14 Unique Problems of E-Commerce Website Design

Every website redesign comes with unique hurdles to overcome, but e-commerce websites have many unique issues that most other websites don’t face.

Here are several tips for addressing these problems as well as points to consider as you find the right web design team for your e-commerce site.

1. Building trust with the user

Every website should give users a sense of security. This is especially true for e-commerce websites, which typically ask users to provide their home address and credit card information in order to complete their purchase.

Even if a user is interested in the products you provide, they aren’t likely to complete a purchase if they feel that your website isn’t secure. They might worry about things like malware, identity theft, and distribution of their personal information. 77% of people are concerned with someone stealing their information online, and they are hyper-aware of this concern when visiting a site that explicitly asks for their personal information.

This means that your e-commerce website needs to go to extraordinary lengths to establish trust with the user. You have to find and address every potential characteristic of your website that could lead to distrust.

Red flags in e-commerce include:

  • A website that isn’t optimized for mobile. Most of the visitors to your e-commerce website are going to be browsing on their mobile devices. If your site isn’t optimized for these users (meaning you don’t have a responsive website or a version of your website that’s mobile-friendly), it’s likely that many of your mobile users will leave the site before they even begin browsing your products.
  • A site that takes too long to load. While this web design no-no is unappealing to users on any kind of site, a too-slow e-commerce website can actually lead to a sense of distrust with the users. So, how slow is too slow? 41% of users will leave your site if it takes more than 5 seconds to load.
  • Banners, ads, and pop-ups. Bombarding your users’ screens with advertisements and big banners will only discourage them from visiting your product pages. This is especially true on mobile devices, where a simple pop-up (that you may think is small) takes up the majority of the user’s screen.
  • Dishonest advertising. It can be easy to use copy and offers that encourage users to make a purchase with you. But is that copy honest? For example, if you advertise on your website that you provide “Free U.S. Shipping,” your users will expect any order shipping to the U.S. to have free shipping. Adding on a fee after the fact because you failed to clarify “on orders over $50,” will frustrate your customers and cause you to lose their trust.
  • Lack of security authentication and trust marks. Visitors to your site want third-party proof that it’s secure. If you get an SSL certificate for your website, a verified “Secure” button will appear next to your URL. This gives users confident proof that you’re offering them a secure website.
  • Low-quality or irrelevant product images. Does it look like your product photos were haphazardly shot in a dark, musty room? This isn’t a good visual to send to customers who like to know that the product they’re about to purchase is in clean and pristine condition.
  • Spammy product descriptions and copywriting. Users don’t like spam, no matter how much a business owner might think those spammy keywords will help their SEO. Spammy and poor-quality content is a fast way to make a user second-guess the trustworthiness of your site.
  • Lack of social media accounts. It can be a compliment when a user visits your website and then wants to check you out on social media. If they can’t find you anywhere on social media, that attempted compliment can suddenly turn into the user questioning how legitimate your business is. You don’t have to be available on every social media platform, but strategically choosing a few accounts will help establish your credibility.

2. Payment processing

One of the key goals of your e-commerce website is to bring in sales. In order for it to do that, your website has to be able to process payments from customers. And your customers will want to have options in terms of how they make a purchase.

Some users will want to stick to using their credit or debit card, and even that opens up the can of worms regarding card type (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc.). Then, some users will want to use PayPal because they’re more comfortable with it or they may find it more secure. Then you have to consider service and processing fees, which can quickly add up to a hefty portion of the sales you’ve made.

As you can guess, figuring out how you’re going to accept payment on your website isn’t a step that should be taken lightly. Check out all sorts of considerations in this article about accepting credit cards and PayPal on your website.

3. Inventory/stock updates

If you had to manually update your inventory every time a user made a purchase on your website, that would defeat the purpose of having an online store, wouldn’t it? Whether you sell tens or thousands of products on your e-commerce website, automating your inventory will save you tons of time — and reduce errors that can be made when it’s done manually.

In addition to the benefits that this provides to you, it provides important benefits to your customers. Imagine if someone were to complete a purchase on your website only to learn that the product they just bought is out of stock — or worse: it went under the radar and it took you weeks to even spot the issue.

Inventory management software can also help you determine how much stock you should keep of each item, predict how many of each product will sell, and much more. There are a ton of solutions to help you with this, so check out this list of inventory management software for e-commerce websites to find the right one for you.

4. Shipping

It should be the goal of every e-commerce website to make shipping as ideal for the user as possible. After all, they only go through the full process and provide their full information in order to receive the product they bought.

But shipping is also the area where many owners of e-commerce websites have the least control. You have to work through third parties (sometimes multiple third parties), which leaves a lot of room for error — which will often only haunt your business and not the third parties.

