Green Corn field at Portugal

If You Build It, They Won’t Come: 5 Big, Scary and Costly e-Commerce Site Mistakes

In the 1989 flick Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner turns his Iowa cornfield into a baseball field because a voice tells him: if you build it, he will come. The “he” in question is his late father, and the movie has a magical, uplifting ending that makes us want to dream again (and possibly, play baseball or eat some corn).

Well, many folks who launch e-commerce sites also believe that: if I build it, they will come. This time, “they” means throngs of happy, profitable customers. Except…they don’t. And before long, the site is forced to scale down or shut down. Even writing to Kevin Costner doesn’t help — even if you promise to watch a double feature of The Postman and Waterworld (not recommended without a physician’s approval).

The bad news is that this kind of misery happens all the time. The good news — actually, make that the amazing, glorious, Field-of-Dreams-ending-like news — is that preventing this doom and gloom is largely a matter of avoiding these five big, scary and costly e-commerce site mistakes:

  1. Lousy UX

Tiny buttons that are impossible to click on a mobile device without a magnifying glass and hands the size of a Ken doll. Search functions that neither search nor function. Elusive top level categories. Gigantic banners that pop open and chase customers around from page to page, like a kind of online shopping Terminator (“I’ll be baaaaaack!”). These are just some of the many ways that lousy UX destroys e-commerce sites.

The remedy? Monitor all pages and multi-step processes (e.g. login areas, signups, checkout, etc.), to identify bottlenecks where customers routinely encounter errors or unresponsive behavior, and fix any gaps and leaks right away. Learn more about doing this here.

  1. S…l…o…w…n…e…s…s

Just how vital is speed? Behold these grizzly statistics:

  • A one-second delay in load time can send conversion rates plunging by seven percent. (Source: Kissmetrics)
  • 70% of customers say that a website’s loading time affects their willingness to purchase. (Source: Unbounce)
  • As page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 32%; from 1 second to 5 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 90%; and from 1 second to 10 seconds the probability of bounce increases by 123% (source: Google)

The remedy? Be ruthless about making your e-commerce site as fast as possible (and then make it even faster). Here are the usual suspects: bloated HTML, ad network code, images not optimized, and using public networks to transmit private data. There are other culprits, but look here first — you’ll be amazed at how much speed you unleash.

  1. Not Focusing on SEO — or Focusing too Much on SEO

Let’s talk about health. Some people have poor health because they don’t exercise at all. Their daily calisthenic routine involves digging in the couch for the remote. And then on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who work out too much — like, we’re talking to extremely, unhealthy levels. You know the type.

The same phenomenon occurs in the e-commerce world when it comes to SEO. Some sites don’t focus on SEO, which means they aren’t going to get found by the 35% of customers who start their buyer’s journey from Google. And some focus too much on SEO, that they neglect other channels and tactics — including good, old fashioned pure promotion.

The remedy? Definitely make SEO part of the visibility strategy. But don’t make it the end-all-and-be-all of online existence. It’s important, but it’s not everything.

  1. Bad Customer Service

 Customer service is as important in the online world as the brick-and-mortar world, and in some cases it’s even more important, because exiting the buyer’s journey is so simple — as is writing a scathing zero-star review that would have made Roger Ebert wince. Unfortunately, many e-commerce sites treat customer service as an afterthought or a necessary evil, rather than an asset that should be leveraged to optimize customer experience and generate loyalty.

The remedy? Make customer service — characterized by the ease, speed, and quality of responsiveness and resolution — a big part of the plan. It’s not an expense, but an investment.

  1. Lack of Original, Compelling Content

E-commerce sites aren’t vending machines, yet many of them seem to take their inspiration from these handy contraptions that dispense candy and soda in exchange for money and the push of a button (be careful you don’t press the wrong one — you might end up with that oatmeal cookie that has been there since 2007, and not the Snickers bar that you’re craving).

However, most customers — even those who are very focused on getting a specific item, like a pair of sneakers, a smartphone, or a hotel room — want and expect to access relevant information to help them make a safer, smarter purchase decision. This could be videos, infographics, social proof (e.g. testimonials, reviews, case studies, etc.), articles, blog posts, and downloadable assets like ebooks,  checklists, and so on.

The remedy? Don’t skimp on creating original, compelling content. As a bonus, this will help with SEO and can connect you with profitable customers who are not in your primary target market.

The Bottom Line

Competition on the e-commerce landscape for the hearts, minds, and indeed, wallets of customers is ferocious. Avoiding these mistakes will go a long, long way to helping your e-commerce site survive and thrive.

You may even make enough profit to retire early, buy a cornfield in Iowa, and then turn it into a baseball field that inspires the feel-good movie of the year. Hey, it worked once before, right?

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