Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler

March 7, 2001
Back to the Basics
E-tailers should focus on basic e-commerce site features before adding new functions to their sites

A recent survey of online shoppers by PricewaterhouseCoopers found most consumers are interested in just the basic e-commerce site features – search functions, product information and close-up product images – rather than the latest advances in Web site technology. According to the survey results, search functions are the most popular online shopping feature, with 77% of online shoppers saying they used it at an e-commerce site. The survey also found shoppers were more likely to make a purchase if the site had the following features:

  • close-up product images (44%)
  • product availability (39%)
  • product comparison features (34%)
  • toll-free customer service number (25%)
While many sites offer special features such as wish lists and personalized pages, few online shoppers actually use these services. Of those surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, only 19% had ever used a wish list, and only 13% forwarded the list to friends and family. These site features are nice to have – and some shoppers will want them – but if your site is lacking in the basics, high-tech features will not be enough to convert browsers to buyers.

In an separate survey of online shoppers, PricewaterhouseCoopers found the most commonly mentioned areas of dissatisfaction with online shopping included products out of stock, excessive page loading times, products not available online and not receiving adequate e-mails about order status. These problems are easy to fix, and it isn't difficult to make your site user-friendly and your customers happy. Instead of adding new features to your site, take a step back and review your site for the e-commerce necessities:
  • Make sure your pages load quickly.
  • Check your search engine efficiency. If someone searches for diamond earrings, results should include only diamond earrings, not all products with diamonds.
  • Include information about product availability. Shoppers want to know right away if an item is in stock, on order or not available.
  • Add large product images. Experienced online shoppers know larger images take longer to load, but they're willing to wait because that image may be the deciding factor for making the purchase. The best solution is to add a link to a larger image (example: "Click here for a close-up of this item") on the product description page.
  • Make sure your product descriptions are detailed. Since your customers can't touch the merchandise, they need to know all the details they would find out in the store.
  • Have a toll-free customer service number and a customer service e-mail address. An online customer-service chat is nice, but it's not a necessity.
  • If you have a catalog, make it simple for customers to order by catalog number on your Web site.
  • Send customers e-mail when they make a purchase to reassure them the transaction went through. Then send another e-mail when the product ships. If the item is on order, keep the customer updated.
  • Consider your site navigation – is it simple for users to find what they want without searching? Also, Java, JavaScript and Flash navigation systems may look good, but they may also slow down or confuse your customers. Not everyone has the latest browser, operating system or computer.
Just because the technology exists doesn't mean you should use it. Many sites try to incorporate every high-tech feature into their home pages, which only makes the pages look bad and malfunction most of the time. Focus instead on making your e-store more like a real store – filled with product information and simple to navigate.

- by Julia M. Duncan