It's a pretty unrealistic expectation to imagine that simply opening your doors is enough to win big online. That's hard enough on a small thriving high street - the web is the largest high street in the world, with people undercutting you at every turn.

So what can we learn from the real world to improve how eCommerce websites work? Here's a rather frank open letter to shop owners online to help them realise what us daily shoppers have to put up with, and how easy it would be for you to fix them.

Let me See What You're Selling

If I go into a shop I can see the product, I can feel it and see what it looks like from different angles. I can judge the weight and the quality.

The web is pretty limited here, I can't feel the product and I need to take your word of the quality.

But there's ways that you can make your word mean a lot more. Here's a few hints that would make it easier for me to see what I'm buying:-

  • Let me see it from different angles
  • Depending on the item, maybe compare it with a ruler or a common household item
  • Let me zoom in to see every detail and marking on the product
  • Post videos with a knowledgable host reviewing the product
  • Let other shoppers post their photos of the product

In short: remove the mystery out of the buying decision.

Let me Know Why it Rocks

Customer: "Excuse me, what can you tell me about this?"

Shop Owner: "Blue! Size 20! VAT INCLUDED! Costs £40! ADD IT TO YOUR BASKET NOW!!!"

That's a bit of a weird thing for a shop owner to tell their customer - some may even consider it rude, right? Strangely this is the norm of shops all over the Internet.

"Oh, they can find the information about the product anywhere - just use Google".

Well, why should I? It's your job to tell me what I need to know to make an informed buying decision, or I'll just buy from the people who do help me.

Know your product. Think about what people might ask about it - and preempt it. If you're trying to sell me sporting equipment, I might want to know:-

  • How do I maintain it?
  • What kind of guarantee does it come with?
  • What if I don't like it?
  • Should I use this on grass or concrete?
  • How heavy is it?
  • What material is it made of?
  • What size is it? Can I carry it in the bag I already have?

Presumably if you stock the product you know this already. If you don't, please delete it. You shouldn't be selling that product.

Besides, to rank well on Google these days you need your own unique content. Copying and pasting your manufacturers' description isn't unique and it isn't clever.

Let me Ask Questions

Of course, you don't want to answer every question anybody may have all at once, it would become information overload. But at least give me the opportunity to pick up the phone, start a live chat, or email you with any questions I may have. If a shop keeper ran away after they told me the very basics, I wouldn't buy from them in a million years.

Here's a few points to consider:-

  1. Publish you phone number prominently. Be there to pick up. Don't make me speak to a robot, I just got off your website that didn't provide an answer, your robot is not a step-up. When the website fails - let me speak to a real person.
  2. Let me start a live chat with you from my computer
  3. Let me email you
  4. Let me ask you questions on Twitter or Facebook
  5. Respond to me quickly - I won't wait all day
  6. Publish the questions people are asking most often on the page - save them the hassle of asking

Let me Know if Something Suits me Better

I'm looking to buy a new TV. I've put aside £400 for it, and I walk through the shop looking at various models to see if anything catches my eye. "Oooooh, I like that one". It's £600.

The shop assistant comes over to me, "This one comes with Smart TV and 3D. If you like the look of it though, there's this one that's also made by Acme Electronics. That one costs £350 today - it's the same but is a bit more basic and only 2D".

Done. Sold. Take my money.

Why don't eCommerce websites use "Related Products" in this way? They seem to always just throw some vaguely similar products together - there's never any context. Instead of giving me 10 related products, simplify but make it more editorially sound. For example, when selling a TV give me 3 related products:-

  1. A similar product from another brand
  2. A similar product from the same family of products, but cheaper
  3. A similar product from the same family of products, but with more features

Let me Know When I Will Get it

Imagine if you walk into a shop to buy the latest DVD. You pay at the till and then the shop assistant goes "when do you want it? If you pay £5 extra you get it tomorrow".

What? Really?

I get that I need to be a bit patient online, but don't make it a guessing game about when I'll get it. Tell me before I even add it to my basket something like "If you order within the next 5 minutes, it'll be with you tomorrow for £5 - if you can wait, we'll deliver for free within 3-5 days".

Be honest with me. Don't make it be a surprise.

Let me go Away and Think About it

"Always be closing". If you think of eCommerce like this, very soon your shop will be indeed be closing.

Sure, make it really easy to checkout. Put the entire process in front of me and walk me through it. But also give me the opportunity to think about it. Let me bookmark the page easily, share it on Facebook or Twitter, email a link to myself or even send an SMS reminder to my phone.

If I need time to make a decision, I'm going to leave your website whether you like it or not - so you may as well make it easy for me to come back.


Treat me like a person

Just because I'm shopping online doesn't mean I'm a robot that can be convinced by throwing meaningless stats my way.

Give me context. Give me information. Give me the opportunity to ask - and the opportunity to think. Give me value and give me peace of mind.

Basically, treat me like a person in your shop.