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10 Ecommerce Basics (You can’t afford to ignore)


With all the competition out there fighting you for the same customers it’s vital you go above and beyond to make your site the best it can be. In this post I’m going to give you 10 ecommerce basics you need to focus on so you can turn every visit into a fantastic sales opportunity.  

Matt Thorpe, Webshop Mechanic

“It’s usually the dull, unsexy stuff that will help you truly grow your online business.”

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Many online retailers take their customers for granted. They think that people should automatically buy from them just because they have a store on the internet. They expect the sales to roll in because they’ve got product sitting on the shelves in their warehouse.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you want people to spend money with you then you need to earn the right by making their visit smooth, impactful and memorable. You must focus on the smaller details that tick the right boxes, giving your visitors the confidence to shop with you. It’s an ongoing process that you need to constantly work at to improve.

In this post I have highlight 7 key areas that will help you to deliver a better customer experience and give your online store the best chance of converting visitors into paying customers. There are a load more but these are the ones that I see constantly overlooked.

If you nail each of these then you will have the edge over your competitors.

1. Make mobile a PRIORITY.

Mobile First Approach

When was the last time your tested your online store using a smart phone? What about on both Apple and Android devices?

You assume it works, right?

Did you actually do any testing on mobile devices before you launched your store? Have you asked anyone to test buying something?

In most instances this question is met with a totally blank look.

In my experience, most online store owners ignore how customers on mobile see their site. They just assume everyone views their site in the same way they do and on the same devices. They don’t think about all the different variations of device, browser and screen size. They are so close that they can’t see what’s right in front of them.

The truth is, if you have an online store that doesn’t work properly on mobile phones then it is likely you are losing up to 50%+ of your visitors each and every day.

YES 50%!

But why? Where are they going? How are you losing them?

These potential customers are leaving your site due to sheer frustration because they don’t have the patience to continuously pinch n’ squeeze their screen to see what you are trying to sell them. Or maybe they are sick of seeing long pages of text that haven’t converted properly onto a smaller screen. Perhaps, the checkout buttons are half off the screen and they physically can’t complete the purchase. I’ve seen all these problems.

Shoppers are fickle creatures. If it’s too difficult to view information and make a purchase then they will leave. And why shouldn’t they? Why should they fight to spend their own money? You need to make it dead easy for them.

A quick clarification.

There may be a little confusion here that I just want to clear up. Sometimes people hear the term mobile-responsive and get confused with mobile-friendly. There is a BIG difference.

Mobile-responsive is a term created by web development agencies who want to assure their customers that what they are about to buy will work on mobile devices. It’s a loose way of telling them ‘it kinda works but it’s not 100%’.

A mobile responsive ecommerce store generally just rebuilds the elements of a page for a smaller screen. So rather than having to squeeze the screen to read the smaller text, it stacks everything to neatly fit the size of the screen so you get a long scrolling screen.

The major problem with this is that many site pages do not translate directly onto a smaller device.

For example, a product with a large description will just show a ton of text and bullet points on a page with a number of images showing as you scroll down the page. The buy button could be anywhere on the screen.

On the flipside, the term mobile-friendly actually means ‘friendly to people on mobile devices’. It means someone shopping on a phone or tablet can easily navigate around your store, read the information, see the photos, proceed to checkout and buy with very few barriers in the way.

A mobile-friendly site hides certain information and features that are not required on a smaller screen so it displays clean and uncluttered. The extra information is still available if the customer wants to see it but it is neatly placed behind a button or link.

More importantly, a mobile-friendly webshop has a checkout that is simple and easy to navigate through. I’m still amazed at the number of sites that have a few pages working on mobiles and then you see they then neglect their checkout – probably the most bloody important area!

If your site isn’t mobile-friendly across the complete purchasing journey (from homepage to checkout) then you need to take steps to fix it ASAP.

If you don’t, then it’s likely you will go out of business sometime in the near future because everything is going mobile.

Google won’t like you and your visitors won’t either! Many e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Big Commerce, Bag Cartel and Volusion now have some great mobile-responsive templates that are fairly mobile-friendly too. You don’t even need developers to get these stores up and running.

2. Create an AWESOME homepage!

Apple 1984 homepage

The homepage of your online is the most important page on your site because it’s likely to be the entry point for the majority of your traffic (unless you’ve had a product featured in the press somewhere). Like a shop window, you want to show the world that your store is the ‘dogs doodahs’ (or pretty bloody awesome).

On your homepage, you need to make it clear what your sell, what your brand stands for (i.e why it is so great) and why your visitors should buy from you. You only have about 3-5 seconds to make an impact when a visitor lands on your page so make it count!

