Essential Features for eCommerce Success

December 15, 2014 — Simon Kelly

Laptop with different online icons

Setting up a shop online has become much easier with simple to set up shopping cart solutions such as Shopify, WooCommerce, and Ecwid – but what does it take to make an online shop truly successful? Let’s walk through the features of profitable online shops that will grow your customers, increase your sales and give your shop the boost it needs to go beyond the competition.

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  • Clear Navigation
  • Visible Contact Details
  • Clear Returns Policy
  • Simple Shipping Methods
  • Product Search
  • Fast Loading
  • Prove that you are Secure
  • Professional Product Descriptions
  • Professional Product Photography
  • Regular and Useful Content Updates
  • Social Share Prompts
  • Discounts and Coupons
  • Bonus

Clear Navigation

Think about the structure of your products from your customer’s perspective and how they will find what they are looking for as quickly as possible. There’s no need to invent the wheel here as the longer it takes the customer to figure out where there need to go, the less likely they will be to purchase your product. take a look at what your competitors are doing and take hints from their simplicity. Include links to your sale items, featured products and clearance items for the bargain hunters.

Allow your customers to view your product catalogue any way they link by including categories and filtering options such as price, size and colour.

Visible Contact Details

Who are you? Are you real? How do I get in touch with you if I have a problem? How do I know you won’t take my money? Customer’s have these questions – build their trust by answering them straight away.

Clear Returns Policy

Keep your returns policy visible and simple. Make sure nothing is left unknown so the only question the customer has is what they want to buy.

Simple Shipping Methods

Complicated or unknown shipping details are one of the leading causes of cart abandonment. Keep it simple and let the customer know up front how much they can expect to pay for shipping and how long it will take to get to them.

Product Search

This is great for two reasons: 1. helping your customers find products that you stock 2. letting you know what your customers are searching for (if you are using the right search tool).

Fast Loading

This is super important – if your site isn’t loading in less than 3 seconds then you risk losing the customer’s attention and they will spend their hard earned dollars on the next level of Candy Crush instead of in your shop. The key to this is high quality, optimised hosting (we recommend WPengine and Siteground) then improve your performance further by setting up caching and serve your static files from a Content Delivery Network.

Prove that you are Secure

Get an SSL certificate and make sure it loads on every page of your site. This encrypts traffic between your customer’s browser and your web server. Google includes this as a ranking factor and SSL certificates are quite inexpensive so they are well worth the investment.

Use security badges to show how you are secured and that you use trusted payment processing methods.

Professional Product Descriptions

Descriptions can be your best selling tool. Treat each product page as if it was your website homepage and think about how you can pique the customer interest in the product with some clever wording. Here’s a great resource for writing product descriptions that sell like hotcakes.

Professional Product Photography

Photos make the internet go around. They are shared, pinned, liked, plus’d, tweeted, commented on, memefyied and everything else that can possibly be don to them online. If there is one thing you can do to boost your conversions and make your shop look professional it’s investing in high quality photography for your product range.

Regular & Useful Content Updates

Have a section on the site for a blog, news, specials, events, etc. area and write content for it regularly. We recommend creating an editorial calendar and sticking to a consistent schedule of articles, at least once per week. By posting regular new content to your site that interests your customers you will see your following grow and this is very likely to result in more website traffic and potential sales. Be sure to share this content on social media and get some feedback from your community.

Discounts and Coupons

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Offering discounts to your customers can be a vital part of your marketing strategy when used effectively. There are so many different ways these can be used and these are some of our favourites:

  • Discount coupon for signing up to the mailing list
  • Keep your existing customers by automatically sending them a discount coupon after they have made a purchase from you
  • Spend over $200 to get free shipping
  • Measuring ROI by using a specific coupon for a specific promotion
  • Instead of announcing a discount, tell your audience to ask you for one. This can improve conversions by providing the social touchpoint between you and the customer.

Here are some more great reads on other ways to use coupons and discounts:

Live Chat

In the absence of a physical store, you don’t have the ability to spot your eager customer from across the sales floor and interact with a simple “how can I help you today?”. This leaves some gaps in your ability to close sales which some online retailers are filling with a small chat box to spark a conversation.

Based on research by Zopim Chat, 83% of consumers need some kind of customer support when making an online purchase and 45% of customers abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. Olark Chat also suggest customers who chat are 3x more likely to buy again and by having a online chat system you can significantly reduce rates of cart abandonment.

Live chat is quite simple and inexpensive to set up and has the benefit of closing the gap between a customer with questions and a customer making a purchase.

If live chat won’t work for you, we recommend at least having a form on your product page for customers to ask a question about the product to send you a direct email.

Further reading:

Email Marketing

Despite the amazing advancements in social media and on-site user interface design for communicating with customers, email is still one of the best tactics eCommerce marketing professionals can use to leverage prospects and past customers to increase eCommerce sales.

Email is outperforming Twitter and Facebook for selling online.

Let’s look at some figures from Campaign Monitor: The number of people on Facebook that actually see your post is about 6%, whereas the average open rate for an email campaign is 20% to 30%, meaning your message is 5x more likely to be seen on email than on Facebook.

Of course, what matter the most is ROI. One way you can check this is by viewing the conversion sources of your online shop via Google Analytics. Keep in mind that you must enable multi-channel attribution to get an accurate picture of the conversion source as it is usually unlikely that someone will click an ad and purchase immediately – there are usually multiple touch points and sessions involved in a buying process.

Here are some essential ways to integrate email into your online shop:

Customer Opt-in

At a first step, your checkout process should provide an opt-in for your customers to be added to your list. This will help grow your list as you grow your sales and helps you keep marketing to your existing customers.

