5 Critical Mistakes That Startup Ecommerce Stores Make

Make sure your ecommerce store stays open for business

There is big money to be made from ecommerce. Global research and advisory firm Forrester Research Inc recently predicted that online retail sales in the US will reach $262 billion in 2013,  a rise of 13% over 2012.

Sadly though, not every ecommerce venture will thrive, or even last out their first year of business. Many will fall by the wayside as their competitors take the spoils, and I know you don’t want that to happen to you!

So what makes the difference between success and failure when it comes to online retail?

In the highly competitive sphere of ecommerce, every small detail counts, especially when it comes to user experience and branding. In this post I’ll share the five critical mistakes I’ve seen new start-ups make when launching their ecommerce store.

1. Poor Branding

The internet is packed to the rafters with ecommerce stores. To have any kind of success, you need to stand out as much as possible, and the single best way to do this is to create a strong brand.

The foundational elements you need to get right when it comes to branding are:

  • A memorable and striking company/domain name e.g. Amazon.com
  • Your brand story or ‘mission statement’ e.g. “our mission is to ensure every child has access to a computer”
  • Your brand values e.g. we are unconventional, environmentally-friendly, family-oriented
  • Detailed profiles of your ideal customers e.g. where do they live, how much do they earn, what problem do they have which can you solve?

Don’t skip this step! Trying to appeal to everyone will doom you to failure from the start – you need to target a specific market and make it clear that your store is for them.

Once you have clearly defined your brand values, they should permeate everything you do, from the design of your site to the photos of your models. For example, take a brand like Agent Provocateur, the luxury lingerie company which isn’t afraid to emphasise their risqué side. Their brand practically oozes sexy sophistication. And whilst some people may not appreciate their frankness, no one can deny they make an impact. The bottom line is that Agent Provocateur are not struggling to sell their products at premium prices, and it’s all down to a powerful brand.

2. Unsatisfactory user experience

The most successful ecommerce stores make shopping a pleasure. A simple, easy to navigate site with beautiful images and a hassle-free checkout process will immediately set your ecommerce store above the more generic ones out there.

Yes, design should be attractive, but that’s only part of it. It also needs to be intuitive. Your customers shouldn’t need a user manual to buy a product, and they shouldn’t need to give you their entire life history in order to make a purchase.

Map out each stage in the user journey from arrival on the site, to checkout and be ruthless at reducing the number of steps they need to take in order to buy.  You can also add personality at this stage which will make the user experience feel more intimate.

You can use Google Analytics to gain insights into how customers are using your store. For example a high bounce rate means a large percentage of visitors to your site are leaving without viewing more than one page. This means you will need to make changes to increase user engagement and hopefully the percentage will decrease over time.

Other useful metrics which will help you make improvements to your ecommerce store include monitoring the top traffic sources to your site and which pages are consistently receiving the most traffic. You can then repeat what’s working and change what isn’t.

It’s also worth noting that too many products and product categories will also dilute your impact – it’s far better to stick to a smaller range of products which fit with your brand values.

3. Not capturing customer’s details

Not everyone will buy something from you the first time they find your site. People want to be seduced by brands and convinced to buy from them. By capturing their email address and name, you can keep in touch with them and send them special offers.

Equally, you don’t want someone to come to your site, buy something and then forget all about your other products and never return, so you need to give them a good reason to sign up.

A word of warning though – you want your customers to give you their details willingly. Forcing new customers to log in and create a new profile is a guaranteed way to annoy them and turn a potential customer for life into a missed opportunity.

Giving people the choice of entering a  password when they checkout in order to save their payment details for future purchases is a far better option, and this might be a good time to offer them a discount on their next purchase too.

There are a number of different providers out there which allow you to capture customer’s email addresses and other details via an embeddable sign-up form, for example Aweber, Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

Each of these do a very good job, but it’s worth reading up on the differences and choosing the one which most suits your needs. For example Mailchimp has an excellent free plan, but discourages affiliate promotions. You may also want to use a lightbox service such as Pop Up Domination as an additional prompt to encourage customers to sign up.

4. Not showing up in search engines

A few bad SEO decisions can mean your store goes undiscovered even if people are searching for what you’re selling.

Don’t just use the manufacturer’s default product descriptions, because any other stores selling the same items will probably have done the same, and Google in particular has little regard for duplicate content.

Product images and may help customers get a clear idea of the product, but search engines still need words, so don’t just leave the product description fields blank!  Hire a professional copywriter in to write something engaging and persuasive which will have the added bonus of converting customers as well as improve your search rankings.

You’ll also want to make sure your permalinks are descriptive and include relevant keywords for each product, and that you have a clear and well-laid out sitemap and internal search engine.

5. Lack of Social Integration

It’s essential that you are able to collect and publish customer reviews on your ecommerce site. Not only do customers rely on them to make buying decisions, but review pages also rank well in search engines. Think of it like this –  customers leaving reviews are providing free content for your site and making it look more popular.

It’s also important that you integrate social media into your ecommerce store from the beginning. A blog which is regularly updated is one of the best ways to drive traffic and engagement to your site, as well as improving your SEO.

Other social media integrations include sharing buttons so that customers can share their activity plus active profiles on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Well produced videos showcasing your products and brand will also increase sales and drive traffic from YouTube. For more on good social media practice see our post Killer Social Media Strategies for Your Ecommerce Store.

Questions and Comments

I hope that this brief overview will help you to avoid the biggest mistakes commonly made by new ecommerce stores. Please share your input and any questions you might have in the comments section – any feedback you have will help us shape the content of this site.

  1. Have you made any of the above mistakes when building your ecommerce store?
  2. What additional mistakes have you seen other ecommerce stores make?

Published by

Joseph Yi

Since he was a freshman in college, Joseph has worked in several internet startup companies and has developed campaigns and digital strategies for Fortune 500 companies and brands including the Los Angeles Lakers, Manchester City FC, the Oakland Raiders, Sephora, and Whole Foods. Follow Joseph on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “5 Critical Mistakes That Startup Ecommerce Stores Make”

  1. Great read. One thing that I can’t stress is the importance of the ‘name’ of the site. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a bad name for a site kill it…

  2. Hi there, thanks for the insightful post! What would you say is the most common mistake out there that drags stores down?

  3. Hi Joe, What are some examples of ways I can mediate for a high bounce rate on my website?

  4. I have a past experience launching my own ecommerce store, which failed due to a lack of branding, among a very poor design in capturing customer details.. I now realize how important a factor that is, it’s all about the overall customer experience. Very insightful read for me.. looking forward to following this blog 🙂

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