15 Big E-commerce Problems and Fixes

Setting up an online store is expensive. As a result, you have an extra incentive to make it a success. And that means converting visitors into customers. But it isn’t always clear how to do that.

Remember that customers aren’t just looking for the right products at the right price. They are looking for a complete shopping experience. That starts with selecting the right product, and it goes all the way past the purchase to dealing with your store after the product arrives — in the case that something goes wrong.

Below we’ve collected 15 common problems that e-commerce websites suffer from that get in the way of customer satisfaction. More important, we explain how to fix these problems.

If you have an e-commerce website or are just thinking about starting one, you should pay close attention to this list. It could well be the difference between your success and failure.

1. Poor Images

Often, customers that buy online have never seen the product. They want to examine things from every angle on their screen. If your images don’t show the product — and make it look compelling — you could have trouble convincing them to spend.

The problem doesn’t stop at product photos, either. Many e-commerce sites are stuffed with stock images on static pages, like the call center woman that Adobe turned into an ironic t-shirt (PDF). Apart from being boring, this kind of imagery makes stores look dated.

Every product you sell should have at least one image. But some products need more. For example, when selling a wall sconce, it’s a good idea to show a few images from different angles, plus a photo of the sconce actually mounted on the wall. That gives the customer a feel for the size of the object they’re buying.

Images done right:

Amazon.com shows the inside of this handbag as well as the outside. It also has a silhouette of someone wearing the bag so that the buyer can judge the size.

Amazon.com Kipling handbag

Photos should also be resizeable so that the visitor can zoom in for a close-up. You need to plan this from the outset, taking high-quality photos and sizing them up. There’s nothing worse than clicking on a link to view a larger version, only for the pop-up to reveal the same image (or — worse — a smaller one.)

Stock images can make any store look dated, giving visitors the impression that your products are unfashionable. Across your site, review the images you’re using and ensure they portray the image that you want your brand to have.

2. Unfriendly Returns

Shopping online is risky for consumers. They don’t want to be stuck with items that don’t fit or are damaged on arrival. In some countries, the law gives consumers the right to return anything bought online within a set period. Beyond that, you’re free to make up your own rules. But if you’re too strict, it could put people off ever buying from you in the first place.

Laws around returns policies vary from country to country. But forget compliance for a moment. Companies like Amazon succeed by figuring out what customers really want, not doing the bare minimum.

Returns done right:

Find the balance between offering a generous returns policy and managing the cost of those returns. Aim for convenience and low cost. People won’t shop with you if your policy is designed to deter them from returning things, so avoid tight time limits and restock fees.

LL Bean Satisfaction Guarantee

Free returns are generally appealing, too, since expensive return postage will force your customers to shop with a competitor next time.

3. Slow Speed

It’s rare that shoppers head directly to a product page, and check out there and then. Most will search, browse, filter, and explore different products. A slow site leads to a frustrating user experience, and people may back out and look for the same products somewhere else.

Aim for each page load to take less than 2 seconds, including images and live chat scripts.

Detect and fix:

It’s easy to check your site speed using a service like Google PageSpeed Insights. Here are the results for Gap:

Pagespeed Insights for GAP.com

If your site appears to be slow, Pagespeed Insights offers some recommendations. Using a CDN, or switching to a faster web hosting company, could give your site a boost.

And if you struggle to improve speed, you can analyze your site with YSlow to figure out where the bottlenecks are.

4. Suspicious Reviews

Manufacturers know that good reviews will increase their chances of a sale. Customers know that reviews will reveal problems with the item they want to buy. But when you have 100% positive reviews for an item, customers are turned off. Why?

Whether they realize it or not, new customers will be put off by a raft of positive reviews. They’re looking for a natural, balanced spread of opinions. Anything else looks fake.

Some businesses exist solely to distribute free items to reviewers, therefore increasing the number of positive reviews for those items. Customers know this, so any product that receives 100% good reviews is going to look suspicious.

Reviews done right:

The fix is easy. Encourage your customers to leave reviews if they don’t like the product. Let the reader decide for themselves. Amazon is probably the best example of a company where anything goes:

Amazon reviews example

And never be tempted to write fake reviews yourself. In addition to it being counterproductive, manipulating reviews is against Federal Trade Commission rules.

5. Unwieldy Navigation

Whether you offer goods through a website or an app, you must consider users that are visiting your website for the first time. If they’re used to online shopping, there are certain conventions they’ll expect to see, such as the placement of navigation links, and the position of the cart icon.

