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What makes an ecommerce website great? The products? The customer service? The amazing extra features? Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s not any one thing. To quote Aristotle, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

The whole of your ecommerce business is up to you. But we recommend including these parts in your site.

1) Speed.

Website speed is getting more important all the time. Just look to Google’s new AMP project (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for evidence. And then there’s the new update coming soon from Big G, which will reward fast sites even more than the algorithm does now.

So how fast is fast enough? Here’s what Imperva Incapsula learned when they surveyed consumers about how long they’ll wait for an ecommerce website page to load:

load times for ecommerce websites

62% of those users expect a page to load in less than 5 seconds. And even that may not be enough. According to Neil Patel, “40% of people will abandon a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. To make matters worse, every extra second your site takes to load will cause a 7% decrease in your conversion rate.

Ouch. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what 7% of your conversion rate is worth. Then call your web developer and find out if you can shave a second of load time off for less than that figure.

2) Mobile-friendly.

It’s impossible to overstate the influence of mobile devices on Internet usage right now. Mobile isn’t just where we’re headed – it’s where we are. Mobile usage surpassed desktop usage several years ago according to comScore:

desktop versus mobile internet traffic

Here’s how that shakes out for ecommerce sites, both in the US and abroad:

How many orders are placed on mobile phones and tablets

If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re probably losing up to 20% of your sales. And while that sounds bad, consider the upside: If you’d like those extra sales, you know exactly what you need to do.

3) Fast, free shipping.

According to research from Walker Sands, free shipping is the most likely thing to make people want to shop online. 83% of shoppers said it would get their attention.

what influencers shoppers to order?

Note how 1-day shipping came in second place. Ends up fast shipping is another strong incentive for online shoppers. But you’ve got to get the package to them within 3-4 days, or ideally within 2 days. Otherwise, the thrill of the speed is gone.

From Criteo’s 2016 eCommerce Industry Outlook 2016
From Criteo’s 2016 eCommerce Industry Outlook 2016


4) Easy, free returns.

Your #1 priority is shipping the products to the customers. Their second biggest priority is sending the package back, or at least having that option. That’s what consumers in Bigcommerce’s survey said about what influences their online purchase decisions.

Note that free returns also came in third place for what incentivizes customers to buy in the Walker Sands survey from above.

free shipping and easy returns rank high for what gets people to buy

5) Product reviews.

Product reviews are one of the most trusted sources of information online. In some studies, they’re even more trusted than newspaper articles. So it makes sense when Econsultancy reports that 70% of consumers trust reviews from unknown users. If people know the reviewer (or the person who recommended the product), the trust goes even higher: 90% of people believe those types of reviews.

And reviews don’t just instill trust. They generate cash, too. According to Yotpo’s State of eCommerce Benchmark Report, there’s a direct correlation between the number of reviews and how frequently a product gets purchased.

the more reviews a product gets, the more people order it

That’s not the only study to find a link between reviews and orders. A study by Bazaar Voice found a similar pattern. Just one review for a product was enough to increase sales by 10%. And getting up to 50 reviews could push sales for that product up by 30%. The same study found that there were SEO benefits to getting more reviews, too.

more research supporting how more reviews leads to more orders

6) An efficient checkout experience.

You already know how critical this is. Abandoned carts are, alas, more common than orders. But unfortunately most ecommerce websites still have a check-out process that makes shoppers grind their teeth. It’s costing the retailers millions of dollars a year. Consider these stats from a recent IBM report:

most shoppers dislike the checkout process

So what would an “efficient” checkout process look like? Well, it would take 5 minutes or less to complete, for starters.

Here’s one example of a world-class checkout process. It’s from what’s arguably the best ecommerce site on the planet: Amazon.

Amazon's mobile checkout process

That’s their mobile checkout process. Want a deeper dive into how to optimize your checkout process? See Peep Laja’s post, How to Design an eCommerce Checkout Flow That Converts.

