4 Simple eCommerce Mistakes Cost Us $200,000: Don't Let Them Happen to You

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Why a $350 site beat our beautiful $200,000 online store, and the lessons we learned from our missteps. Don't make the same mistakes!

A crack team of web analytics gurus build an innovative eCommerce website valued at $200K to sell salon furnishings. Instant success story, right?

Not so much.

Here's an unpopular opinion with potential to increase your sales: Silence your designer.

This advice goes against every piece of content dedicated to eCommerce companies both startup and established, but it's what increased the conversion rate of our in-house eCommerce site by over 900 percent. By focusing on what we were already doing--and unfocusing on the market and competitors-- we debunked the myths often believed about optimizing your website for conversions.

Remember that $200,000 masterpiece of a website? It turned out to be a dud.

We spent our energy choosing wallpaper colors in custom-built salon renderings so that we could impress site visitors. We should have used those precious hours diving into who our customer is and what makes them complete a sale. We didn’t understand why our site wasn’t making more money, but we didn’t default to hurriedly increasing traffic.

Related Article: Small but Mighty: Optimizing a Small Business E-commerce Website

Instead, our team did something a bit counterintuitive: we picked up the phone. Speaking with website visitors who began the process but didn’t make a purchase gave us more insight than raw data without the surrounding context. Some of our customers didn't know where to start. Others assumed that our product--identically priced as our competitors--was out of their price range due to the posh website.

The custom wallpaper had to go.

The old Standish Salon Goods homepage

This is what $200K of overthinking looks like.

Conversion Myth #1: Brand Over Everything

After presenting Standish to a random selection of people and asking them to properly navigate it, we realized we had just tried too hard, too soon. Over-innovation caused our website to under-perform, and we had to take an ego hit to stay alive. Scrolling through ready-made templates led us to an aesthetically lacking $350 design that repulsed our designers. Sales increased by 350 percent overnight.

Our website makeunder taught us to never again fall for this conversion myth: Brand before everything. A useful or unique product and the price of that product are more important to the consumer. Having a brand that adds meaning or enjoyment behind the product and price only matters after the customer knows what they want.

This is a hard pill to swallow after spending coffee fueled nights starting and scrapping logos, meticulously selecting a color scheme and researching linguistic texts for name inspiration, but it isn’t all heartbreak. Once you let consumer data steer the ship, you’re free to switch things up for sake of sales patterns instead of being unconditionally devoted to branding.

Conversion Myth #2: Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes.

Many brands and agencies identify their average customer, and then think about ways to attract and convert that customer. There are two major flaws with this method:

1. You Do Not Have One Average Customer.

Working with a client in real estate marketing, the client assumed that their average customer was a mid-40s married couple with two kids. After a deeper dive we realized they actually had four typical client personas: young Millennial couples either purchasing their first home or getting ready to nest, a successful Gen-X couple with an established family looking to expand, and a retired couple in their late 60s looking to build their dream home.  

Similarly, the idea of one “typical” Standish client had to be discarded, because we really had two. The first was the salon owner on a tight budget looking to replace an existing chair. The second was an owner preparing to open a new salon, and was seeking at least five fully furnished stations. Most often, we were dealing with these two completely different customers with contrasting budgets.

Had we kept selling to the middle, we would’ve missed all the fun happening at the edges.    

Related Article: Sell With a Click: Easy Tips for Building Your First Ecommerce Website

2. You Are Not Your Customer and Cannot “Stand in Their shoes.” They Will Never Fit.

Do yourself a favor and eliminate the phrase “if I” from your web strategy. You don’t need it. There’s never a reason to say “If I were shopping on this website then…” because you’re not the client. Your web visitors have already told you everything you need to know, but it’s up to you to listen. Having data and refusing to react to it is like having a one-way conversation with your customer. If you continue to talk and never stop to listen, they’ll eventually become frustrated and walk away.

Conversion Myth #3: Traffic Is the Cure

Sometimes, low traffic is the problem. A lot of the time, it’s not. 

The current Standish Salon Goods homepageIt's not as pretty as the old design, but it converts substantially better.

Most websites convert between one and two percent of visitors, regardless of how much traffic, buzz, SEO or social media referrals they receive.

When you’re already dealing with a low conversion rate, the last thing you should do is spend money to send people to a website that isn’t working properly.

Focus on issues that the 98 percent of visitors who didn’t purchase are telling you currently exist.

Treat your eCommerce site like a 6th-grade science experiment: Identify an issue. Make an educated guess on the resolution through research. Experiment with variables and let data tell you what succeeds. 

Content isn’t king, A/B testing is. Running A/B tests will show you that making the About section of your website more relatable will tick conversion points upward and that a banner advertising free shipping will make sales skyrocket by 25 percent. When the team has an idea about how to improve things, put their contributions head-to-head in an A/B testing smackdown. Even if one or both suggestions yield unfavorable results, everyone learns what to avoid and the website becomes stronger.

Conversion Myth #4: Compete to Perfection.

If at all possible, fail early.

Put your ideas into action and get inevitable mistakes out of the way as soon as possible. The faster you fail, the more time you have to improve and focus on the aforementioned strengthening methods. As industry standards change, we’ve been able to reintroduce a bit of the sophisticated design that we once loved so much.

Related Article: The Essential Checklist: Must Do's When Starting an E-commerce Website

Your idea being wrong yesterday doesn’t guarantee its failure today, so never shy away from retesting.  Notice that none of these tips included staying glued to what’s “best in class” or winning industry awards. Break away from trend and find inspiration beyond your competitor pool, focusing on building a website that stands the test of time.

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