Ecommerce Mistakes That Make You Look Like An Amateur

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After looking at hundreds of online shops and providing critiques for many shopowners, I see the same mistakes being made over and over again. And what’s frustrating is that most of these mistakes have to do with either being too cheap, greedy or lazy.


Photo By kalavinka

For example, most newbie webmasters simply use the out of the box shopping cart installation without any modification which results in a sub optimal shopping experience for their customers.

To be successful, you have to take the time to make your store unique and attractive. You have to stand out and the default look just isn’t going to cut it.

Other shop owners think that they can cut corners and skimp out on paying for critical products and services in order to save money. Below is a list of the most common newbie mistakes that will absolutely cripple your store’s chances for success.

No Contact Page

If you aren’t a big name company like Amazon or Walmart, the first thing that a customer will look for when they visit your shop is your contact information. And if they don’t find an address and a phone number, they’ll leave right away 90% of the time.

Why don’t most newbie shop owners include their contact information? It’s because they don’t want to pay for a dedicated phone number to answer calls. They don’t want to give out their home address if they run their business from their house.

I don’t care whether you have anyone available to answer the phone, get a phone number. It doesn’t have to be an 1800 number, just get any number that offers voicemail service.

For example, Google Voice offers free phone numbers that you can then forward to any phone that you want for free! There is no excuse for not signing up as it won’t cost you anything.

If you don’t want to use your home address, get a PO Box or a UPS store address for a small fee. I think it costs like 60 dollars a year to sign up for a post office box and double that amount for a UPS store address.

The advantage of having a UPS store address is that you get a physical street address which will make it seem as though you have a real store.

Bottom line, if you can’t spare a few dollars to put up a proper contact page and get a free phone number, don’t even bother opening up a store.

Not Collecting Emails

Most customers visit your store once and never come back. In fact, it can take up to 7 visits before someone becomes a paying customer.

Do you want to take a chance that a random person will remember to come back to your online 7 times? No way!

By taking down your customer’s email, you can send them reminders of new products, sales and promotions. You can send them engaging content to humanize your business. You can even recover abandoned shopping carts.

Do not skimp on this aspect of your business. We use Aweber as our email marketing provider for both our online store and our blog. Click here to check them out for free.

No SSL Certificate

Recently, I was asked to critique a store that neglected to purchase an SSL certificate. When you don’t have an SSL certificate, your customer’s information including their credit card info is transmitted over the internet as plain text for anyone to see.

Not only is this dangerous, but it also violates the payment industry’s PCI compliance guidelines for credit card transactions.

If you are ever caught sending credit card info without using SSL, you could be fined or penalized and even have your payment processing revoked.

Seriously, it doesn’t cost that much to get an SSL certificate. Go Daddy sells them for like 50 bucks a year.

Forcing Customers To Register

Most shopping carts are setup by default to force a customer into registering for an account before completing their purchase. I have no idea why the default is set up this way, but it’s a sure fire way to drive away customers who want to make a purchase.

Why not provide an option for the customer to check out with or without an account? For our online store, about 80% of our customers opt to shop without creating an account.

On our checkout page, we clearly outline the advantages of registering for an account and give our customers a choice. Make sure that you override the account option setting in your shopping cart before you launch your store!

Not Taking Credit Cards

Accepting credit cards online will cost you anywhere from 25-50 dollars a month depending on who you go with. Make sure you pay the money and sign up for a real credit card merchant account and gateway. With our store, 97% of our customers pay by credit card and less than 3% pay by Paypal.

I know that Paypal Standard Payments is free but you can’t only accept Paypal and expect to make any real money. The fact is that most online shoppers rely on their credit cards and there’s currently no way around it.

If you want a credit card merchant that is easy to setup and manage, sign up for Paypal Website Payments Pro which will cost you only 30 dollars month.

Whatever you do, don’t skimp on your payment processing. After all, the ability for customers to pay you is crucial to your success. It’s pointless if you can’t collect money.

Using A Free Hosted Shopping Cart

I only included this bullet point because I’ve been getting a lot of questions about lately which is a free hosted shopping cart service.

The main problem with and other free hosted solutions is that they don’t allow you to use your own domain name for your store. What this means is that you will never ever be able to migrate away from these free services because they own your store name.

In other words, you will be wasting your time and doing all of this work to get your store to rank in the search engines for their benefit, not yours.

If you are serious about starting an online store, never ever go with a free service….period! If you can’t afford to pay $6.95 a month for shared hosting on a service like Blue Host or $24.95 a month for a fully hosted ecommerce solution like Big Commerce, don’t even bother.

