Beat the recession with ten e-commerce usability tips

20 April 2009
Ben Logan

Ben Logan


Passionate about improving services and experiences for the people that use them.

In this article we look at ten tips aimed at improving the usability of your e-commerce web site so you can convert more traffic on the site into sales. Given the wealth of discussions going on about a global recession it has never been a more relevant time to review your site and ask yourself if it is really working for you?

1. Provide multiple payment options

Allow visitors to pay by credit card, debit card, PayPal, cheque or any other means you can and not just an online payment system. It pays to be flexible with your approach.

2. Gather customer feedback with an exit survey

Allow end users to tell you if they are annoyed about their experience with your site and shopping cart and you stand a good chance of fixing this for other potential customers. Just because you have lost one sale, does not mean you should lose more! Customers will be willing to share their experience even more if you are offering an incentive, so make sure you offer them a free product or voucher in exchange for their feedback on their experience on your site.

Sky survey example


3. Security and consumer confidence

If you handle credit card transactions on your site then you definitely should be using an SSL certificate. This uses a cryptographic system that uses two keys to encrypt data and allows confidential information such as credit card details to be passed securely over the internet. Users and in particular elderly web users will look for visual cues to make them feel more confident about a transaction, in particular the padlock icon in the browser bar and also an indication on the site that it is secure.

SSL example

4. Where am I now and how many steps have I got left?

Filling in forms can be frustrating, particularly when you do not get any indication as to how far into an order process you are, and how many screens you have left to fill in. It is really important that you tell the end user from the outset how many steps there are to order completion and which step of the process they are on. Numbering is a good practice so they know the number of steps left.

Ebay example


Amazon example


5. Make the most of cross and up selling

Amazon again are a great example of how to effectively cross selling products and to promote items that are similar or to increase sales. Have you ever found yourself on a site such as Amazon buying one product e.g. a book, then adding in another related book into your shopping cart because Amazon has told you that other users also bought another product along with the one you have just added int your cart? You should aim to cross sell before the checkout process and after items have been added to the cart. This is the time when users are most receptive to adding additional items.

Amazon cross selling example


6. Context sensitive help on your forms

You can take away a lot of the questions and concerns an end user might have throughout your payment process by providing context sensitive help relevant to the form field the user is on. In the example below ASOS have used context sensitive help next to the security code box of their payment form.

ASOS context sensitive help example


7. Give the user the option to call you

Displaying a relevant telephone number throughout the site and in particular the ordering process can boost consumer confidence incase anything goes wrong with the order. Some users need to speak to someone in the event of an order not completing, especially if they have not had an email order confirmation or an onscreen confirmation.

Sky example providing telephone number throughout


8. Allow shoppers to add items to their cart before making them register for an account

In a bricks and mortar store you would not rush up to a shopper and demand personal information from them before they were allowed to browse around the shop. You should allow a user to add items to their basket before they are presented with a registration screen.

9. Display stock levels as early as possible

Nothing is more frustrating than shopping for an item online, parting with registration and personal information, only to find out an item is out of stock. Inform your users as soon as possible about how many items are in stock, and don’t be afraid to list an item as being out of stock.

ASOS stock example


10. checkout confirmation page and confirmation email

You should aim to provide as much information as possible back to the user on the checkout confirmation page and also the confirmation email. Users expect a confirmation email confirming the items they have ordered. If your site is not currently sending a confirmation email then you should aim to address this straight away. The confirmation email is a case of the more information the better! You should list the following where you can:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Tracking details e.g. Royal Mail or Parcelforce
  • Expected delivery date
  • Contact details
  • Amount
  • VAT/Tax Amount
  • Discounts applied
  • Support information e.g. link to returns information online
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