7) Great product images.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to hire a professional photographer to take some product shots, please – get off the fence. Hire the best photographer you can afford.

Odds are good you’ll get your money back. Optimizely says they’ve seen some products’ sales increase by over 40% simply by adding photographs.

If possible, you also want to have those product shots show up when people are searching. 30% of the survey respondents in Bigcommerce’s study (mentioned above) named “visual search” as something that influences whether they’ll buy or not.

visual search helps shoppers decide what to buy

8) Good SEO.

Search engine optimization can make or break an ecommerce site. According to Yotpo’s State of eCommerce Benchmark Report, 34% of the traffic their clients’ sites get is from search engines. Considering that’s largely free traffic, it’s even more desirable.

retailers get 34% of their site traffic from search engines

Unfortunately, many ecommerce websites have a long way to go on their optimization work. Even the biggest retail sites often get SEO very wrong. Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting recently did a study of major ecommerce sites. He wanted to find out how the big retailers did their SEO. What he found wasn’t so good: “Only 38% of the URLs we looked at across 20 highly prominent e-tail sites were using SEO tags in what we consider an optimal manner.”

9) A search function.

I mentioned how important visual search is in the section about product images. But a good search function is so important that it deserves its own section. Search is, of course, how people find what they’re looking for. It’s got to work or you’ll lose sales.

Good search functions have controls for the user. Like the example below, they let people sort search results by relevance, price, or other factors. And they let the user control how many results appear on the page. Some retailers give other filters, like gender, use (Tennis? Backpacking? Gym?), or brand.

how the online store The Grommet does their search

Your site’s search logs provide another value: It’s possible to send search results to site visitors via email.

10) Logical menus.

In Bigcommerce’s infographic, What Influences a Purchase, “great navigation” came in as the sixth most important factor. 26% of the consumers surveyed mentioned it.

Menus aren’t the only navigation tool, but they’re probably the most important. (Footers help, too – more about them in a moment). For better menus, limit the number of items in each menu to seven or less. That’s the maximum number of items most people feel comfortable with in a group. Also, give people a way to go to both sub-menus and to major category pages, like Dot and Bo has done here:

Dot and Bo has some nice, easily understood product menus

11) Information about how to get help.

Never leave people guessing. Give them all the information they could possibly need to reach you and to get their questions answered. JCrew has done a nice job here of breaking out all their different customer service touchpoints and programs into one page.

The ecommerce website JCrew makes it easy for site visitors to find help

12) Related products.

These are especially essential if a product requires refills, extra parts, or would benefit from extra parts. But even if it doesn’t, related products are a great way to increase average order size. They also keep people on your site just a little bit longer.

Many retailers put the related items near the bottom of the page

13) Social sharing buttons.

Remember that stat I mentioned earlier about how 90% of people trust product recommendations from someone they know? That’s the power of social sharing buttons. They also matter because there’s “free” traffic to be had from those social media networks, and shared products are the best way to get it.

If you’ve already gotten some decent sharing activity for your products, consider adding a sharing count to the buttons. VeggieTales increased revenue per visitor by a whopping 36.8% just by adding counters to their buttons. Viva social proof!

The ecommerce website B and H Photo puts share counts on its social sharing buttons

14) An SSL certificate and site security information.

Perhaps not the most exciting thing in the world – until you’ve got a data breach. But hopefully that’s never going to happen. Besides, you can’t process credit card information without a secure socket layer. And you want to be sure your customers never even think about worrying if their data is secure.

15) Privacy policy.

This is another requirement for business. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and you probably don’t need to hire a lawyer to write it (it needs to be easy to understand). Just let people know what you’re going to do with their data. For instance, will you rent their email address out (hopefully not)? Sell their order information to a list broker? Do you use tracking technology like cookies, or will you be retargeting them with advertising after they leave your site? Those are the basic questions a good privacy policy should cover.

Stumped on where to start? Check out this sample privacy policy from the Better Business Bureau.

16) An “about us” page.

