I’ve been working in the world of ecommerce for more than a decade. I’ve watched technology change the rules, and rules change technology. One thing, however, has remained pretty consistent. Sadly, it’s the reason so many online stores continue to struggle while, even in a crippling economy, others are meeting or exceeding previous years’ sales totals.
I’m talking about SHOPABILITY – that which makes a store shopable by even the most novice user. You won’t find the term in the dictionary, but I’ve used it as an industry term for 11 years. And for 11 years, I’ve watched store owner after store owner refuse to lay claim to his piece of the pie. I’m not alone – I’ve had plenty of in-depth discussions with key players and successful store owners. We all recognize the same trait amongst underperforming ecommerce sites of all sizes: the layout, design and navigation is not ideal.
I’ve made great efforts to get store owners more involved with the process, most recently by hosting a LinkedIn group focused specifically on the topic. And still, even the free information is a hard-sell.
Why is this? I can think of 10 “bad” reasons online store owners ignore the obvious and think the expenditure of making a store “shopable” isn’t necessary.
- They’re married to their work. The biggest offenders, sporting horrible navigation and less-than-ideal layouts, are store owners who design the site themselves. It’s like a writer refusing to let an editor do his job. But, a good writer knows you can’t edit your own work and catch every – even the most obvious – mistake.
- They rely too much on statistics. Last week I wrote about how statistics can easily fool us into thinking we need to change things up or implement the latest technology. This is so not the case. It all boils down to a site being usable by the broadest number of people.
- They don’t want to offend (insert friend or family member here). It’s amazing how many store owners accept compromise because they don’t want to tell their nephew, daughter or best friend that they simply aren’t helping. My best advice? Keep it all professional and keep family and friends out of your business.
- They pour all their money into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is often due to lack of research. Simply put, SEO is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the be-all and end-all for everything.
- They pour all their money into Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and Ad Campaigns. Again, lack of research can mean a great deal of money flushed down the toilet. PPCs and Ads should only be put into play after the site is completely optimized for both shopability and SEO. No excuses.
- They think their wife, mother and best friend are telling the truth. They mean well, but those close to us are often closed-minded to what makes an online store usable, and they often sugar-coat their reviews. eCommerce sites need a no-holds-barred review by someone who’s not afraid to tell you where you’ve totally failed.
- They think the money spent on a professional usability test could be better spent on a nifty Flash presentation. Let’s be clear. People love video, interactive content, and super-cool gadgets. But even more so, they want to be able to find the products they want or need and buy them without feeling like a total idiot. Shopability first, then toys and Easter eggs.
- They think Amazon.com’s site is the industry benchmark. Amazon.com is actually a good example of what not to do. They’re successful because of all the products and services they offer (they’re seen as a one-stop-shop), and their financial history. Finding exactly what one needs, however, relies on the consumer knowing exact names or popular keywords rather than a browsing stab in the dark.
- They copy competitor’s features and navigation. The key to creating a shopable site and converting shoppers from another site is to find out what your competitors are doing wrong. And, there’s always something wrong. Copying doesn’t help correct those issues.
- They think their product line is truly unique. This is an oft-used excuse for not investing in true shopability. And, most often, store owners are entirely incorrect. A simple web search often returns dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of other online stores that carry similar or identical products.
Sadly, by the time small business online store owners realize they’ve ignored the all-important, there’s little left in the bank. By the time most reach the point they need to call someone in, they’ve already experienced a serious decline in sales and are just a step away from that do or die moment.
Wondering why your online sales aren’t where they should be? Even with a great SEO campaign and successful click-throughs on ads and affiliate links? Look no further than how your store actually operates.