E-Commerce survival guide: 10 mistakes to avoid

With e-commerce sites increasing over tenfold in the past few years, competition is rapidly on the rise and to stay ahead of the game is becoming increasingly difficult. With 80% of startups failing and the internet boom now a thing of the past, it is essential to adhere to certain rules, or risk losing customers.

With technology accelerating at a record rate and the marketing always expanding to offer a larger selection ever before, established business run as much risk as startups so whether you are a new business or an established one, it is worth taking these points on board and making sure you don’t fail with any of the following common mistakes.

Mistake 1: Confuse your customer with complicated delivery

A method of shopping that has become a lot more common in e-commerce is tab-comparison. This is where the customer will open a variety of sites for the product they are looking for in new tabs and assess the pro’s and con’s for each one. Things the customer will factor in includes customer support reputation, obviously price, environmental responsibility to a degree but most importantly, delivery cost. If a customer can’t figure out how much it will cost them straight away, they are likely to just close the tab and make their shop elsewhere. Free delivery is a growing trend many successful sites are adopting to take the headache away from the customer.

Action point: If you can, offer free delivery across all products and make up the ground elsewhere. If you can’t, make delivery costs clear and visible.

Mistake 2: Require registration before checkout

This goes without saying really, but many sites still enforce registration before a customer can make a purchase. Let them into the cart, let them see their total price and don’t force them to make an account before making their purchase. It is great for your demographics and marketing to existing customers, but the amount of customers you will lose from the frustration of having to register is just not worth it.

Action point: Remove any barriers in your checkout process such as compulsory registration. Give users the option to register later, perhaps with a simple “enter a password here if you would like to register an account” as part of the final checkout process. Keep it simple, with the customer’s e-mail address as the username.

Mistake 3: Keep quiet about stock levels

If you don’t show your stock levels, or claim to stock items that are in fact unavailable (leading to a bad customer service reputation) then you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Action Point: Ensure that your site displays stock levels. This can either be detailed or more commonly, just a few simple indicators such as “In Stock”, “Expected 2-3 weeks” or “Out of stock” – if out of stock, remember to try and leave an indication for when it will be back in stock and display an enquiry button so users can get in contact if they need to. Additionally, you may want to allow users to leave their e-mail address so you can notify them when it is back in stock.

Mistake 4: Hiding a way for customers to get in contact

Occasionally customers just want to pick up the phone to ask about a product or if they are an existing customer, receive support and guidance. Sometimes phone or contact details can be hidden away and this can lead to a very frustrated customer.

Action Point: Place your primary method of contact (usually phone) clearly visible on every page of the site, ideally in the header. Additionally, you could setup a knowledge base to reduce the number of support enquiries you receive.

Mistake 5: Category, followed by sub-category, followed by sub-category

Yes, the traditional way e-commerce sites were developed is now a thing of the past. No long does a user have to sieve through hundreds of categories to find what they want! Filtered navigation is an essential and established way for finding what you want. If you don’t use a filter based navigation system, then you are severely falling behind the competition.

Action Point: Switch to a filter based system immediately. This isn’t an easy task, but essential for surviving the competition.

Mistake 6: Don’t keep the user informed

Users like to know what is going on with their order. Ensure correspondance throughout the order/delivery process and you will maintain good customer loyalty. Let them know their order has successfully been received, when it has been dispatched and then follow up after the estimated delivery date to verify that everything went smoothly (you could use this opportunity to obtain reviews, feedback and upsell).

Action Point: Build a system that allows the user to view their order status online, as well as receive e-mail notifications throughout the process.

Mistake 7: Litter your site with banners

A good e-commerce site should be usable, simple and not draw attention away from the primary methods of navigation. Use a couple of banners or hero images by all means, but don’t over-power the user with more than they can see at a glance. When you walk into a shop, you may see the featured products in display cases near the front – but you wouldn’t be surrounded by several products encapsulated in powerful colours all in one go!

Action Point: Reduce the banners you have on your site, ensuring you only focus on the products that you really want to push. Use Search Engine Optimisation to optimise other products, as well as other methods such as upselling, related products and featured products (not using banners, but in a list!)