Oversized Photos Or Photos With Incorrect Aspect Ratios

Most people who are new to uploading photos to a website don’t realize that you don’t need high resolution photos for display on a computer screen.

I once visited a store that used a bunch of 2MB photos for their products. As a result, it took me almost 2 minutes to load up their site on my 5Mbit broadband connection.

All photos that are displayed on the web should be cropped to the exact dimensions that you are trying to display. In other words, if you want to show a 400 x 300px image online, make sure you resize your photo to that exact size before uploading it to your website.

In addition, you should turn the quality settings of your JPEG photos way down as well. Personally, I use a quality setting of 60 in Photoshop when processing my photos for upload but you can probably get away with even lower quality images.

Resizing your photos just right will also prevent your images from coming across as stretched or distorted which is a personal pet peeve of mine.

Don’t be lazy and just upload one gigantic picture to address all of your store needs. Most online stores require at least 3 different sizes of the same photo, a thumbnail, a medium sized image and a full size photo for detail.

Most modern shopping carts have the facility to resize and cache photos for you on the fly but the aspect ratio still has to be correct for the photo to look right on the screen. Don’t be lazy and process your photos correctly before uploading them to your site.

Horrible Product Descriptions

You can’t physically be there to sell the items in your store. Therefore, you have to rely on product descriptions and product photos to convince customers to make a purchase.

So why not spend a little bit of time and write some good product copy? Not only is this good for SEO but the right verbiage might make your product sound more attract to a potential customer.

Here’s an example of a horrible product description I just encountered from a shopowner trying to sell a dress.

*Length 78cm *Shoulder 38cm *Bust 86cm *Lap 65cm *Please check the measurement chart carefully. Because of different producing batches, there may be deviation of 2~3 cm. *CONDITION 100% Brand New / Without any accessories

From the product photo, the dress looks pretty nice but would you want to buy it after reading the product description? It’s no wonder that this shopowner has been complaining to me about poor sales.

No Security Badges

The final mistake that most new shopowners make is not displaying security badges and other reassurances to address customer anxiety during checkout.

Most people who shop at a new store are concerned about privacy, security and theft. Therefore, it is your job to make them feel at ease when they are entering in their private information.

Therefore, on every single page in which a customer needs to enter private data, make sure you plaster that page with security badges, SSL certificates, trust logos and testimonials alongside your form fields so that a customer feels comfortable checking out at your store.

When we performed A/B testing with our online store with and without trust logos, we found that conversions went up drastically when we inserted a few security badges alongside of the form fields. Don’t assume that all customers are comfortable making online purchases!

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55 thoughts on “Ecommerce Mistakes That Make You Look Like An Amateur”

  1. All good points.
    We made a point of providing detailed pictures of our products and, as the saying goes, a good picture is worth a 1000 words. But we still need to write good descriptions in order to rank well with the search engines. Once the customer finds us, then the picture is worth a 1000 words.

  2. Jim’s right. A picture helps once a user is on the website (ecommerce store).

    Don’t have to be the best photographer in the world to take images; a good focus on the object / item should do the trick.

    However, here’s one question to help clarify:

    SSL and credit card payments; does PayPal Website Payment Pro require an SSL cert to have payments done securely online?

    Thanks Steve!

    1. @Daniel
      If you are transmitting credit card information from your own servers, then PCI compliance requires you to have an SSL certificate and encrypt all information being sent out. Basically, anytime you have to take down a customer’s private information, you better have an SSL cert to encrypt all of your transmissions.

      1. Here’s another way to think about SSL. The information that a user enters on their computer has to make it to your servers first before you send it off to the payment processor. The data from the client must be encrypted on its way to your servers via SSL otherwise you are displaying their credit card numbers in plain sight. Anyone who is sniffing around will have access to the credit card numbers during transit without encryption

  3. This is a great post and made me go slap up my badge immediately. Steve what other services do you reference or use? TrustE, BBB Online, others?

    1. Hi Paul,
      If you have the Verisign logo or are a member the BBB, you should by all means display the logo on your checkout page. But if you don’t, you can simply display your SSL badge, talk about your satisfaction guarantee and include some testimonials in a sidebar on your form page. Basically, you want the customer to feel comfortable giving you their information and going through with the purchase.

  4. Pete says:

    I have a question about paypal payment standard. I’m pretty sure that paypal payment standard does allow you to accept credit card payments, and the only thing is that the customer needs to complete the transaction on a paypal page then reurn immediately back to your store. Am I missing something here?

