96% of Americans shop online, presumably to avoid crowds or to save time. Quickly becoming a preferred way for making purchases, the online retail industry accounts for $2 trillion in annual sales.
However, online selling isn’t just limited to established brands and retail giants like Amazon; ordinary people can start their own e-commerce shops from the comfort of their homes.
Starting an e-commerce site is easier than ever before with options that are:
- Affordable: There are many ways to start a new e-commerce shop with little to no overhead
- Easy: Sometimes you don’t even have to have your own product; some e-commerce shops work thanks to drop shipping
- Options: Whether you’re a tech expert or total newbie, there’s an e-commerce platform out there that caters to you
If you’re in the initial planning stages of putting up your e-commerce site, temper yourself to avoid picking a design before deciding on the essential types of e-commerce features you’ll need to incorporate. Some of these features are already built into certain e-commerce platforms, while others may need to be custom-built.
Regardless of how you plan to incorporate them, here are the essential types of e-commerce features you need to be successful online.
Ease of Use
Simplicity is the mark of a good design, and 76% of consumers agree. They say that the most important characteristic of a good website is ease of use.
By ease of use, this means helping shoppers get what want they want faster and without the unnecessary complexity that could deter their eventual purchase. You can implement this concept by:
- Creating shopping categories
- Adding filters
- Incorporating comparison capabilities
Additionally, make it easy to find customer reviews, FAQs, and information about the types of e-commerce policies you abide by (like shipping and returns) to help buyers make decisions more quickly.
Invest in a website with a simple, clutter-free design and make sure that your website loads as quickly as people are browsing through it.
Site speed is an indicator of an easy to use website and draws a lot of parallels with the ability to convert visitors. Online sellers literally have seconds to make a sale as shrinking attention spans (8 seconds, smaller than a goldfish’s) influences e-commerce purchasing behavior.
51% of U.S. online shoppers cite slow site loading times as the top reason they abandon a purchase, and these slow loading websites cost the U.S. e-commerce market more than $500 billion annually. Based on data monitoring real user activity from 33 major retailers, an increase in site speed from 8 to 2 seconds can boost your conversion rate by 74%.
Another of the major types of e-commerce features you’ll need to make your site easier to use is by optimizing for mobile.
People spend more than half their time on mobile phones (compared to computers), a trend that also applies to online shopping. If you still think that optimizing for mobile is optional—don’t. Google will penalize sites that aren’t optimized for mobile. Mobile websites fare better for SEO; a mobile-first user experience is one of the four major ranking signals.
If you have the resources, consider creating a mobile experience contained within an app. Of the reported 5 hours per day that people spend on their mobile phones, 92% of that is spent within apps.
Here are some tips for how to design for mobile if you’re just getting started.
As an online entrepreneur, your primary motivation for starting an e-commerce store might have something to do with earning money. Even if it’s #2 or #3 on your list of motivations, earning money is still important to keeping your business afloat.
Help increase order totals by connecting visitors to more of your products through a related items function. You can do this through similar product categories, “people who bought this item also searched for”, and comparison functions.
To put this into context, say for example that you’re selling laptops. Increase sales by suggesting related accessories: laptop skins, bags, and so on.
Variety of Payment Getaways
Depending on what you sell, where, an e-commerce site should also provide a myriad of options for payment methods. Some trust certain options over others and some countries don’t support certain payment methods, so it’s important to know your audience before settling on your options.
As an online store owner, you must make the whole transaction (payment especially!) as easy as possible for your customers. Not having a customer’s preferred payment method could spell the difference between a purchase and an abandoned cart.
While on the topic, make sure that your site is PCI (payment card industry) compliant as an extra security measure to build trust with your customers. If you haven’t yet decided on an e-commerce platform, make sure that the one you decide on is capable of supporting multiple payment options.
The major pitfall of online shopping is the fact that you cannot physically touch or experience a product.
Because of this, including functionality for user reviews is important. Reviews may be the only thing online shoppers have to rely on (besides information provided by you, which can be seen as biased) to make a purchase decision.
92% of shoppers read reviews. In fact, the star rating is the first factor customers consider when judging a website. 71% of consumers say they use online reviews to decide whether or not to make a purchase, and consider online reviews more credible than they would a salesperson (which is completely understandable).
Reviews don’t just influence purchase decisions, but also have up to 10% impact on businesses search rankings, so don’t be afraid to ask for one as part of a post-purchase email sequence. Luckily, 70% of customers are willing to leave an online review when asked.
And before you start worrying about the possibilities of public negative feedback, you’ll be happy to hear this: 52% of customers trust a product more when it has bad reviews.
High-Resolution Photo and/or Video
A study by Invodo found that 92.6% of consumers claim that visuals are the most influential factor affecting purchase decisions. Though most people feel a need to physically touch items before buying them, great product photos on an e-commerce product page are the next best thing (besides the aforementioned reviews).
The photos you display should be high-resolution but optimized so that they do not affect site load speed. Additionally, photos should also be zoomable so people can look at details.