This means:

  • Including a strap-line with your logo – This is a one liner or your elevator pitch telling people what you do and what you stand for. You need to tell people what you sell in plain English. Don’t make them work for it.
  • Clear messaging on your main banners & promo boxes – These need to be big, bold with a clear ‘call-to-action’. Make them enticing with a reason to click through. Don’t just show discounts and savings because this cheapens your site. Demonstrate your product benefits or customer ‘pain factors’ (i.e the problem you are solving).
  • Show brand values – When people visit a site they want to see more than just offers everywhere. That sort of thing gets pretty tiresome after a while. People want to see the type of company you are, who runs it, your social activity, how your products are made and more about the beliefs as a company. Loyal customers are not there for a quick purchase. They buy into a brand.
  • Include Text – A homepage without text is a major Google faux pas! You’re not Gucci or Prada who have a tons of PR traffic heading their way. You ain’t gonna get ranked without any text! Google requires some sort of text-based content to index your pages and give your site a good ranking. I’m not saying you need a ton of waffle on your homepage but you need to at least have a few small paragraphs containing keywords that relate to your products or customer’s search terms and links to your products. Aim for 500-600 words. This can be broken down into sections.
  • Add an ‘About Us’ text block – Remember, a large number of people to your site will be newbies. Don’t assume that everybody has heard of your brand or knows what you sell. By including a little paragraph that tells them about you and your story, you will start to create an emotional connection. This also promotes repeat visits because you will stick in their mind. Maybe even add a video to engage them from the moment they land.
  • Social Proof – Customer reviews go a long way to giving shoppers confidence in your company. I know they are not always the prettiest things to place on a homepage if you are worried about brand image, but they are impactful. Find a way of adding them in a way that fits with your website design. Believe me, they work!
  • Logical Layout – Is your homepage a mishmash of product offers and does it have a logical flow? Remember that you have new visitors and repeat visitors so you need to cater for both audiences and not confuse them. Try to highlight some new arrivals for the returning people and some best-sellers for the newbies. Also, try to draw people into your key product categories where you make the most profit or have the highest change of converting a sale.
  • Regularly update it! – I honestly lose count of the number of commerce stores I visit where they don’t bother updating their homepage from one week to the next. WAKEY, WAKEY PEOPLE! We live in a fast-paced world and shoppers don’t want to see stale content that’s the same as last week. They want regular updates at least 1-2 times per week. You don’t have to refresh every single thing on your homepage but you should update the key promo areas or feature blocks at the very least.

3. Create MOUTHWATERING Product Pages

Like a Marks & Spencer food advert, you want your visitors to be literally ogling over their screens with love for your products. You need to show how truly amazing they are, why they need them and how easy it is to get them.

This means you must have:

  • Inspirational Photography – It doesn’t have to be a David Bailey-style studio shoot but your products shouldn’t be snapped in the palm of your hand either. It’s amazing what you can do with an iPhone or a budget SLR camera these days. Show multiple angles and as much detail as you can. If you sell clothing then show close-ups of detail, buttons, zips, patterns, logo branding and inner lining. If you sell jewellery then show clasps, stones, dials, hands and even the reverse of the watch or bracelet. Attention to detail goes a long way because it shows you love your products and you are demonstrating attention to detail. Look to Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration on simple yet effective photography. Your customers can’t touch the product so you need to give them the next best thing.
  • Alluring Product Descriptions – Don’t just copy the crappy descriptions from the manufacturer’s site (or Amazon). It’s never going to inspire your customer. Be creative and write a product description in a tone and language that really makes people understand why they ‘must own’ your product. They can’t touch it so tell them what it feels like to hold it, to use it, to wear it, to own it or to eat it (if it’s food that is).
  • Tell them when the goods will arrive – People are very impatient! (My wife especially). Customers want to know how quickly they can get their order to their door if they place the order now (Blame Amazon for that!). Make sure you clearly state how long the delivery time is to your country, the next continent and worldwide. Show express delivery options too! This is a good up-sell, especially during time-sensitive holiday season when people have left gift buying to the last minute.
  • Shipping Costs – This is probably one of the most common and most annoying reasons why shoppers leave an e-commerce store’s basket. Customers want to know how much shipping costs before they commit. It’s not always the price that’s the issue. Many people leave because they have to hunt around your site to find it or they have to add a product to their basket to see how much shipping costs. Quite frankly, that’s just bloody painful! Show your customers the shipping cost on the product page. You will prevent a ton of lost sales and needless site exits.
Ecommerce Basics - Create Killer Product Pages

A great example of a fantastic product page is Oru Kayak (see above). The product is premium and they need to work hard to sell it, but they tick many boxes by providing a high level of detail and interactivity for the product. The photography is excellent.

