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13 Bad Habits of eCommerce Stores

by Justin Palmer - November 16th, 2007

E-tailers have a lot to learn from traditional retailers. It seems that well-known eCommerce sites get away with atrocious usability mistakes simply because the internet as a shopping medium is growing so fast. Web managers may think that because sales numbers are up they must be doing everything right. For many online stores, nothing is further from the truth. Below I’ve listed what I consider to be the worst practices of eCommerce sites these days.

  1. Requiring Login to Order: I would agree with Get Elastic’s Linda Bustos that this is one of many e-tailers’ favorite usability mistakes. Requiring registration is very obnoxious, especially when you have yet to establish any relationship with a retailer, and you have not idea if you’ll ever purchase again.
  2. Not Showing Shipping Prices Upfront: I’ve abandoned dozens of online orders because of this. Sure, asking for the customers address may ensure a more accurate shipping cost for you, but its not worth losing a customer over. In my opinion, the best practice is to simply base your shipping costs on the merchandise total. It might not be the most accurate way, but if you average it out, it works great.
  3. Vague, Hard to Find Return Policies: For me, returning products to an online retailer is right up there with getting my teeth drilled. Don’t make the process worse by hiding your return policy deep within your site or requiring your customers to jump through hoops to complete the process. Rarely do e-tailers make their return policy a selling point or competitive advantage. Wherever I can, I like to use the words “No-Hassle Return Policy” to reassure the customer that the process is quick and easy.
  4. Poor SEO: Build it, and they will not come, unless your eCommerce site is on good terms with Google. Retailers tend to forget that search engines are the highways and byways of the internet. An eCommerce site not optimized for search is equivalent to a brick and mortar store conveniently located underground.
  5. Poor Product Descriptions: Your product descriptions are the closest thing you have to an face to face salesperson. Make them work for you. Improving your product descriptions is one of the easiest, yet most neglected ways to improve your online sales. If your product catalog is large enough to justify hiring a copy-writer, than do it. If not, hire someone on the side to write your copy.
  6. Lack of Filtering & Sorting: Imagine yourself walking unto a used car lot. What do you ask the salesperson in order to narrow down your options? You’ll likely say something like “show me all the vehicles this color, with this amount of mileage, or this make and model.” The same principle should be applied to your product department pages. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too many options. Let them filter down by criteria such as colors, sizes, or brand. Also, let them sort the listings by price, newness, popularity, etc.
  7. Hard to Find Checkout Button: Imagine not being able to find the checkout lane at a grocery store. Many online stores assume shoppers know that the shopping cart is the first step of the checkout process. To prevent confusion of your customers, always have a clear “checkout” button visible on every page.
  8. Poor Merchandising: If you owned a brick and mortar store, I’m going to bet you would walk your aisles every day to ensure your products are merchandised properly. Yet I think website owners expect their online stores to run themselves, and rarely take time for this important audit. Once a day, try to shop your store as if you were going to buy something. I’ll bet you’ll find one or two things out of place.
  9. Getting too Personal: Do you really need your customer’s date of birth to complete an order? Even asking for information such as email or telephone number may arouse suspicion in your customers. Ask yourself an important question for each additional form field you add, “Is this worth losing a sale over?”
  10. No Calls to Action: Don’t just assume your visitors will click on your image maps or “Click Here” links. Make your call to action buttons big, bold, and unmistakably clear. Every page of the conversion funnel (landing page to department page to product page to checkout) should clearly define the next step in the process.
  11. No Error Reporting: From a technical point of view, it’s very simple to setup error notifications when certain unexpected events occur on your website. Montastic offers a completely free website monitoring service. In addition, ask your webmaster to setup email alerts for every time a 500 (internal server) error or 404 (page not found) error occurs.
  12. Inaccurate Cross Sells: Embarrassing cross-sells can sometimes lead to more than just more than just missed opportunities. If your system for suggesting add-ons, cross sells, or up-sells doesn’t work, you’re probably better off not using it.
  13. Unreachable Customer Service: Online retailers are typically not famous for their customer service. Phone numbers and emails should be listed prominently on every page. Responses to customer requests should be prompt and courteous. In a previous post, I outlined 25 tips for improving your online customer service.

I’m sure I didn’t mention everything, so be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts or experiences.

Like the tips listed above? Get 3 of your own…

About PWM

Justin Palmer offers expert eCommerce consulting and SEO consulting in Orange County, California. Justin also has written an e-Commere e-book entitled The e-Commerce Roadmap.

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17 Responses to “13 Bad Habits of eCommerce Stores” by Justin Palmer

  1. Linda Bustos Says:

    I agree with all of the above Justin.

    Interestingly, I came across the Kohl’s site yesterday that shows a you your cart total shipping estimate in the top corner of every page like so:

    0 item(s): $0.00
    Estimated shipping: 0.00


  2. palmerwebmarketing Says:

    That’s an excellent idea showing estimated shipping. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

  3. Innovations » 13 mistakes not to make when you set up an e-commerce site Says:

    [...] policies, unreachable customer service or hard-to-find check out buttons, among others. Read more from Palmer Web Marketing. [...]