Going against the grain can lead to interesting experiments in controlled tests. But when it’s done on a whim, it confuses people. A website that is unpredictable and hard to use will curtail sales and conversions.

H&M, the clothes retailer, puzzled many shoppers when it relaunched its site without a search bar. It’s a mistake it’s since rectified.

Navigation done right

It’s not too late for you to rectify the navigations on your site, and it will have an instant effect. Provide clear ways for customers to search and refine results, including filters on size, color, and brand.

Multi-tiered navigation will ensure customers can get to a sub-category quickly, and breadcrumbs help to orientate the shopper:

ASOS navigation

The breadcrumbs are key in encouraging the visitor to explore the category and find something else that they want to buy.

6. Poor Content and Product Descriptions

Google’s Panda update in 2013 caused issues for many e-commerce stores. Product descriptions came into sharp focus since many stores were using thin or generic text. If you’re still using those old descriptions, you’re probably frustrating your customers, as well as limiting your organic traffic.

Spelling mistakes and typos are sure signs of a rushed or neglected website. On an e-commerce store, the content represents your brand. You need to build trust. If your content is careless, how does the customer know that your service won’t be careless when you ship their goods?

Content done right:

Like all content, product descriptions should be primarily aimed at human readers, not crawler scripts. You must provide meaningful descriptions and accurate product details.

Remember, too, that there’s more to a description than a string of keywords. Include:

  • Measurements
  • Colors
  • Weights
  • Model or part numbers.

Here’s an example from Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart specifications example

Hire professional writers to create engaging, unique, and interesting content for your visitors. And check that no two products have the same accompanying text.

If you have a blog — and you should — then it needs to follow the same quality standards. Invest in good quality content for every part of your store, and let that content inspire trust in your products.

7. Inaccurate Stock

When customers buy online, they’re looking for predictable time frames. Often, a customer will check stock levels and use the delivery calculator to work out when the item will come. Inaccurate stock levels can destroy trust in your store.

This isn’t just about convenience; it can make all the difference between an item arriving on time for a birthday, or arriving two weeks later.

Stock levels done right:

It’s crucial that stock levels are accurate, and you don’t advertise stock you don’t have. Most e-commerce platforms allow you to set stock levels in the back-end, and will automatically count down when items sell.

Viagogo takes this tactic to extremes:

Viagogo stock level example

Not only does offering real numbers boost trust, it also creates urgency. A finite stock number — and a chance of stock running out — might compel people to make a purchase sooner than they might have done.

8. Questionable Customer Service

If you neglect customer service, or you deliberately hide your email address and phone number, it could be seen as a sign that you’re hiding something bigger. If people don’t see a way to contact you without hassle, they’ll back away from your store. Lack of clear contact data is a classic sign of a company that has something to hide.

Buying online is a matter of trust, particularly for new customers. They want to know that help is available, and they need reassurance that they won’t be abandoned if they have a problem.

Customer service done right:

People need to know that your customer service team is on hand to resolve any issues. So make contact easy. Provide as many options as you can, and make the details clear on every page. (Live chat is great because it removes many of the barriers to fast, efficient problem resolution.)

We like SiteGround’s approach:

Siteground support example

In some countries, it’s illegal to run a website without contact details, so that’s an extra incentive to ensure that all of your vitals are visible.

9. Email Marketing Faux Pas

Email marketing is a sensitive topic for many e-commerce stores and shoppers. You should never trick people into subscribing. Equally important, you should never sign people up without asking. If you have an opt-out rate above 2%, it’s a sign that you’re doing something wrong.

Maybe you’re signing people up when they don’t want to be signed up, or you’re sending them messages they don’t want to receive.

Email marketing done right:

Loyal customers will voluntarily sign up to email marketing lists. You can tip the balance in your favor by offering an incentive for signing up.

Once you have people on your list, resist the temptation to hammer out marketing emails every day. Your hardcore fans will appreciate the updates, but for most, too many emails are a turn-off.

Finally, make sure you have a clear opt-out link, in accordance with the CAN-SPAM Act:

Duolingo email marketing example

Customers really hate it when unsubscribe information is obscured or missing. And if you don’t include a link, you could be fined $40,654 for every email that you send.

10. Lost Confidence

We’ve all shopped online and become distracted halfway through the process. Your customer may find a cheaper supplier as they shop. Worse, they may abandon their cart if they decide that your site looks shady.