4. BUILD TRUST across your site

Make your Ecommerce Store Safe & Trustworthy

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when selling online is trust.

Your visitors won’t buy from you unless they trust you and believe your online store is a safe place to shop. To make your e-commerce store trust-worthy you need to ensure that it sends the right signals to instil high levels of confidence and remove doubt. A few ways to do this include:

  • Adding Security Logos – Security is a key part of shopping online because almost every shopper will be worried about their personal details being shared or abused. Payment details in particular. To overcome this, you should highlight the level of security that you have on your basket page. You should already have an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate in place or have standard encryption if your store is hosted (like Shopify). Place the security vendor logo in your header or footer and certainly on all your login and checkout pages. If you don’t promote a safe and secure shopping environment, you will lose sales.
  • Adding Payment Logos – This may not be an obvious one but payment logos deliver a significant trust signal. People like what they can recognise so showing the logos for Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, PayPal, Stripe, etc, in your footer and checkout pages will help to build trust and aid conversion.
  • Adding Press Endorsements – If you land on a site where the products have been featured in a major newspaper, website or TV show then it immediately increases the level of confidence in your mind. If your products or your brand have ever been featured in the press or on another site then make sure you communicate this clearly on your product pages.
  • Adding Customer Reviews – Your product pages should all have customers reviews clearly visible. These will really help your conversion rates and give shoppers greater confidence, provided the reviews are positive that is. Look at how powerful the reviews are on Amazon and Trip Advisor. Many people (including myself) will make a selection and buy a product based on the number of user reviews. Even if the reviews are not so positive then it still gives you vital feedback as to issues with your products or service. Some might be needlessly harsh or a personal complaint which you can’t do anything about. Other shoppers will see through this. Negative feedback enables you to put a strategy in place to fix the issue. Use your customer feedback to build a better customer experience.

5. CAPTURE DATA at every opportunity

Trust Signals: Capture More Data

One area that many store owners fail to understand is the importance of collecting data, mainly an email address. In many instances, it’s an afterthought when it should really be a priority.

Every time someone lands on your site you want to collect an email address. If you don’t then you pretty much lost any opportunity to sell to them once they have left your store.

I’m not saying that you need to ram it down people’s throats and annoy the hell out of them but you should be actively trying to encourage them to be a part of your community and ask to be kept updated. You invest a lot of time, energy and money to get people to your site so you need to maximise every opportunity to get the best return for it.

recent Google study that said shoppers now need to touch your brand 6-8 times before they actually make a purchase. This demonstrates the importance of building a longer term relationship with your site visitors because they rarely buy on the first visit.

You can no longer measure success of campaigns on a single visit either. Everything needs to be viewed with a longer-term view.

Once you have someone’s email address you need to keep interacting with them to encourage them to come back to your site, to interact with you, to like you, to eventually trust you and then to buy from you. Once they have committed to making a purchase you then you build an even closer relationship with them in future.

Ideally, you want to capture an email address before a social like or follow.  Social follows are fine but you can’t guarantee your communications will be seen over the other noise that gets shoved in people’s faces. In fact, Facebook and Instagram are now charging you to reach your page fans, with only 2-5% of standard updates being seem by your audience. So you think you have 10,000 followers when, in fact, only a small proportion of those ever see anything from you.

Email is king!

To encourage someone to hand over their email address you must offer visitors something of value. Otherwise, why would anyone want to give away their personal details? Think about what you would want form other companies.

For example, if you sell fitness products then offer a free guide on how to use the product or how to improve results in a particular muscle area. Think about how you can give your visitors something of value that they can take away, read, digest and learn from.

If you can demonstrate knowledge and authority then you are more likely to capture more email addresses and eventually, more sales.

MY FAVOURITE TOOLS FOR DATA CAPTURE: There are a number of tools out there that help you to capture more email addresses above the standard box on your store design (usually stuck way down in the footer). You can quickly and easily install plugins like Opt-in Monster or SumoMe onto your online store in just a few minutes.

If you are not technical then ask your developer or you can find low-cost developers and fantastic talent on sites like Freelancer, PeoplePerHour and Upwork.

6. Only send relevant emails that delivers VALUE to your customers

Ecommerce Basics Add Value

Every day I get a ton of irrelvent crap in my inbox from companies who don’t even know me as a customer. This really pisses me off and I see it as being disrespectful to my email address. Like most people, my time is precious and I want to see things that interest me. If it doesn’t then it goes in the trash.