Shopify offers an incredibly thorough guide to shipping and fulfillment. Some of the key takeaways include:

  • Set yourself apart in the packaging stage
  • Be smart about the packaging materials you choose
  • Try to keep the size and weight as low as possible
  • Consider offering free shipping to customers
  • Use a shipping calculator to find the most affordable option
  • Take the time to maximize shipping profitability

And, of course, this ties back to web design because you need to consider how your website will communicate to you that an order has been completed and it’s time to send out a shipment. Your ultimate goal should be to minimize the amount of time it takes for you to learn about a shipment and subsequently send out that shipment so that your customers can get their products as soon — and as hassle-free — as possible.

5. Product reviews

One feature your customers will want to see on your e-commerce website is product reviews. They want to be able to see how each of your products is rated by other users, and they want to be able to leave a review after they make their purchase.

Allowing product reviews on your website can be intimidating because it opens the possibility of receiving negative reviews. But giving users the option to describe a true account of their experience with your product is a great way to establish a sense of trust.

What’s even better than simply allowing reviews?

  • Displaying an average star rating that quickly shows users how well a particular product was received.
  • Displaying how many total reviews each product has received. A product with hundreds of reviews and an average rating of 4.5+ stars will dramatically improve your users’ trust in its quality.
  • Replying to any negative reviews with instructions on how to return or exchange the item. It shows that you’ll go out of your way to make the purchasing experience a positive one for everyone.

6. Navigation to product pages

Navigation is an important aspect of user experience for any website. If you bury pages so that the user has to dig deeper and deeper into your website just to find a particular page, you’re adding layers of extra work for them. With very few exceptions, users should be able to navigate to any page on your website with just one or two clicks.

This makes e-commerce web design tricky since many e-commerce websites offer hundreds — if not thousands — of products. Finding a way to organize them, while still ensuring that navigation is as easy as possible for the user, can be rather tricky.

Ultimately, your goal should remain the same: users should be able to navigate to any product within two clicks. That likely means that you’ll have to get creative with your site structure and main navigation, but your users will definitely appreciate the extra effort.

7. The shopping cart

If a user on your site decides to add an item to their shopping cart, that means you’ve done something right. So far, they’ve probably found your website easy to use and trustworthy, and they’re considering purchasing one or more of your products.

One thing that some e-commerce websites get very wrong is making a shopping cart experience that’s slow, complicated, or difficult to navigate. The more hoops you make your user jump through, the more likely they are to abandon their cart and leave your site.

In addition to making sure your shopping cart doesn’t have any bugs in its functionality, it’s important that you also account for the little details. Consider questions like:

  • Does adding an item to a shopping cart immediately lead your user away from the product page — making it difficult for them to continue shopping?
  • Is your user required to sign in before they can complete their purchase, or do you give them the option to complete checkout as a guest?
  • How easy is it for the user to update quantities in their shopping cart? Can they add a coupon code before checkout?
  • Do you offer a progress bar to show users how many more pages/forms they have to fill out?
  • Have you organized the checkout process so that the user doesn’t enter payment information until all other details have been updated and verified?
  • Do you offer content after the user submits their order to describe how you’ll follow up?

All these small details, and many more, make a big impact on your user’s experience as they shop with you. Just as you would think about every last detail in a physical storefront, you’ve got to do the same for your online customers.

8. Customers who abandon purchases

7 out of 10 online shoppers abandon items in their shopping cart. And, with so many users heading online simply to “window shop,” it’s extremely common for your analytics to show a user go all the way through the buyer’s cycle only to leave your site without finishing their purchase.

The solution to this problem is complex. Some marketers will recommend that you capture the user’s email as early in the shopping process as possible so that you can add them to your email list. While this alone is good advice, it’s not the end-all solution since 38% of users are annoyed by abandoned cart emails. At the same time, email notifications about abandoned carts have a 40.5% open rate. That’s about double the average.

So, the key is to be tactful in how you follow up with users who abandon their shopping cart. A few best practices include: Make it incredibly easy for users to opt-out or unsubscribe from your emails. Let them do it in one easy click, don’t ask a ton of follow-up questions, and skip the opt-out confirmation email.

  • Showcase your personality. Even if a user was just browsing your site, it can be hard to stand out in their full inbox. Keep the tone of your reminder email light-hearted, and don’t be afraid to inject your company’s personality.
  • Don’t overwhelm your customers with too many emails. A good rule of thumb? You should send no more than one cart abandonment email per customer per 60-day period. Anything more and they’ll tune you out or unsubscribe altogether.
  • Offer a coupon. Even though some users find cart abandonment emails annoying, they can still be influenced by the contents of the email. Users who find emails annoying but still occasionally purchase are 4% likely to do so without a discount and 8% likely to do so with one.
  • As with all email marketing efforts, A/B test! This can show you if the emails really do affect purchases. Try sending the emails to one group (Group A) and not to the other (Group B). Soon you’ll have invaluable data that lets you see how effective your emails are with your exact target market.
  • Offer a responsive solution. Your users are most likely going to open your email on their phone. Make sure that, if and when they click the button leading to your website, their final destination functions well on their mobile device.
  • Make it easy for users to find answers. They may have abandoned their shopping cart because they couldn’t find information about your shipping policy or because they wanted to contact you with a question. Make sure your website answers all their questions and showcases your contact information in an easy-to-find way.

