5 e-commerce landmines you need to avoid

It's easy to create a bad online shopping experience. Sometimes knowing what not to do is half the battle.

by Gwen Moran
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

Today's online shoppers are a demanding bunch. They want engaging, seamless shopping experiences that are convenient and quick. They expect shipping prices to be low and to not slow them down by making them create an account, which are the two top reasons people abandon their carts, according to research by web-usability organization Bayard Institute.


But creating a successful e-commerce business requires a greater universe of considerations than convenience. Shoppers need to find your site, then be engaged enough to complete a transaction. And that process is full of potential landmines.

"This is not an era of where you're the only perfume shop in town," says Lewis Goldstein, founder of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Blue Wind Marketing, an advertising, and marketing agency that works with e-commerce businesses. "People have access to more perfume options than ever before. How are you going to stand out? And you have to think about all the different ways. And one of them can be, we're going to make the customer experience frictionless, personalized, and elegant," he says.

When you're planning, building, and promoting your site, here are five pitfalls to avoid.

1. Ignoring SEO

Content and marketing specialist Emily Gertenbach, principal of Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based E.G. Content, emphasizes the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) to help people find your site. One mistake e-commerce businesses often make is copying and pasting the manufacturer's specifications on the product pages.

"This two-pronged issue adds no value to your content," she says. "If it looks the same as 60 other sites, search engine results won't consider it a page with unique and distinct information—and that's a lost opportunity to use your product page content as a virtual salesperson."

Instead, take a little extra time to write unique product descriptions that reflect your brand's personality and voice. That original content could help you rise in search engine rankings.

2. Focusing on categories rather than filters

Another area in which Gertenbach sees e-commerce entrepreneurs erring is developing a reliance on categories over filters.

"This is common with brand-new e-commerce sites and, over time, results in a confusing web of categories with limited items in each one," she says. Take, for instance, a site that sells pants. They may initially create categories for corduroy pants, jeans, khaki pants, etc. But, eventually, they may have many categories with just a few offerings each.

Instead, Gertenbach advises using filters — options on a drop-down menu that can help customers narrow their options within broader categories. For instance, if the category is "casual pants," you can filter by size, color, or other options that will narrow the search. This allows you to scale the options offered to customers without creating an overwhelming number of hyper-specific categories that become impossible to navigate, hurting sales.

3. Too-complicated checkout

Bayard Institute's research finds that roughly 1 in 4 carts is abandoned because the checkout process is too complicated. Complicated checkout is one of the most common mistakes Goldstein sees. He points to Amazon's one-click as the gold standard.

"It's important to make the process of buying something frictionless, so it's easy to do," he says.

Whether your checkout process is built into the platform you're using, or you choose an option to integrate into your site, be sure to test-drive it to be sure it's easy to use and intuitive. In most cases, the platform should allow you to check out without creating an account.

4. Failing to retarget

Another common mistake Goldstein sees is failing to retarget people who abandoned their carts.

"Just because they didn't check out at that moment doesn't mean they aren't interested," he says. "It's possible something came up, and they didn't get a chance to buy what they were looking at."

Use anonymous retargeting cookies on your e-commerce site that integrate with ad servers. "Then, you can create retargeting ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube as you see fit," he says. Some digital marketing platforms, like MailChimp, also have retargeting tools built-in.

5. Operating without testing

One of the great strengths of online marketing is the ability to test virtually every aspect of the site. From copy to images to layout, the analytics built into various platforms or options like Google Analytics make it easy to see what customers like and what they don't. Testing various combinations of copy, images, and messaging can help you optimize your results, Goldstein says.

"It's critical to test to see how people respond to different price points, headlines, copy, colors, and hooks," he adds. "It's impossible to know out of the gate what is going to respond the best. That's why testing different variables can lead to improvements that will compound over time."

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Gwen Moran

About the Author

Gwen Moran

Gwen Moran is an independent writer and editor specializing in business, money and career subjects. She lives and works … Read more

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