  4. Nicole Simon Says:


    Especially with the current dollar exchange rate, we Europeans like to shop abroad – and shipping as in do you ship at all to us – is one of the first lookups, and it seldomly there which is bad.

  5. palmerwebmarketing Says:

    Good point Nicole. Actually, I think there are probably 13 more mistakes just on the topic of making eCommerce site’s internationally usable.

    Justin Palmer

  6. eCopt Says:


    Great list, got one more for you…

    I absolutely hate it when customer emails or phone calls are not followed up on by the merchant for days, bad practice. Store owners should make an effort to get back to customers who email or call ASAP. Instead of 48 hours, it should be more like 2 to 4 hours, ideally.

    Merchants who do not follow this rule will find they are probably missing out on great new sale opportunities and certainly aren’t helping their word of mouth business.

    Another good tip to remember is, knowing when to NOT service a customer or knowing when to send them somewhere else. Even if you don’t get the business, they will remember you for helping them and will most certainly tell others, and will hopefully attempt to buy again themselves in the future.

    Oh, one other thing. Nice job on the ODD number list, they work a lot better than top 12, top 10 and other EVEN number lists, from what I can see.

  7. palmerwebmarketing Says:

    Agreed. I think eCommerce stores would create a great competitive advantage by promoting a 2 to 4 hour response time.

    I know from previous work in customer service that customers are blown away by a fast email response. They just don’t expect it, which is kinda sad…

  8. Joe Says:

    I agree with eCopt about the need for fast responses to customer questions. It’s crazy to expect people to wait a few days to hear back from you in a medium where they make their decisions in minutes. It’s hard to get this message into the head of salespeople who haven’t adjusted to the compressed timeframe of the internet world though. Companies which are internet-only should really know better; it’s surprising so many don’t.

  9. Ponder Marketing » Blog Archive » 13 Bad Habits of eCommerce Stores Says:

    [...] a great post for anyone who runs an ecommerce site: 13 Bad Habits of eCommerce Stores. This covers many of the big no-no’s of trying to do business online. Some of those listed [...]

  10. Tim McGuiness Says:

    eCopt hits on an important point – merchants spend so much money and resources to convert a customer and then when disappoint, they throw it all down the drain.

    As I learned from eCopt’s site, 65% of all of Zappos sales are to repeat customers. For them, customer service is a MAJOR part of marketing.

    I am working on a test with a customer who does about $2 million/month in sales without a phone number. They are very lean and don’t think it’s worth staffing to have someone to answer the phone.

    We are going to look at conversion rates, how many calls are actually made and how much it costs to staff. The ROI will clearly have to be there for the number to stay.

    I have no idea how it will turn out – I’m past making predictions – that’s why it’s fun to actually measure.

  11. eCopt Says:

    @ Joe – Good point, I have wondered the same thing many times. It’s always one of the first things I touch on when beginning a new consulting gig.

    @ Tim McGuiness – Thanks for the kinds words and mention Tim. We are noticing that customers tend to expect more (good response time, fast shipping, notifications, etc.) The world of Online selling is so competitive in some markets that we have all really raised the bar as far as customer expectations. Many don’t realize exactly what you said, CS is a major part of marketing too!

    Your test sounds interesting. First, be sure to let me know how things work out, maybe I can even work in a case study post on the blog. How are you planning to track the different channels (email/phone)? One suggestion i might give is to use a different 800 number for the site, emails, print and any other markets where a phone number can be displayed (even local search listings like Yahoo or Google local can be used). Not only do you need separate numbers that all bring the leads to company staff members, but you can also utilize some of the great call tracking technology that is available to find out how many leads each number receives and how many of them turn into sales. You may already be doing something similar, just wanted to put the thought out there just in case and for other readers.

    Some good ones I have heard of others using for tracking include…

    FootPrints (, Online SupportCenter (, BridgeTrak (, CapturetheCall ( and CallSource (

    There are others, so be sure and research them all to find out the best one for your specific needs.

  12. Tim McGuiness Says:

    eCopt – great suggestion on the separate 800 number. I hadn’t thought of that.

    I doubt we can do a case study or even talk much about it. These guys are paranoid about letting anyone know what they are doing.

  13. Joy Says:

    This is interesting..^^

  14. haruhi Says:

    i agree everything on the list…this should be like a guideline on the not-to-do’s

  15. Tom Lindstrom Says:

    Great points! I agree that estimated arrival, how long it takes to ship the item purchased, should be told to the customer.I live in Finland, so our currency (euro) is very strong at the moment, it is cheap to buy from The U.S now.

  16. I need a really poor website - DesignersTalk Says:

    [...] sure about a live online example of one but maybe you can use this info: 13 E-Commerce Website Mistakes – 13 Bad Habits of eCommerce Stores __________________ Justin Parks – SEO, Marketing and your Business [...]

  17. Ryan Says:

    9) (geting a DOB)??? what?? Isn’t this to stop people buying age restricted products such as 18+ films and games…

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