I sign up for a lot of ecommerce emails to see what companies are doing right and what they are doing wrong. About 90% of companies are doing it wrong because they are being lazy with how they communicate to their customers. Many stores send out sales emails with the same shitty format week after week. New product, buy it, buy more, sale now on, clearance, etc, etc.

What’s the point? It’s uninventive and can be irritating if you get this kind of thing on a regular basis. People switch off and they will never buy from you.

Emails to your customers shouldn’t be seen as a tool for aggressively going after sales. Yes, we all want to sell from our emails because they cost money to send and time to prepare. But, you want people to see them, open them and read them. Like all customer marketing, your sales emails need to deliver value.

You need to treat every email as a conversation with your customers or even your friends. This is your way of creating a closer relationship with them and, in doing so, you will need to generate interest, create engagement and make your customers aware that you are there.

Your emails should contain a mix of story, latest goings on, product news, social updates and customer stories. Your customers don’t want to constantly hear that you have product X on sale or new lines added to your clearance section. They want to learn more about your brand values, see what you are doing as a company, what you believe in and how they can be a part of it. They want to see the people behind the scenes that make it tick, no matter how small.

“You need to date your customers before they will marry you!”

TIP: Make your emails count. Design a structure for each email, create a plan for the next 6 months and start including content that you feel will give value to your subscribers. You may have to go and create your own content but that will create far more engagement and loyalty than simply sending out boring stock shot imagery.

Think about what would interest you!

7. Keep your site FRESH!

Ecommerce Basics Keep Site Fresh

Nobody likes a person with bad, stale breath. That’s the way people feel about websites that never update their content. You can’t expect customers to be loyal if you can’t be bothered to update your site. When I say update, I mean mainly mean the homepage and blog.

Fresh content is vital to maintaining engagement from repeat visitors. If someone visits on a Monday and then comes back on a Friday, only to see the same content, it’s unlikely they will come back the following week.

You’ve had your chance and you’ve blown it.

The best performing e-commerce stores are constantly evolving to keep the environment fresh and exciting. Some stores even change their content throughout the day. I’m not saying you need to be this prolific but you should be aiming to make changes to your homepage and blog at least every 2 to 3 days.

Confused about what content to change so frequently? Here are some examples:

Your Homepage – Keep the promotions/features changing and use your homepage to inspire site visitors with ‘valuable content’ that will keep them on the site. Think about style guides, competitions, interviews with stylists or experts, demonstrations, videos, how-to guides, etc.

Your Blog – Tell people what you have been up to, what you have planned in the future and what’s going on in your industry. Maybe you’ve got an opinion on a recent development? Maybe you’re interviewing an industry expert? There is a ton of stuff you can talk about so show yourself as an expert in your field and tell the world.

8. Make your SITE SEARCH your best friend

Ecommerce Basics - Utilise your site search

Source: JohnLewis.com

When was the last time you took a look at what people are searching for on your store? You should be able to find this by look at the report from your site search. Do you even have a site search on your store? If not, you are missing a trick and potentially losing sales.

Your site search is your stores own search engine and can give you valuable information about what your customers are looking for or want to see. They may search ‘red women’s running trainers’, ‘mens dress shirt with blue stripes’ or even ‘mens chronograph watch with brown leather strap’.

This level of detailed insight can help you deliver a better experience as you can tailor your pages exactly to customer needs. Like Google, you want to show relevant results to the right people so they convert from a click to a sale.

IMPORTANT HEADS-UP: Analyse your e-commerce store site search results to identify common search phrases that are relevant to your products. Next, test your site search to see what results are delivered. If these are not relevant or the results are blank then you should create dedicated landing pages with relevant content on them. These can then be used to direct those searches in future. This is very easily done in most ecommerce platforms and will drastically improve customer experience and conversion. Give people what they want!

For example, you may have lots of searches for ‘Red Max Dresses’ but you may not want to have this featured in your navigation. So, simply create the page containing the relevant products and then divert people who search for this phrase within your store search settings. Then every time somebody searches for that phrase, they are served a more relevant page.

Simples! 🙂

Final Thoughts

Ecommerce Basics - Make your store like a shop window

Sorry about the long post but I wanted to give you a little meat on the bones for each point. Some of these points may seem simple but I promise you they are overlooked by the majority of online stores. Give these some attention and you will gain an advantage and give your store the best chance of converting sales.

Remember, your store should be a place where people want to spend time reading content, browsing and shopping. They may not always buy but they still like to ‘window shop’ until the time is right – like we all do. Make it easy for them.

Keep it fresh with great content, pay attention to what your customers want and collect data where you can so you can continue the relationship once they have left.


It is my goal to help smaller ecommerce store owners to create profitable and stable businesses. Please help me to spread the word by sharing this post on social or via email.

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