Mistake 8: Store, transmit or process card details yourself (PCI-DSS Compliancy)

Unless you use a third party payment provider (such as Sage Pay) or one of the very very few off the shelf packages that are fully (PA-DSS) PCI compliant accompanied by PCI compliant hosting, or outsource development that goes through the rigourous PA-DSS audits (which can cost tens of thousands) then I doubt your e-commerce site is PCI compliant. This didn’t affect smaller businesses so much this time last year, but as of 1st July 2010 PCI compliancy is now mandatory and anyone not compliant can undergo a PCI audit which can cost enough to put you out of business, or have your full card processing capabilities revoked.

Action Point: Do not store, transmit or process ANY card details yourself unless you are 100% sure you are PCI compliant. If you aren’t too sure if you are or aren’t PCI compliant and don’t use a third party payment provider, then it is more than likely you are not. Do this immediately.

Mistake 9: Ignoring social media

In today’s modern world, social media is the king of marketing. It’s struggling to catch up a bit with e-commerce sites, so now is the time to get on board and ahead of the game. Monitor Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites for feedback. Particularly, setup search terms for your company or some of your top products and listen out for particularly bad feedback. Set the record straight and you may turn an angry customer (usually from a simple misunderstanding) to a happy one!

Action Point: Setup a listening post for social media sites and monitor search terms for your company name and it’s top selling products. Try to be as helpful as possible and never react with strong defense if the feedback is negative.

Mistake 10: Don’t invest in Online Marketing

Whether it is basic search engine optimisation such as making sure the product title is in the title and H1 tags, or full pay-per-click advertising, it is worth investing in online marketing to even survive being recognised among your competitors. With so many e-commerce businesses out there, you need to make sure your company comes out consistantly top of the rankings.

Action Point: Invest in Online Marketing. Do the research, take some tips from our Online Marketing Team posted on this blog and you will succeed. If you are still a bit confused, outsource the Online Marketing work to someone that really knows what they are talking about for the best results!

In conclusion, I still see many e-commerce sites out there failing because they aren’t meeting the obvious criteria for a successful e-commerce site.What mistakes have you come across in the real world? What top tips would you have to ensure a successful e-commerce site?

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Why you need to know about the changes to Website Regulation

From the 1st of March 2011, marketing communication on websites will be regulated by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising.

According to the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice), the ASA’s online remit has been extended to cover communication on organisations’ own websites (“regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation”) as well as other non-paid-for space (such as profiles on Social Networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) under their control. User-generated content will, however, fall within the remit if it is adopted and incorporated in any marketing materials.

What does this apply to?

Advertisements and other marketing communications that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.

In practice, “directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods” could relate to a page on a site which markets a product which is available for sale. To comply, organisations must take care to ensure that the price matches that of the product depicted, and availability and delivery claims are correct.

“Directly connected with supply of service” is in relation to any statement made about the service, therefore claims such as “The fastest…” etc. will now be subject to these regulations.

Explicitly excluded, according to CAP, are the following types of communication:

– Press releases and other public relations material

– Editorial content

– Political advertisements

– Corporate reports

– Natural listings on search engine or price comparison site

– “Heritage” advertising where the advertising is not part of the advertiser’s current promotional strategy and is placed in an appropriate context

The purpose of these new regulations is to ensure that all advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful whenever they appear.

For full details on the ASA’s online remit, please visit: http://www.asa.org.uk/Regulation-Explained/Online-remit.aspx or call us today on 01392 667766.