Lead Magnet

Gaining new customers it the the focus of this exercise – you will offer something for free in exchange for an email address. This could be a 10% off coupon, free e-book or something else of value to your potential customer. Once you have their email, send them the freeby immediately and then keep nurturing the lead by sending them regular useful content.

Additional Resources:

Search Engine Optimisation

What are your ideal customers searching for online? Does your shop appear in these results? How much could your site benefit from being number one in these results?

Reviews & Testimonials

Reviews and testimonials can become powerful pieces of social proof that persuade people to buy, in face, 70% of customers consult reviews or ratings before making a final purchase (source: People Claim).



Regular Maintenance

Keep your shop in tip-top condition by performing regular checks to make sure everything is working properly, secure and there aren’t any SEO problems. Here’s a quick maintenance checklist:


  • Backups, stored offsite (we recommend BackupBuddy)
  • Security scans (we recommend Sucuri)



  • Review the purchasing experience, from adding a product to the cart to the checkout. Jot down improvements and give to your web developer and designer to implement.
  • Website speed less than 3 seconds? If not then you are likely to be losing revenue and traffic. Use Pingdom Tools and WebPagetest to get an idea of the loading time and send the reports to your web developer to fix for you.

For more details about website maintenance, see our detailed article on how to maintain your website.

Automatic Customer Emails

The key to freeing up your time to focus on marketing is to put as many systems as possible on auto-pilot and customer emails are one of the best ways you can do this. The emails I’m talking about here are the transactional emails, such as when a customer completes an order or when you mark the order is shipped.

As your customer’s are expecting these emails, they have an incredibly high open rate which represents a perfect opportunity for re-marketing.  Here are some ideas for what you could include:

  • Include a list of similar products the customer might like
  • Send a 10% off coupon for the customer’s next purchase
  • Send a follow-up email 1 month after the purchase to request feedback and a review from the customer

Invest time early to create the email content this will save you lots of time in the long run while it continues to send out your carefully crafted content.

Gift Certificates

Gift cards provide a flexible way for your customers to purchase a gift for someone from your online shop, making it easy for them to share their love for your brand while also maintaining full freedom of choice for the recipient.

This also helps to increase your sales and make your online shop look more professional.

Your gift certificate purchasing page should be very clear and easy to use with all the relevant information displayed to the purchaser so they know exactly what the recipient will receive.

Search and Social Advertising

While this isn’t a feature of ecommerce, this is essential to grow the traffic of your online business. For newly launched shops it can be difficult to gain an initial following in social media and to get organic traffic via search engines. Advertising via these mediums helps you skip the waiting period and gain traffic to boost your sales immediately.

One of the best parts of online advertising is the ability to easily track your ROI. Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising both provide reports to show you exactly the number of people that your ad was shown to and how many clicked. From there, you can use Google Analytics to track their path through your website and attribute these specific visits to their spend in your shop.

Bonus extras:

Social Share Prompts

There are many touch points during the sales process where you can get your customer to share their excitement and feedback about their interactions with you. An ideal place for this would be on the order confirmation page, after they have completed a purchase.

Email productivity app Sanebox uses this approach whenever an action is performed to connect the user’s account to an external service. This gives a great looking congratulations page which helps to gamify the process and prompts the user to share on social media. The message is pre-written so the user doesn’t have to fill anything in at all and can just share this with their network in just 1 click.

Customer Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs have existed long before online shops and for good reason – it’s far easier to keep a customer that already like your products than it is to convince someone new to buy from you. Keep your customers coming back by offering member-only discounts, special offers and make them feel like they are valued, because they are! 2

Affiliate System

An affiliate system rewards affiliates for bringing in new sales. This is a great way to crowdsource your marketing and exponentially grow your reach.


Abandoned Cart Recovery

The typical shopping cart abandonment rate for online retailers varies between 60% and 80%, with an average of 67.91% (Source: Wikipedia). This is a huge percentage of customers that have shown some sort of interest in your shop and your products but have failed to check out.

This is like someone walking up to the counter to buy your product then leaving before they swipe their credit card.

If you were the sales person you would simply ask them about why they have decided not to purchase and would offer them alternatives and help to answer their questions to make the sale. Online we don’t have that luxury, so how do we prevent this from happening?

The key is to knowing the top triggers that cause customers to abandon their carts.

Once you have worked to solve these, your abandon rate will reduce to a point, but it could be reduced significantly further with abandoned cart recovery software. The essential premise is to capture the shopper’s email address early on in the checkout process so that they can be directly emailed if they abandon their cart.

Depending on the ecommerce system that you use depends on how difficult this will be to implement. WooCommerce and Shopify both offer varying degrees of abandoned cart recovery software and Cart Hook works independent of what software you are using.

ABT: Always Be Testing

New software and features can overload your shop so do not just blindly implement something new and shiny because it’s, well, new and shiny. Make sure everything that you add or change on your shop is thoroughly tested and you are able to measure its effectiveness.

The key is to provide your shoppers a fantastic shopping experience and everything you can do make that happen will ensure your shop has the best chance to be successful.

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Simon Kelly

Simon started his first web agency in 2009 which he merged with the SGD team in 2023. With a strong background in digital strategy and a history of working with fast-growing Australian companies, including CyberCX, Envato and Agency Mavericks, he's passionate about using ethical digital marketing that delivers business value. Simon's experience includes coaching digital agencies, running digital marketing workshops, driving growth and excellence within the SGD team.

Read more posts by Simon Kelly

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