    1. There are 2 big problems with Paypal standard.
      1. Yes, you can accept credit card payments. However Paypal goes out of its way to hide the link that allows a customer to do so because they want the customer to use their paypal account. As a result, you’ll have a lot of customers abandon their shopping carts because they don’t have a paypal account and cant figure out how to use their credit card.

      2. Paypal standard takes the customer off of your website onto a secure Paypal website. Sure, you can place your logo on the paypal page, but most likely a customer will be left wondering why they’ve been taken off of your website which will lead them to abandon their purchase. A simple A/B test on your payment page will reveal the answer. Give it a try and I can almost guarantee that having a real credit card payment processor will do better than just Paypal Standard any day.

  5. Steve, nice post. Your stat PayPal vs. credit cards was surprising, and helpful. Keep up the great work!

  6. Excellent points. I tend away from shopping carts that make me register and will absolutely not checkout from any store without SSL.

    Interesting fact about the low % of PayPal checkouts. I had no idea it was that low compared to credit cards. As a sidebar, I’m considering adding a paypal donate button to my site as I’ve heard you can surprisingly get a few contributions if you’re providing a useful service. Any experience with that?

  7. Steve knows his stuff… We use Paypal as a payment option on our site and it’s useful, especially for non-US customers. However, you never want to push visitors to a different website to pay. It’s the point of checkout where most visitors will bail out for a better known/trusted website if anything at all spooks them. Another suggestion is to try using the Extended Validation SSL that displays the green URL bar. All browsers recognize them and your legal company name is verified at the URL level in the browser (rather than just what you list on your website) after being verified by the SSL certificate authority.

  8. @Steve – Coming from a tech user (me!) now I’ve understood better the purpose and how to use SSL with shopping carts / ecommerce systems (currently most transactions I’m working with are either through a merchant’s site, or face-to-face payments).

    Thank you for your response Steve!

  9. Steve,

    I have this post printed out as a checklist of things to do with the startup I work for

    We have done almost everything you have mentioned except for the creation of a shopping cart. As a marketplace the difficulties we are running into occur because each item comes from a different store, each with different payment gateways, return policies, etc. Do you have any suggestions?

    Also, our use of PayPal is driving us crazy! In the response you wrote about Paypal standard you highlighted our biggest issue. No one question dominates our LiveChat as much as how do I pay without PayPal, I want to use my card. Also no one issue drives away more traffic than not being able to find the link to use credit card. We are in the process of getting a credit card processor and I am excited for the day that becomes a reality!

    Also I am not sure how often you are asked this, but I would love to hear some feed back regarding your thoughts on our site, Both the team and myself would be very grateful!


  10. Sam says:

    I’m a newbie I admit it and this is unrelated to the post. But what’s with all the weird responses you have here that starts with […] and ends with […] there’s a lot of them! It looks like spam.

  11. No worries @Sam. Those […] quotes are trackbacks, some WordPress themes have that on by default. 🙂

  12. Steve,

    Excellent post and I have already instituted some of your suggestions in my online store. My web designer however is not aggreable with the checking out option without creating an account, says it opens the website up for hackers.
    That terrifies me not being a geek.
    What do you say to that.

    1. Hi Bola,

      I hate to say this but I think you should get a new web designer. I can’t possibly see how offering checkout without requiring an account would open up the site to hackers. In fact, most of the open source solutions offer this feature right off the bat. Is your designer trying to design a shopping cart from scratch?

      Seriously, you will be forgoing a ton of business if you require customers to create an account. Just take a look around at any large ecommerce outlet. Do they make you register? Would you want to register for an account when shopping at a small boutique?

      If you force customer to create an account, your shopping cart abandonment rate will be twice as high as if you didn’t do it. If your programmer can’t handle implementing this feature for you, then drop him.

  13. Steve,

    Thanks for getting back to. I have sent links to this post to my web designer.
    Would like to know how BumblebeeLinens got placements in those A-list magazine. Do you do your own PR or did you retain a PR outfit? Good topic for future blog write-up.

  14. What good is your online selling site if you’re not going to take credit cards?! And there should always be a contact page in case your buyers have any questions or concerns they need to tell you. If they have a hard time contacting you, they will just give up altogether and go to other sites that have approachable and available website owners.

  15. Wow, you’ve pointed out a lot of mistakes we see all of the time. Many of the items below are either easy or inexpensive to implement. We’ve streamlined our verification process and scaled or infrastructure in an effort to cut the cost of trust seals down significantly. There shouldn’t be anyone who can’t afford a few Integrity Safe trust seals.