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Google Shopping Changes Help


This month the Big G (Google) recently announced changes to their merchant product feed rules. You have until the 22nd of September to update your product feed or face the consequences.

keeping a close eye on things

At Optix we like to keep a close eye on these things for our clients sake, but for those who run their own product feed the following information could be vital to staying afloat in the world of Google Shopping (formerly ‘Google base’):

Summary of Changes

…Below are several examples of how the feed spec is changing; please note that different countries have slightly different requirements:

  • Availability: We’d like a user to be able to find your products even when they are out of stock. For this reason, the [availability] status of all your items will be required.
  • Google Product Category: We have added a new required high-level attribute called [Google product category] that contains the category of the item in Google’s taxonomy (currently only required for a select number of categories). This is in addition to the current [product type] attribute.
  • Images: We’re making [image link] required and we encourage you to submit up to 10 additional product images through [additional image link]. This way, you can improve the visual representation of your products.
  • Apparel: In order to create a better experience for product variants such as dresses or shoes that are available in multiple colors or sizes, we ask you to include information like [size] and [color] in your product feed. In addition, we require you to provide [gender] and [age group].
  • Data Freshness: We will continue to regularly check feeds for accuracy of pricing, availability, and general product information, and take action against accounts that violate our standards.


Need a little Help?

Some links you will need if you are going to attempt to survive in the Google shopping channel:

Alternatively we could take care of this for you, or help you sell more online via any one of our many web design and online marketing services. We would love to hear from you in the comments below or on the phone.

What are you opinions on the google shopping feeds? Have you used them to any positive or negative effect? have you even heard of them before?

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Will your site get attacked by a Panda?

We have written a little bit of a comedy headline for what can be a VERY serious issue for some business owners and any managers responsible for profit and loss.

Google’s search ranking algorithm update code named ‘Panda‘, dubbed the ‘Farmer update‘ by the search industry, was released earlier this year. This is one animal you do not want to mess with!

Aggressively removing low quality web pages from search

Google’s Panda is designed to aggressively remove low quality web pages from search results by applying a site wide penalty to websites with high ratios of:

  • Low quality content
  • Thin and shallow content
  • Duplicate or copied content
  • High advert to copy ratio

The update takes into account a lot of quality factors from bounce rates to the number of returning visitors and adjusts your rankings accordingly. Many people have said this is less of an algorithm tweak and more of a new way to measure and punish low quality sites.

Anger Google’s Panda and you can lose high percentages of traffic and, by extension, profit.

How to avoid being bitten by Google’s Panda

A large variety of sites can be affected, but if you follow some simple rules you can avoid being bitten by this not so cute, furry animal:

  1. Always write your own content for ALL pages (yes that means you too e-commerce sites, even product pages)
  2. Write your content in a manner that is deep and meaningful, making it as interesting as possible
  3. Try to keep your banner advertising minimal (especially if its irrelevant adverts to the content)
  4. Put your strongest content up-front on a page

You really shouldn’t be using duplicate content or cramming ads into your website. This is a no-brainer to Optix, you should have a description which contains a clear reason to buy, a call to action and a hook to grab your reader’s attention.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes, why should they buy from you rather than another re-seller with the same description and pictures? Can you add value? Can you convince them to buy?

Your page is your sales person, some sales people are good, some people are bad, make yours a good sales person solving the user’s problems by selling them a product.

Good luck, and as always, feel free to comment, contact us or share this page, you never know you might save someone’s business.

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New Microsite for Fall Arrest Equipment and Training launches

Our client, PVM Supplies are based in Exeter. They specialise in safety equipment, workwear, health and safety legislation, cleaning equipment and training of safety products, including everything from full Fall Arrest Systems (and how to use them) to fire resistant cooks uniforms.
Fall arrest equipment, Inertial Reel Fall Arrester
To help employers stay on the right side of the ‘Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992’ which state that “the employer must provide employees with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and provide information, instruction and training in its safe and proper use” PVM have lunched a new Fall Arrest specific site to provide both the Fall Arrest Equipment and training in a one-stop shop for personal safety while working at heights.

Equipment ranges from full body harnesses and arrester blocks designed to gradually slow a fall and bring it to a stop to Aluminium tripods and gotcha kits.

Fall arrest training
covers the use of all equipment sold and includes:

and many more.

If you are interested in Fall Arrest equipment and training, why not take a look?

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RIP Google Product Search: Hello Google Shopping

Google has recently announced that from Fall 2012 businesses will need to pay the search giant to have their products included in Google Shopping (originally known as Froogle). Since first launching the service it has been completely free and relatively easy for businesses to add their products, allowing the “small guys” to compete on a level playing field based on price, customer reviews and delivery costs.

