build out custom product attributes and also control exactly what search results are served to users. With this level of control, you can help your customers find exactly what they are looking for - or what they think they are looking for. Helping your customers  is always a best practice!

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