Assuming you’re making changes to increase trust in your site already, the next step is to capture carts so they aren’t lost forever.

Cart capture done right:

Implement a login system, and ensure cart contents are retained for as long as possible. Customers are usually relieved to return to a website and find that their progress has been saved:

Microsoft cart example

As well as retaining carts across different sessions, user accounts allow you to retain carts across different devices. So your visitor can start an order on their mobile device, and complete the purchase on their laptop (or vice versa). This is a great way to ensure that a customer can shop on one device, but pay on another.

11. Huge Forms

Your potential customer has a cart full of goods. They check out. Out of nowhere, they’re hit with a gigantic form. Nobody likes filling out forms, particularly on the internet, and this is where you might lose your customer forever.

Formisimo looked at 1.5 million form visits and found that only around 49% of visitors actually started to fill them out.

Forms done right:

If you must have a long form, present it one section at a time. It will look less intimidating for your visitor.

Presenting forms in small chunks also makes data validation less confusing:

Nordstrom checkout example

Alternatively, present the easiest part of the form first, as Schuh does:

Schuh Checkout example

To make your form a pleasure, rather than a chore, take a look at more tips for making better forms.

12. Payment Problems

Payment issues will frustrate your customers. Security, convenience, and speed are key. If you’ve spent time building trust through the shopping experience, you need to make payment as easy as possible to avoid losing that trust. You could be losing orders because your payment processes are slow or confusing.

There’s a good reason Amazon doesn’t use 3D Secure: it hits conversions hard. Think about ways to remove barriers.

Payments done right:

Your customers expect you to have an SSL certificate so that their payment data is secure. Additionally, they’ll want to see payment methods that are convenient for them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re convenient for you, and some of them — like PayPal — may charge a commission:

Ocado payment methods example

But if you want your customers to complete purchases easily and quickly, you may have to grit your teeth and take the hit just to get the customer over the finish line.

13. Rip-Off Shipping

Free shipping is a loss leader, but many businesses couldn’t survive without offering it. Rightly or wrongly, customers sometimes see delivery costs as a hidden extra. When you set up your store, you’ll need to decide whether you want to fulfill orders to customers overseas. You’ll also set up shipping bands for different destinations. If the information is unclear, customers will abandon their carts — or they simply won’t shop with you.

Shipping done right:

Always provide free shipping if at all possible.

Sure, you might need to set a minimum order threshold, but that could be enough to convince customers to buy more than they were planning to. Kissmetrics has some good tips on making free shipping profitable, and Pyrex has done exactly that:

Pyrex free shipping minimum order example

If you decide to offer international shipping, make is obvious: state prices upfront, and keep it simple. Some stores go one step further and use conversion to display a price estimate in the visitor’s local currency.

14. Sloppy Fulfillment

Your customer has waited weeks for their item, only for the wrong product to be delivered. Or maybe they received 10 items instead of 12. Mistakes, wrong sizes, delays, and damaged goods all create problems in the fulfillment process. Not only is this costly to rectify, but it can dent confidence in your brand, making repeat purchases less likely. There’s little point investing in marketing if you get this fundamental process wrong.

Fulfillment done right:

Depending on the size of your store, you might need to re-think your process in order to improve efficiency. If you fulfill orders yourself, maybe it’s time to upgrade to a warehouse.

Ravenshoe Group Warehouse
Ravenshoe Group Warehouse by Ravenshoe/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If your warehouse isn’t working, maybe it’s time to bring fulfillment back in-house and increase internal staff instead.

15. Missed Delivery

Your customer waited around all day for their package, but it didn’t show up. Maybe it was delivered to the wrong place, or flung onto their roof. Now you have an angry customer, a broken item, and a refund to deal with.

Often, the delivery driver is the only person representing your brand. It’s crucial that you offer a quality of service that rounds off the experience. So use a reliable courier, even if it costs a little more than the cheapest courier on the market.

Shipping done right:

At a minimum, customers like the peace of mind of tracked delivery, with a reference number. But consider using a courier that offers two-hour delivery windows and GPS tracking for complete peace of mind.

Here’s an example from UK courier DPD:

DPD tracking email

Summary: E-commerce Best Practices

This list is not exhaustive. After solving all these problems, you may well find that your online shop is still not converting browsers to customers. But before you move on to more complex things like conversion rate optimization and A/B testing, you should make sure all 15 of the problems listed here are fixed.

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