Hello Google Shopping

More recently, Google introduced PPC ‘product ads’ as a way for advertisers to achieve better click-through rates and greater visibility. The move also allowed Google to earn money on the search results and provide searchers with the ability to find the item they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible.

product ads

Google shopping are changing the way it works to be overtly ‘sponsored’ as opposed to the free model which caused them problems with anti-trust laws.

Following is an example of what these ‘paid inclusion’ product listings could look like in the future:

Going Forward

In the end, Google is shifting to what’s been the industry standard when it comes to shopping search, to have a paid inclusion program. The curious can take a look here at SingleFeed for a rundown on who offers paid plans. Most shopping search engines do. Even Bing, which is listed as being free, also does paid inclusion through a partnership with Shopping.com, saying that doing this will increase visibility.

For searchers, Google’s trying to find the balance between having incredibly comprehensive results and the noise that can harm relevancy when there’s too much junk and not enough signal, it seems. As I said, it remains to see if they’ll get that balance right.

…will Google eventually decide that Google Shopping should make the next logical step and provide transactions, the way that Amazon does? At some point, Google the search engine that is supposed to point to destinations may turn into too much of a destination itself.


Golden Opportunity or Dead-End for e-commerce?

No doubt when the switchover happens there will be winners and losers, the trick is ensuring that you are among the first to adapt when competition is likely to be down as the majority of website owners and managers scramble to react to the changes you have already prepared for.

If you do decide to get on board the advertising train in this fashion then analysis and tracking will be key for you and making sure Google shopping pulls its weight compared to the rest of the mix will be more important than ever.

Keep an eye on the blog for further updates from myself and the rest of the Online Marketing team here at Optix Solutions. Have a question? Get in touch. We are here to help.


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When people embark on a new website project they do it for a couple of reasons. Its been a few years since their last re-development so their site is looking tired and in need of a bit of love or because its reached the end of its life, having had lots of elements bolted on over time and is now becoming cumbersome and clunky. "I know" someone says, "let's get a new website". The journey begins. 

The problem then is that the people tasked at client side with this are not usually web experts. They may have created a few sites in their time but they are not experts in user experience, persona development, analytics analysis or search engine optimisation. Its quite unfair to ask them to come up with a spec for a new site that will blow the competition away. How should they know what to specify? Sadly the answer is that in 90% of cases they don't and this will lead to one thing only – a site that doesn't perform for their business. 

In order to know what you should build you need to look at what data you have currently. How people use your site at the moment, where do you rank in search engines, where do you want to rank in search engines., who are your target audience and what makes them tick. As an agency we buy in lots of tools as well as using free ones (like Google Analytics) to measure the effectiveness of a site before looking at redesigning or building it. We ask lots of questions up front and don't resort to guess work before putting mouse to mouse mat. 

We're looking to share some of that knowledge with forward thinking businesses that want to know more about the performance of their online presence. This brings me on to our new event: Website Analysis Workshop. We want to teach and explain to organisations how to learn from their existing site, how to find out where its working and where it’s not, to find out what needs changing and why, all of which can then be used in their next website build. This event will teach you how to use the industry leading tools to find out exactly how your customers use your website and what improvements are needed. 

If that sounds like something you'd be interested in, if you want to take the next step to learning about click and heat maps, scroll depths & user journeys then you should book on today. There are limited spaces and we're keen to make this a dynamic and working session so will be looking at your sites on the day. We look forward to seeing you at Optix HQ and getting geeky with data. 

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5 things you can do as a site owner

Of all the areas covered where people can have the most impact and input, SEO is the one where time can be spent to maximum benefit.

This list contains 5 simple things you as a site owner can do yourself, to easily help your site rank well without needing a drop of technical knowledge. All it will cost is a little of your time, and you might even enjoy it!

1) Go to Yahoo Answers and answer as many simple questions as you can. Cite your website as the source.

2) Sign up to forums in your niche area. Provide information to users, be charming, answer their questions and put a link in the footer to your site.

3) Submit your site to niche directories, add your link and information to them.

4) Write, write and write some more. You are an expert in your field and the web is full of people looking for knowledge. Build it and they will come (and buy).