  16. Good tips. Found what can I improve in my store.
    I’m not sure how much people care about SSL Certificate, I think better is to invest money in shop template design and create trustfuly looking web shop.

  17. Pete says:

    After looking at different merchant account services, I am uneasy about the fact that they ask about my SSN. Can anyone give a detailed walk through of the application process? like the time it takes, chances of being approved, things that will keep me from being approved and what is expected of me?


  18. I totally agree with you steve, your online store is just like any physical storefront . It gotta look and be credible, sincere and customer friendly.
    Custmer oreintation is one of the most vital aspects in generating sales.

    Who would patronize a store that looks noobish and uncredible?

    Jeffery @
    BBQ Wholesale Singapore.

  19. i have wondering that i do have too much product. It is better to run it with less banner and run it with flash?
    My company do sell SSL and we even use SSL geo location . We just use it for our own business. It able to increase the trust of customer make purchase and it will show the correct website with country targeted IP address.
    Most of the website forcing customer to register before they comment is because they may follow up and may need you sign up some term and condition before you placing some term and condition .

  20. Hey Josh from,

    I just wanted to say I thought your post was interesting. I’m also running a marketplace of different items from different stores, and I wanted to hear about your experience in terms of trying to get customers to feel like they are shopping at and building a relationship with Pricefalls but always being led to those other store pages.

    P.S – In terms of competition I’m sure we aren’t in the same product/service category so I’d love to share ideas.


  21. This is one of the best posts I have seen on common ecommerce mistakes EVER – so good that I just took the time to add a link to it from more ecommerce related posts in my blog than I even realized I had.

    Of all the mistakes an ecommerce store can make these are the big two:

    1) Forcing shoppers to log in or register
    2) Not providing shipping costs early in the process

    You may want to add something about shipping costs to this post. I linked this comment to a post about a client I had whose new site introduced those two specific issues and dropped her sales by 70% overnight!

    What many do not realize is that what shopping cart solution you choose can make or break you. NEVER, EVER have a programmer write a shopping cart system for you unless what you sell is so unusual that there is no way to use an existing thoroughly tested WORKING shopping cart.

    NOTE that just because it is POPULAR does NOT mean a cart WORKS consistently!

    So many carts have hidden problems that the stores never see that are killing their sales that back when I managed AdWords accounts I intentionally worked almost exclusively with Volusion and Yahoo! Stores and if someone using another cart wanted me to do their ppc I assisted them in migrating.

    All ecommerce stores should follow a piece of advice Marsha Collier (best known as the author of the book eBay for Dummies) wrote: Your photos should be so clear that you don’t need descriptions and your descriptions so clear that you wouldn’t need to see the photo – but ALWAYS USE BOTH!!

    Many ecommerce stores are built using poor quality, badly formatted feeds that are missing key information – like the size of products that come in multiple sizes. Every store owner should buy Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think (second edition) and make sure ALL your potential buyers questions are adequately answered by your photos, descriptions, contact and about pages, warranties / guarantees, shipping info and ALL other necessary information.

  22. Hi,

    Nice article, on the image size and dimensions I couldn’t agree more, we use RIOT to change the size of the image and reduce the quality at the same time, I would say ti use 85% rather than 60 though but it totally depends on having text / copy in the image.

  23. Very nice tips.
    I was using OSCommerce but the time do not allow me, so I switch to hosted service by BigCommerce. And I’m very happy with their service.
    I’ll follow your tips one by one. 🙂

  24. There are more problems with Miiduu that just the URL. Here are some of the problems I have personally had with them.

    1) Their customer service is just plain awful. Expect 24 to 48 delay in response time and then dont expect your questions to be answered directly.
    2) No phone # or chat to talk to someone directly.
    3) Over charged and multiple billings. They will constantly double bill and ignore you when you try to get a refund.
    4) The facebook module doesnt work well and doesnt format well in facebook.
    5) Very little flexibility in the cart.
    6) Coupon codes seem to give customers a lot of problems. Codes often dont work and you have to delete and redo them. This pisses customers off.

    we were with them for about 2 years and have to give up because they really dont give a crap about their customers. Its just about them getting their monthly payments. anything else their suport sucks and will give you the run around.

  25. paypal solve my ssl issue 😀

  26. Clayton says:

    I’m just getting started with my e-store and I found this article extremely helpful. I love your blog, Thanks for all the great info…

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