More Most Annoying Ecommerce Mistakes – Part 1

We’re Really Still Here?

After so many years in digital commerce, we still see what I think I’ll call “average practices” in surprising places.

I’ll admit I’m not a typical user or digital product manager. Probably from having been in this business for some time, I’m just amazed at some of the things I still see  brands doing online. (Or not doing.) William Gibson, the guy who first used the term “cyberspace” in print once said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” This certainly seems true of Best Practices in ecommerce.

It’s true enough that many in the online business, (perhaps especially Product Managers and UI / UX Designers), come to the field from various backgrounds. And while the body of knowledge to execute digital products grows everyday, there are at this point some basic Table Stakes items that should be well known by professionals in the field. We should be past the point where a company looks like it used the owner’s nephew in college to build it because that’s the only one in the family who could do HTML.

The following call outs are not meant to be rants or pick on any business in particular. And you may disagree with some assessments; perhaps even rightly so. And yes, there’s plenty of Top 10 Bad Ecommerce Practices out there. But there’s some stuff I’ve been coming across lately that I thought just needed to be pointed out.

The Speed Thing

Yes, you already know page load speed is important. But how deeply and viscerally do you realize the importance of web page speed on user engagement? And on ecommerce? I know anyone bothering to read this already knows this intellectually. But that’s not enough. You need to feel it deeply and get it enough to expend resources to fix it as best you can. It’s not a visible new feature. So it’s not sexy. But if you haven’t gone though a performance exercise in awhile, chances are some stuff has crept in to slow you down. And that’s probably hurting your site worse than some cute new buzzword flavor of the quarter widget is helping.

Consider this from the Wolfgang 2016 E-commerce KPI Benchmarks Study.

We found site speed matters more than any of the website engagement metrics. ‘Server response time’ enjoyed a conversion rate correlation three times stronger than the best engagement metric, ‘average session duration’. Because site speed is a SEO ranking factor, smart digital marketers can benefit from a ‘site speed multiplier effect as their faster site earns more traffic combined with a higher conversion rate.

Here’s the even less funny part… all the third party widget tech that sites are loading on pages to increase conversions with cross sells, up sells, side sells, re-marketing, personalized messaging, etc. is most likely at least partly to blame. Yes, I know the vendor says they use AsyncrounousAngularNonblockingJquery and it’ll all happen in 100 milliseconds. But add them all up and you could end up in this kind of place, according to KISSmetrics

A one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.  If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.

Basically you have 2 seconds. Sure, the web was getting faster with increased use of broadband, but then along came mobile which is increasingly a larger share of overall usage. So just making a site a hybrid or responsive doesn’t fix the problem if you’ve still got: bulky graphics, overloaded JavaScript and CSS, and a top offender… tons of HTTP requests for all manner of things. The point is, whatever third party tech you’re using has to be really worth it. Whether it’s conversion optimization, analytics / advertising verification or whatever else has crept into the tag management system, there’s a real potential hit to ROI that that has to be calculated based on costs due to any time lag they may be causing.

Not convinced to burn a Sprint or two on infrastructure and performance instead of launching some new features? Check out the 2014 video from Radware.  TWENTY per cent of users abandon carts JUST because the transactions are moving too slow. Maybe worse, half of users won’t return after a badly slow checkout experience. Please realize, I do understand. As a voice of customer focused product manager myself, I want to see the most valuable new stuff getting out there to the world. But this – again – is a table stakes issue.

Are you All the Way Feeling this problem now? There’s a wide variety of means to test your site speed and assess against benchmarks. If you’re not measuring up, it’s time to schedule some research. Your User Story is easy: “As a User, I need page load times to be under 2 seconds so I don’t feel compelled to leave.” Yes, it’s a simple story. But the Definition of Done might be a lot longer.

Let’s take a quick look at a typical product detail page:


Using Chrome Developer Tools, according to the Network Tab (not shown), there were 217 requests. (And this was after loading some other Walmart content, so some other items were probably already in cache.) But look at the timing! Now, in fairness, the user perceptible load of basic content was under two seconds. I call this time to value. But it took a couple more seconds for product imagery and other page content to load. And a lot more to get everything else in.



Now, let’s look at Google’s speed insights for desktop:


Next up, let’s try WASP Inspector which shows piles of stuff…


and finally, a personal favorite, Ghostery.



And what is it that’s especially fun about Ghostery? Well, for consumers, you’ve got more control over things. You can actually restrict the various trackers. Now Walmart can maybe get away with all this. Because they’re Walmart! Same as Amazon and some other top branded sites can likely get away with more. Why? Because it appears they’ve actually thought about getting the core value in first, then loading the other items. Because they probably use every trick there is in terms of using servers all over the network to optimize for delivery. Because they’re so frequently used they likely have the benefits of some caching. Do you do all this?