5) Promote that content via Social Media and by contacting people to let them know it’s there. Having good content is not enough. Make it easy for people to share this info by posting it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other platforms you use.


The beauty of these techniques is you do not need to be a genius programmer to take action on them. All you need is to get into gear and do them. Then you can sit back and see the rewards as your site ranks higher, your reputation becomes more credible and you increase your sales.

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Ink2Paper – A Search Engine Optimisation success story

Exeter-based Ink2Paper.com’s continued growth is based on three central tenets; unrivaled customer services, extraordinary product quality and a web presence that that is not just easy for people to navigate and use but that also keeps them engaged throughout their visit.

As an internet-based business, it goes without saying that Ink2Paper’s website is its lifeblood and principal means of creating new business, and in the summer of 2008 it invited Optix Solutions to redevelop their entire site and work on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

In essence SEO means enabling a company to squeeze every last possible benefit out of their web presence, adjusting and optimizing a site so it is search engine-friendly as possible.

Making sure the content of the site is both targeted and relevant increases the number of visitors who end up clicking the ‘confirm payment’ option.

SEO is a multi-disciplinary process and includes: data analysis, making refinements and adjustments to the site geography and content, introducing new technology, developing online marketing strategies, building databases and reawakening leads.

Ink2Paper and Optix both understand that simply increasing the number of visitors to a site is only the beginning; it is what they do once they are there that really counts. That’s why the new site was designed specifically to make the most of every new potential new lead.

Among the improvements introduced were:

  • A simplified, easy to follow four-step checkout process and built in discount and promotion facilities tailored specifically to appeal to individual customers.
  • A blog that keeps visitors up to date with what is going on at the company and highlights new products and services while encouraging them to give direct feedback on their experiences as a customer

The results were that:

  • Sales have grown by almost 40% year on year
  • Visits in the six months between July 2009 and December 2009 were up nine percent when compared with July 2008 to December 2008
  • Over the same period, the number of pages viewed – that visitors actually spent time on – jumped by no less that 75.81%, representing an average growth of 60.81% in pages viewed
  • The bounce rate – the number of people who left the site shortly after arrival – fell by 19.66%, with the average visitor spending 19% more time on the site than previously.

The results are proof positive that effective, intelligently targeted SEO really does work, helping to retain existing clients while generating new business.

For more information on how we can help you achieve similar success, call us today on 01392 667766.

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Conversion Optimisation

Conversion Optimisation

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the goal of all e-commerce professionals and their clients, and the latest online market figures make it easy to understand just why.

2008 saw a single year increase in online sales of 16% across the market. Since 2000, Internet sales have risen by 3,500% to £42bn and it’s expected that by 2010 this figure will have climbed to a staggering £72bn.

However, this is about more than an increased willingness to buy online. It marks a seismic shift in consumer habits on the back of an ever more sophisticated online culture. Our confidence in, and dependence on, online technologies, from desktop computers to mobiles and handhelds, is greater than it has ever been before.

You should never assume your site is generating all the sales it can just because it looks good and everything works. All its elements must interconnect smoothly and effectively and this needs to be regularly put to the test. The mantra should be; measure, analyse and build.

The Optix team’s innovative CRO consultancy service can help you do just that. We believe CRO is best achieved by a constant process of site-wide performance analysis, not just confined to the final sales process itself.

One of the keys to CRO is to make your online store ‘intelligent’. There are an ever increasing number of excellent analytic tools that can provide data and insights on customer habits. With Optix’s analytics we can review the performance and effectiveness of your site, including the online store, and highlight weaknesses to be corrected and strengths that can be built on as part of ongoing optimisation strategies.

This regular reviewing of the journey between an initial visit and a completed sale yields insights into a wide range of information about your customers such as where they came from, their likes and dislikes and ultimately what their experience of engaging with your business online is like.

A truly customer-driven site is vital in building brand loyalty and staying ahead of the competition. The bottom line is that those who engage in the changing dynamics of selling online will generate more revenue than those who do not.

In a large competitive market, just a fractional increase in market share can represent a significant boost to profits.

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