This isn’t a legal requirement, but in the minds of some customers, it is required. Why? Because people like to know who they’re doing business with. In fact, about us pages are often the second-most visited page on a website – second only to the home page.

You don’t have to go into quite as much detail as Gardener’s Supply does on their “About Us” page, but they’ve laid out a great example of all the topics you could cover.

Gardeners Supply has a whole About Us section of content

Bonus: Include photographs of your key employees, or of your company as a group.

17) A wishlist.

These are a great way to get people to register, and a way to capture some otherwise lost orders. They’re also fantastic for follow-up emails.

The ecommerce website GlassesUSA makes it really easy to add items to a wishlist. You just have to click the heart icon next to the product.
GlassesUSA makes it really easy to add items to a wishlist. You just have to click the heart icon next to the product.


18) A footer area.

Everyone thinks to add navigation to the top of their pages. Don’t forget the bottom. This is a great way to give people a more detailed list of options than what they can find at the top of the page. It’s also an ideal place to add quick views of customer service information, social media buttons, or an email opt-in box.

Example of a footer from a truck supplies retailer

19) Emails: Transactional, Follow-up and Retargeting.

Transactional emails

These order-information emails get the highest open rates of any type of email. Some retailers’ order confirmation or shipping status emails actually have open rates over 100%. How? Many people open them twice. But high open rates aren’t the only story here: According to Experian, transactional emails are also very friendly territory for cross-sells.

transactional emails work for cross-sells and upsells

Follow-up emails.

Most of your customers are only going to order once. That’s just the nature of ecommerce. But a strategically-timed email after the sale might convert at least some of them into two-time buyers. Even if you don’t get another sale, try asking for a review of the product they bought. As mentioned above, even one review can increase sales for a product by 10%.

follow up email example from an online service
Online retailers should follow-up about a week after a product has arrived to see if the buyer is willing to leave a review. But SAAS companies and online services can also make use of follow-up emails, like Thumbtack has done here.


Retargeting emails

Just like most customers will only order once, most of the people who open your emails will not place an order. At least not directly, or immediately… but if you’ve got an email retargeting program running, you’ll be able to show targeted advertisements to your email openers. Depending on the system, (like ours) you might even be able to show them personalized ads based on what they’ve been looking at on your site.

So does it work? You bet. In one study from SalesForce and Facebook, email subscribers were first sent an email with a promotion, then they were targeted with Facebook ads also based on that promotion. The group that both got the emails and saw the Facebook ads was most likely to buy: “22 percent of them were more likely to make a purchase after they opened an email and were then targeted on Facebook through ads.”

email retargeting example
Backcountry.com sent me an email, which I clicked. I looked at a couple of the items in the ad shown here while I was on their site. Now they’re showing me retargeting ads on almost every site I visit.


20) Pop-ups.

I know – some people think these are annoying. But they’re so incredibly effective that you really shouldn’t pass them up. And besides – most of your competitors are using them already.

Try a pop-up with a discount for first-time buyers in exchange for their email address. 15-20% off is usually enough to get peoples’ attention. Like this:

Optional ecommerce website elements

There’s a few more elements and attributes of ecommerce sites that can help or hurt, depending on who you ask.


This one’s universally agreed as being helpful. According to Optimizely, 75% of US customers want companies to customize messaging and offers for them.


Most retail sites I see still have at least one or two trustmarks visible – either in the footer area or somewhere prominent in the checkout process. Trustmarks were once considered essential, but some experts think they’re less essential now. It’s possible they might even remind shoppers of the risks of online ordering.


Many ecommerce websites give people the option of registering before they place an order. That’s good for the retailer, but according to Smashing Magazine, 30% of shoppers will abandon their cart if they’re asked to register.

Product descriptions

I had thought of these as being essential, but actually many retailers seem to do without them. Instead, they list the product’s attributes in bullet points, and then let the reviewers tell their stories of the products. It really depends on the product whether you want a description or not. Sometimes a sentence or two will suffice.