It’s true. Speed kills. Only in this case, it’s slow speed. Audit your site. Pull something out, (anything), to reduce the load time by a second or more, and test the results. If you see a lift, then make sure to get that kind of reduction in there permanently. For you marketers out there, think of this as the web site speed load equivalent of a price elasticity curve.

That covers the speed issue. Next up, ye olde About Us section.

It’s Not About You. It’s About Us

If your About Us section is lousy, you’re losing sales. Because you’re failing to gain trust. Trust is everything in every relationship you have. And this is no less true with customers; even more so with new prospective customers. Here’s the thing, you probably don’t know exactly what issues your prospective customers might be facing as you try to get them to decide “Yes” on a purchase decision. Assuming they didn’t get to your site by accident, they may have several objections to overcome to make a purchase. Maybe they’re still doing research and not sure about features, maybe it’s pricing, who knows. (Though there are tools out there now that try to help you determine this.) But maybe, just maybe, it’s about some simple thing like wanting to know return policies or just trust in you. About Us pages are the most inexpensive things to do to just have this small collection of issues eliminated as a blocker.

An amazing thing I’ve been privileged to have over the years is access to a wide variety of analytics. Besides my full time jobs which have typically been running product at a start-up, more recently as a consultant I’ve had the privilege to work with a whole bunch of businesses across content, community and commerce. So I’ve seen analytics from a lot of sites. Silly little minor sections like About Us don’t get used that much. I’ve seen it as low as a fraction of a per cent, but also approaching double digits for smaller sites. There are some basic things some people, (not all, but some), just want to know before they will transact with you. It could be a trust thing; like just trying to make sure you’re “real.” Or it could be a practical thing, like wanting to know your payment methods before they go the trouble of heading through checkout. If you’re a top well known brand, there may be some items you don’t need. But you have to have some basics here.

Here’s the Table Stakes Items that Must be in a ecommerce site:

  • Physical Address – It doesn’t matter where you are. However small or big. Without a real world address, you’re sketchy. Also, in addition to the big search engines, how many directory sites might you be in? If directory sites end up listing you, they often have maps. If you don’t put in a physical address, you’re map will be non-existent or blank. Even if you don’t have a retail address, being in someone’s listing pages via geographical drill down is just one more link in, and another good part of search optimization. Why skip it?
  • Contact Us – Ideally you have email and telephone. Live Chat is popular, but maybe not feasible for you. Most online customers might prefer to avoid the phone, but just having it demonstrates something about availability and service.
  • Delivery Info – You don’t know where your prospect lives yet. Or what they need. If they’re shopping today for something they want tomorrow, you don’t want them to have to get to a deep in Shipping page only to learn you don’t offer Next Day shipping at any price. You might not be able to give the same details someone can get during an order process, but give some idea of methods, maybe a map with average delivery times.
  • Payment Methods – Show these without forcing someone to get to the Checkout page first.
  • Return Policy – Ask yourself this, do You buy online before knowing a store’s return policy?
  • Terms & Conditions / Privacy Policy.

Here’s some nice to haves…

  • Our Story: If you’re a small site, your ‘creation myth’ story can make you more real. It can even make someone prefer to do business with you over a larger impersonal big box store.
  • Team: It might not be necessary. If you’re a solo act, maybe better off not as you don’t want people to have to worry about if you’ve really got time to service their needs. But a small team? It’s a nice touch.

Here’s the three kinds of new problem areas I’ve seen with About Us type sections recently:

  1. The Too Cool for School Crowd: The site has some super slick graphics with a bit of minimalist text expressing a somewhat vague offer of value and demanding email sign-up or some other type of user commitment. Only doesn’t have any means to even find out more about the product, much less anything about who’s behind it. I’d love to see the abandonment rates for these sites! There may be a precious few super hot products that can get away with this. Maybe even use the feeling of exclusivity as a draw. But mostly, it’s just confusing.
  2. Infinite Scroll: You’ve probably seen sites like this as it’s been a trend lately. Instead of pagination, as you scroll down a page it will continually say something like, “loading more” and give you more images, products, whatever. But you never get to a footer. Sometimes, you even see some footer text flash and disappear; probably just on the underlying page as legacy content. Maybe this technique got implemented during a push for a responsive site design. hamburgermenusAnd maybe there’s the little Hamburger menu at the top. But somehow, whomever updated the site didn’t add the About Us sections to the menu! In these cases, you can sometimes find the About Us pages, (which are there), via a search engine, but not even from site navigation! Which just seems crazy since someone – rightly – went to the trouble to create those pages in the fist place.
  3. Just Absent: No one cared to add such a section.

That’s it for now. Not sure when I’ll get to Part 2, but hopefully soon.


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