Why online shops fail

If your business sells things in the real world, it’s simple enough to set up an online shop and just sit back and watch the money roll in.

That’s the theory but it rarely works out that way. Here are the main reasons why online shops become online flops.

This post has been updated to reflect changes in UK consumer law introduced in 2014

We get asked to fix a lot of online shops and nearly always the complaint is the same: No-one’s buying.

Sometimes no-one’s visiting at all, but often when we look at statistics we can see plenty of visitors but few or no sales.

So why does nobody buy?

The answer lies in a combination of factors, assuming you are selling something people want to buy in the first place.

Computer keyboard and credit card
Get it right and the card will come out

Trust and credibility

These days the average web user is afraid of online fraud and needs reassurance. First of all they need to know who you are: They need your address.

It’s surprising how many shops ignore this basic rule but it’s more important than that – it’s the law in the UK.

If you are UK based and selling online, the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation, and Additional Charges) Regulations 2014 apply to you. These replace the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, and they are tougher.

Put simply, the regulations make up for the fact that online shop customers can’t inspect your products in person. But they are also a good framework for building a shop that people will trust.

Broadly, this means your shop should:

  • Provide clear information about the supplier, the goods or services and the sale in writing
  • Give shoppers the right to 14 working days in which to change their minds and return the product (though there are some exceptions)
  • Be totally clear on everything, from delivery charges and dates to any other charges you may make
  • Provide protection from credit card fraud.

By covering this you are answering questions potential buyers are bound to have, such as:

  • When will I receive my goods?
  • What if they are not the right size or otherwise unsuitable?
  • Am I safe giving my financial information to this shop?

If you are transparent about who you are and provide clear information about delivery, returns and how to contact you then that all helps to build trust. Oh, and it’s mandatory now, though many online shop owners don’t seem to know this.

Of course, the product descriptions must not be misleading!

Another big aspect of trust is the safety in numbers principle – that the shopper will feel safer buying if they know others are. This is sometimes called social proof.

You can help in this way by encouraging customers to review their purchases or write testimonials – but if your shop has a review facility and nobody has reviewed anything then this can have the opposite effect, and draw attention to your lack of customers.

To make this work you will need to give people an incentive to leave reviews or link to you on social media. More about the importance of trust and websites.

Poor promotion and management

Getting the shop right is only part of the job. To get people to buy from you you need to get them to your site.

This means you need to promote your site, whether offline through promotional leaflets and flyers, or online through methods like social media.

Who to target depends on what you sell, just like every shop needs to plan for how to get the visitors and the customers.

But once you have got the customers you need to be able to look after them and that means having the systems in place to staff the shop – answer questions, get the products to the customers and deal with any issues. These things don’t happen by themselves.

In the end your shop is a part of your business, just the same as any other part, and as such it will require some time and effort to run it.

Your shop is hard to use – or doesn’t work at all

If you build a shop, you MUST test it. It’s amazing how many times this is forgotten.

That means doing a test purchase to make sure everything works as it should and that you and the customer will get the right email notifications.

You should also test the contact form to make sure it sends email to the right place. We’ve seen a fair few shops where email enquiries disappear into a black hole – along with potential customers.

Nothing puts customers off faster than a shop with that doesn’t work properly – and that includes broken links.

Nothing except a shop that’s hard to use.

Getting around

Shops are generally big sites, which means it should be as easy as possible to find what you want. Navigation should be clear, simple and consistent and the search should be effective (often it’s not but nobody tests it).

Checkout and payment

Your customer has decided to buy and so you have to make it as easy as possible for them.

The best shops have a single page checkout where customers enter their details, review their shopping cart and proceed to payment: The worst have three or four pages to wade through, and won’t let you buy unless you set up an account first.

You also need to think about how people want to pay and give them as many options as you can.

Payment by cheque only, for example, is likely to lose you customers – who needs to wait for a cheque to clear before they can have their goods when they bought online in the first place to save time?

If you do nothing else, at least set up payment by PayPal as it is a trusted brand for online payments and offers some protection – and therefore more trust in your shop.

Other online shop ‘fails’

  • Text that’s too small to read
  • Product images that are too small and/or low quality
  • Not enough information about the products
  • Not focusing on the products – it’s a shop so the products must be front and centre
  • Being so clever or gimmicky that customers can’t use your site

More information:

Jeff Bullas blog: 12 Reasons I won’t buy from your website

The Floating Frog: 13 Reasons why your online shop will fail

E-Commerce Rules: Top 5 reasons Why your online shop will fail

The UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills: Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation, and Additional Charges) Regulations (PDF format)

E-Consultancy: Why does customer service suck online?

Photo credit: Fosforix via photopin cc

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