9. Ability to search for products

If you have an e-commerce website, you should have a search bar. Period. You may not think it happens enough to warrant a search bar, but users can come to your site knowing exactly what it is they’re looking for. Or, the dream scenario could happen where one of your past customers actually refers someone new to your site.

Make it as easy as possible for these users to find what they’re looking for. They may come to your website with pre-existing knowledge about one of the products you provide, or they may have seen on your social media account months ago that you sell just what they’re looking for.

A search bar is another easy but effective way to remove obstacles for your customers. Don’t make it harder for them than it has to be.

10. Product photography

Did you know that some people make money by finding eBay listings with poor-quality photos, purchasing the item, and then re-selling it for a profit simply by improving the photo quality and product description? There’s a reason for that.

Especially if you’re a small business owner, it can be difficult to afford professional photography of your products. But, even without the best equipment and a hired hand, you can take high-quality product photos — with nothing more than a smartphone.

The most important element here will be lighting. You’ll also need some sort of backdrop, a table, a method for stabilizing your phone, and some free photo editing apps on your phone. Check out this full tutorial for snapping high-quality product photos with a smartphone.

11. Shareability of product pages

What is every marketer’s dream? For their customers to do their marketing for them. Without social sharing on each of your product pages, you restrict your customers’ ability to do this.

You want to make it easy for users to share an individual product with their friends and family. By setting up social icons for a variety of social media platforms, you make it easy for users to spread the news about your products with a quick click.

It isn’t enough just to add the social icons. Many CMS platforms give you the opportunity to set the title, description, and image for a page when it’s shared on social. Take the extra time to make sure these are accurate and compelling so that you increase the chances of users clicking through to visit your site.

12. Easily available resources

One big reason that any website can receive high bounce rates (a high percentage of users who leave the site rather than exploring more) is simply due to a lack of information. Through all the work you put into designing your website, it can be easy for details to slip through the cracks.

These details are precisely what lead online shoppers to leave your site, distrust your brand, or abandon their shopping carts. Even if your products are affordably priced, you’re asking a big thing of your customers to provide their personal and payment information. It is, then, your responsibility to make sure that you’re answering every possible question they may have — or providing a simple, clear way for them to get answers.

Think about the following resources and consider how you could use them to make your site more helpful to the user:

  • An FAQ page that provides helpful answers to common questions your company receives.
  • A link to your shipping information in the footer, giving customers the ability to find shipping information from any page on your website.
  • A chatbot that users can use to get real-time assistance.
  • Clear contact information visible in the header and footer of your website.
  • A streamlined support process that ensures your customers can quickly speak with someone who can help them.
  • Downloadable specification sheets, catalogs, installation instructions, and more.
  • Links to your social media accounts in the footer so that users can easily find you.

If you’ve found that your users visit your site just to leave without making a purchase, it may be because there’s a lack of information. If they can’t find an easy method for getting answers, they aren’t going to trust you with their personal and payment information.

13. SEO implications of product pages

The SEO of an e-commerce website is a bit unique. Unlike many other websites, e-commerce sites tend to have many similar (or nearly duplicate) pages, images, URLs, and content. It’s also unique because you have limited characters to try and draw in users looking for the types of products you provide.

The thought you put into your navigation in step #6 will help here since a clean site structure is one of the best ways to improve the SEO of your e-commerce website. In addition to this, you’ll want to make sure that there’s careful consideration put into each of the following:

  • Product page titles and the keywords you use
  • URL structure and site navigation
  • The content you use on your product pages
  • Keeping product variations (like size and color) on the same page
  • Descriptive, well-written image alt tags

Which brings us to our next point…

14. Image compression and alt text

The best product page includes multiple images, giving the user a thorough look at the product even though they can’t see it in person. Even if you only have 100 products on your website, with 3-5 images per product, you’re looking at 300-500+ images. If you simply upload these to your site, you’ll dramatically slow it down and potentially even harm your SEO.

Image compression simply means making your image file sizes as small as you can while still maintaining the photo’s quality. We provided a step-by-step guide to compressing your images, but the key takeaways are to convert your .png files to .jpg and to run images larger than 150 KB through an image compression tool.

Image alt text is added to the code of your website, it displays when the image fails to load, and it can affect your rankings in search engines. As with all of your website content, your alt text should be descriptive with a few relevant keywords — but not keyword stuffed. The alt tag for each image should be just long enough to describe the image.

Careful consideration of your users can reap high rewards

While some of the points above have some sort of implication for any business website, they each offer a unique consideration for owners of e-commerce websites.

It’s extra work and extra things to consider, but taking the time to get your e-commerce website right can lead it to become a powerful sales tool — and customer loyalty tool — for your business.

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