17 Features for E-Commerce Success

Ian Lurie

If you read my previous post, you know I’m pretty angry right now. I don’t like seeing good people get lousy service, especially when it hurts the future of their business. So I’ve channeled that anger into a list of things that any competent internet marketing type should include in an online store.
If you’re entrusting your online business to a designer or developer, then ask them to write this list down. If they miss any items, you hire them at your own risk.
A good online store must:

  1. Not require that customers log in to check out. Explain to me why it makes sense to make a customer log in in order to buy your sewing products online, and I’ll apologize and open a bike shop. Otherwise, stop trying to justify flipping the bird at every customer who tries to buy from you.
  2. Allow me to add copy to category pages. As the store owner, I need to be able to write 2-3 lines of quality copy at the top and bottom of those pages full of product thumbnails. Otherwise, it’s like having sales staff and putting duct tape over their mouths.
  3. Let me edit product descriptions. Easily. Without knowing HTML. It’s a paragraph of text, for god’s sake.
  4. Let me edit product names as they appear on product pages.
  5. Let me edit product names as they appear in the title tag on each page. I’ve cracked molars grinding my teeth over this one. It’s not like this is news any more. The title tag is critical to SEO. If you can’t edit the title tag for every page on the site, you’re out of luck. And you have to be able to edit it without screwing up way the products are named on category and product pages. “Silver Spoon” may be what I need on the product page, while I need “Silver Spoon Flatware by Smith & Co” in the title tag. Get it?
  6. Automatically use the first 150 or so characters of the product description in the description META tag. Don’t argue. It takes 10 minutes and one line of code to do this. Do it.
  7. Let me edit category names as they appear in the navigation, only.
  8. Let me edit category names as they appear on the category pages, only.
  9. Let me edit category names as they appear in title tags, only. I need to be able to edit each one separately! If a developer argues with you, say this: “I don’t ask you why you need 10 gallons of Mt. Dew, or why you never return my calls. So shut up and write the damned code.”
  10. Include space for copy on the front page. Search engines generate 75% of online sales. Search engines read copy (the kind of copy I can cut-and-paste, not an image with type in it), not images. So you must have copy on your home page.
  11. Let me edit that home page copy, without knowing HTML.
  12. Not add session IDs throughout the site. If your cart is adding something like “?sid=2134aldfkasdf2309481234” to every link, kick your developer in the tuchus. You only need a session ID once the checkout process starts, and even then there are other, better options.
  13. Include a short and a long description for every product. Chances are, you’ll want to use the short description in places like category pages, and the long description on the product page itself.
  14. Include a ‘zoom’ image for every product. It can be as simple as a popup window with the larger image in it.
  15. Be set up with basic analytics, so I can track site traffic. I don’t mean some weird custom solution – I mean a known package like Google Analytics or Yahoo!’s new toolset.
  16. Use the e-commerce tracking features of that analytics package.
  17. Adapt. The site your developer builds must be something to which you can later add features, either by hiring that developer back or hiring another. If the site code reads like the ravings of a heroin-crazed oracle somewhere in the Khyber Pass, you’re in for trouble.
  18. Bonus: Let me generate a Yahoo! and Google products feed.

When they read this list, the first thing your developer will say is “That’s not in the budget!”.
They’re partly right. Your budget doesn’t include adding these basic, basic features after the site launches. It does include the 20 minutes it takes to make sure they’re there in the first place.
Just to prove that I’m not a rabid hater of developers: Don’t confuse required features with stupid ones. Read 15 Features Your Site Doesn’t Need to make sure you don’t kill your own project with silly feature requests.

Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. Very nice list, and any business owners who hire programmers to handle these details should kiss your feet.
    My partner and I built our own ecommerce site, and learned the hard way what works–but now we know, and now we are building ecommerce sites for others.
    What you ask for in your list, should be in their budget, because without these things your site will never be seen, let alone make money!

  2. Excellent advice, as usual. I’m especially intrigued by #2.
    “As the store owner, I need to be able to write 2-3 lines of quality copy at the top and bottom of those pages full of product thumbnails.”
    I understand the need for copy at the top of the page, but I never really considered copy at the bottom. What sort of copy goes at the bottom? Can you link to an example?
    Thanks, Ian!

  3. Damned, I just typed a whole story here and forgot to fill in my name and stuff. Story: lost… Me: frustrated… You might wanna fix this.
    About the article. I like it a lot. Totally agree on all the points, accept point 1. I agree that it is not necessary to let someone login to buy something. But when someone decides to come back later to do another buy, you don’t want him to fill in his personal info again! So I let someone register once, of course only when someone wants to buy something, and offer them the opportunity to stay logged in using a cookie.
    Besides this; very great article with usefull information!

  4. @Thomas Sorry about that. I’ll look into it.
    On the login: I agree. Having an OPTION for folks to create a login is great. Forcing them to create a login is not. At least ask them for the login info at the END of the checkout process, instead of the beginning…

  5. Great list. It’s ridiculous how many businesses are throwing up a shopping cart and still expect people to use it.
    I would add one item to this list.
    18. Integrate with Google Website Optimizer or other testing platform. Because if you’re not testing you’re not trying.

  6. SESSION ID’s! Talk about a pain in the butt when you’re looking at analytics reports.
    I’ve worked with clients that were completely convinced that they just needed images, not copy. Images are what sells. “It’s how we communicate our brand.” They loved images and a clever taglines EVERYWHERE that make the owners feel like Mad Men copywriters, yet make their stores search-engine retarded.

  7. There are always people who think that e commerce is all about building a web system or online store. They will think the more advance the features are the better chances they have. They think everything can be done by programming. I guess this is the group of people your developer is in.
    But in fact e commerce is all about marketing and web system is only a supporting feature. That’s why so many people trying to make money online but only a few who understand the marketing success.

  8. Waaaaah, I wish we could implement this terrific advice at the place where I work. Unfortunately I’m being held captive by “It’s all about the COOOOOL LOOK” gremlins. And they have more power than I do. 🙁

  9. Great list. I’ve had many of the features you mention built for me. The SEO payoff has been fantastic.
    Would explain #12 in more detail? What is the downside of numerous session IDS

  10. @Alan Great question. Session IDs create huge headaches for SEOs, as they create duplicate content. They also make it harder for folks to quickly link back because of the extra goop in the URL. And it’s just ugly – I’m a very obsessive programmer and I hate – HATE to see those long sessionIDs when I know bloody well they don’t have to be there.

  11. Hey Lan!
    I agree with your suggestions…I need some advice..I am above 18 years of age but I don’t have a credit card.I want to shop using paypal so i went to my bank and they said i will not get my card until I present a salary statement of 2 months (which I didn’t had at that time. So I decided to create an account on paypal without verifying my credit card.Is it safe for me to purchase any thing from e commerce websites via paypal with an unverified account?

  12. LOL – You may be angry, but I was rolling on the floor laughing when I read this post. I can say that because I have been as angry as you are now over these kind of issues. I especially like number 9. Why is it that they have to question everything that is asked of them. They come acrossed lazy when they do this.

  13. I think you hit the nail on the head when with feature #1 about having to log in to check something out. I do not like websites like this becuase they take you a long time just to look at one thing.
    I really agree with being sure that you trust the developer you hire and feel that you can stick with him for the long run when it comes to your website.
    A lot of times when people switch developers the next developer does not understand some of the code used by the previous one.
    It is definitely important to hire someone you trust.
    Great List!!

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