But photos shouldn’t be the only types of e-commerce media you share; video is beneficial as well. According to Invodo:
- Video viewers are 1.7x more likely to buy
- Up to 4x as many shoppers prefer product videos to the text description
- Sites with video on most product pages had a 68% higher average order value than sites with video on a few product pages
- When researching a purchase decision, 80% of millennials consider video content
- 7 out of 10 millennials are likely to watch a company video when online shopping
Video also contributes to the page’s SEO ranking since there’s low competition in regard to this type of media.
E-commerce sites are prime targets for cybercriminals, who can steal your sensitive information as well as your customers’.
Start with a secure e-commerce platform that supports HTTPS and SSL, which allows secure payment and checkout like Magento 2. This is an especially important e-commerce feature, since Google Chrome now requires HTTPS for sites that collect sensitive information—marking those that don’t as non-secure.
Other must-have security features include:
- Two-factor authentication: Adds an extra layer of security by requiring username/password and a system-generated code sent via email or text
- Firewall: A wall that blocks malicious traffic and permits authorized traffic
Hubspot shares other basic considerations when it comes to types of e-commerce security features.
You can affect your e-commerce website’s SEO without it being a built-in feature, though some platforms operate off of a better baseline than others.
SEO is very broad and multifaceted, involving site architecture, on-page SEO, technical SEO, link building, content and more. There are plenty of SEO-friendly e-commerce options but E-commerce Platforms provides an in-depth guide to the top picks.
Social Media Integration
Social media integration hasn’t always been a priority when it came to e-commerce. It started with social share buttons, then grew to using social as a way for users to log in to their accounts. These social components can contribute to off-page SEO.
With new social features like Pinterest buyable pins and Instagram’s shoppable feed, it becomes easier to push product outside of your e-commerce store. When those browsing their social feeds see your pin or Instagram post and click on it, they will be directed to your site to complete the purchase.
Membership Site Capabilities
The ability to add customer accounts helps your e-commerce shop by:
- Collecting customer information (so you can send them promotional materials advertising sales and other special deals)
- Ease of access for the customer the next time they purchase something (encouraging repeat business)
- Provide account security for transactions
Some e-commerce platforms already have this functionality built-in, but if you’re building a website from scratch, it’s important to include this functionality.
Customer support is one of the most important types of e-commerce features to consider for online selling success. Some e-commerce platforms offer related functionality as part of a package (which you pay monthly or annually), but if you’re building your website from scratch, you’ll want to look into live chat solutions.
Live chat is an incredibly convenient solution for providing customer service, as it provides customers instant access to assistance. Wait times are also usually shorter than a call center, and both customers and live chat agents can multitask while participating in a live chat.
42% of customers said live chat is their preferred support method. Similarly, 63% of customers said that they were most likely to return to a website that offered live chat.
Live chat also helps companies cut down costs on their customer service expenses. Unlike voice calls, which require at least one dedicated customer service representative per customer call, live chat operators can answer the queries of multiple customers at once—without sacrificing the quality of their interactions.
Additionally, live chat also helps advance customer purchases. 38% of customers say that they made a purchase as a result of a live chat session.
Clear Set of Policies
Being transparent with policies helps improve trust in your online shop. It informs the customers of the set of guidelines you adhere to, and ensures customers that if they ever need something, they can always ask you about it.
Consider including these policies on your e-commerce store:
- FAQ: More complex purchases need detailed information, and instead of answering the same queries over again, try to collate common questions on a public page.
- Return & Exchange Policies: There is always a risk when ordering online, especially when purchasing products that come in different sizes. A returns page is important because:
- Shipping Charge and Options: Unexpected shipping costs are the #1 cause of abandoned shopping carts, so it’s critical to include shipping information where your customers can see it (usually a banner at the top of the page). Websites that advertise free shipping attract customers that spend 30% more per order. On a related note, your shipping information shouldn’t be located in just one place, so repeat relevant information at checkout. Having a shipping charge calculator based on zip code at checkout will help prevent shock.
On a final note, make these policies easy to access and easy to read.
When it comes to running an online shop, nothing gives customers more reassurance that the website can be trusted than a professional-looking contact page. This is most true when selling technical or expensive, high-end products.
Don’t hide your contact information. Make it easy for customers to get in touch and include several channels to do so by sharing relevant phone numbers, emails, and an address. Don’t forget to add social links to your pages and Google Maps for directions if there’s a physical store location (this will help with local SEO).
Analytics and Reporting
Analytics and reporting features are what gives you an idea of which of your products are selling, which strategies are effective, and where traffic is coming from. Using reports from Google Analytics, you can improve your e-commerce conversion rate.
It’s easier than ever to start an online business—the e-commerce route is accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection. Some of these features are already built into certain e-commerce platforms, while others may need to be custom-built.
But running an e-commerce store takes a lot of work. There’s a lot to think about and a lot of features you’ll need to successfully make sales. This list covers the basics but the nature of your business will determine additional components necessary for driving sales.
What would you add to our list of types of e-commerce features you need to be successful online?
By the way, sooner or later every website needs good imagery. Check out our guide on How Much Do Free Images Really Cost?
Don’t need images? Well, icons will do too. Choosing the Right Size and Format for Icons
Check the guide on making a website if you aren’t a designer, a set of helpful tips how to use icons, choose images for landing pages, and mobile design tips.