biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: 5 Reasons You Just Lost a Sale on Your Website

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Jennifer Dunn, owner of Social Street Media and freelance business and finance writer for sites like WePay. Jennifer has previously contributed to the Biz Ladies series on how to accept credit card payments through your site, and today she offers some insight into the how and why of losing online customers. Thank you, Jennifer, for another wonderful post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

This post is brought to you by MailChimp, an app created to help you design, send, and share email newsletters. Discover their tools for bloggers here.

I once tried to buy client holiday presents from a specialty food store online. Once I’d filled my cart with Spanish cookies and specialty olive oil, the “pay now” button simply wouldn’t work. I’d get an error page every time. Unfortunately, it was also charging my credit card every time, and for a few tense hours before I could get customer support on the phone, it appeared I’d ordered all of my clients gallons upon gallons of fancy olive oil.

That store made my Naughty List that year, which is a shame because they have hard-to-find products. Still, I remembered that bad experience and haven’t yet worked up the patience to try them again.

These days, I’ve been on both ends of the online shopping game — as a buyer and as a consultant to online sellers. When consulting, I try to learn from the great Olive Oil Debacle of ’09 and make sure my clients’ sites are running smoothly. Otherwise, they could be like the store mentioned above and lose out on good business forever.

With the shopper in mind, here are 5 reasons you might lose a sale this holiday season, and how to safeguard against them:

1. Navigation Issues

If your customers can’t find your products, they don’t know they want them. If they can’t find the “Buy It Now” button or the shopping cart, they can’t check out and give you money. If they don’t know how to get back from checking out, they can’t buy more.

Ease of use is one of the most important things on the web. People are busy, and they don’t have time to interpret your “creatively designed” website in order to buy something. They’ll simply go somewhere else. Make sure your entire site is easy to figure out and simple to use. Check out best practices for ecommerce site navigation for more info.

If you’re having trouble, have a look at how eCommerce giants like Amazon or Target do it. Their “buy it now” button looks the same on every page, is prominently displayed and usually sits to the right of an image of the product. The link where they can check their online shopping carts is usually in the top right-hand corner of the page. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel — stick to this format, and shoppers will have no problem at all happily adding items to their online shopping carts.

2. Difficult Shopping Cart

Let’s say your customers make it all the way to the checkout area. They’ve got their credit card in their hot little hand, ready to make a purchase. Now all they’ve got to do is type in their info . . . but wait, what’s this? Why are there 15 demographic questions about age, weight and blood type when they’re just buying one thing? Where is the credit card entry box? Why is the total different and there is no explanation of charges anywhere? Again, if anything is unclear, customers will often bail.

Shopping carts should be as simple as possible. People are busy, and if they have to navigate through three or four pages — entering personal info every step of the way — they might become distracted or impatient and bail on you.

See these excellent shopping cart designs for inspiration.

3. Blurry Images

The pictures of your products say more than you think. Sure, you may have amazingly written copy explaining in full detail what the item is, but if people can’t see it, they’ll still be turned off. Humans buy with their eyes first, and visuals are a big component of online selling.

If you must, go through and retake all the photos on your website. Take them outside in the morning or evening when the natural light is best, or purchase a light box and a better camera if you have to. If your product is handmade or unique, take pictures of it from several angles. Use a battery or deck of cards for scale if necessary. Even when you include sizes in your product descriptions, buyers are still sometimes confused or disappointed because the picture didn’t reflect its actual size.

Here is some great advice from photographer and previous Biz Ladies contributor Nicole Hill Gerulat on how to take knockout product photos. The sales uptick you’ll see after retaking blurry photos is definitely worth the extra time.

4. Bad Copy

On the other hand, you can have product photos taken by Margaret Bourke-White, but if your copy is terrible, you’re in trouble! People want to know what they’re getting into, and if the description of your item makes it sound like a bad idea, they won’t be buying. One of the most important things to remember is to make it clear what they’re looking at and what it does. Leave nothing in the dark!

The basics that all product copy should include are: (1) A description of the item, (2) a description of its attributes (its size, color, materials, etc.) and (3) its benefits to your potential buyer. Whether you decide to write a descriptive story about your product a la the J. Peterman catalog or just keep it simple is up to you. But be sure you provide the basics. And proofread for spelling and grammar before your product goes live.

5. No Contact Info

Your customers have questions, but you’ve failed to leave any sort of “About” or “Contact” section. Rather than take the risk of losing money on a bad purchase, they will simply hit the “Back” button as quickly as they can.

You don’t have to write your life story, but a simple “About Us” section gives viewers a little idea of what you’re about. Adding pictures of yourself and your workspace is even better. Like we’ve said all along, humans are visual creatures, and putting a human face on your website lends you instant credibility. Even if they don’t actually use your contact info, it’s comforting to know that you are another human and they can contact you should trouble with their order arise.

Suggested For You


  • All great points. I’m often amazed by how many small online stores have no means of contact other a contact form. If I’m buying online from a business I don’t know I always look for a real physical address and telephone number it really adds credibility.

  • When purchasing from small businesses online, I also like it if they have a “press” type page, with links to bloggers or more traditional media that have reviewed their products. I like it even better if some of those reviews are along the lines of “the first one arrived broken, and when contacted they immediately sent me a new one that is incredible!” Things happen, you know. You get the one with weakened stitching, the UPS truck runs over your package, whatever, and it’s nice to that the company will work with you to fix those problems without requiring you to jump through a billion hoops.

  • I have two to add, as a shopper of small online stores… First, along the lines of not asking a lot of person questions is let me check out as a guest. I really hate having to create a log in/password for a site I might use just once. I have enough log-ins to remember the way it is. I don’t mind entering my shipping/billing info again if I’m a repeat customer.
    Second, put something in your images to show scale. A hand, body, coin, whatever is appropriate. Even if you include the dimensions, a visual read on how big or small something is goes a loooong way.

  • I totally agree with this, nothing worse than spending ages trying to find contact info on a website. And small tiny pictures which are blurred are also very off putting, i’d say the pictures are a really big seller when buying online! J x

  • While these are all good points and absolutely true, statistically I think there are more technical reasons sales don’t go through.

    No SSL: when cart processors don’t have an security certificate (you can tell this both by the https:// in the address as well as the credentials the browser will display, buyers won’t input information. Its imperative you keep your SSL up to date, as letting it lapse will cause browsers to warn your customers and they rarely take it well. Your web host/shopping cart platform is whom you’ll likely purchase this through, and the price for SSLs can range wildly.

    No guest checkout: online behavior studies show that people generally dislike the process of signing up for an account without very good cause. Although people inherently understand they can’t track a purchase without the account, they often still don’t want to sign up for one. Enable guest checkout and sales can be expected to rise as much as 15%.

    High shipping costs: If people are getting to your cart and then google analytics shows they’re dropping out, shipping costs and surcharges are a great place to try an A/B test. In the age of Amazon, its no longer a good idea to pad shipping prices and processing charges without forewarning the customer on the item detail page.

    Overuse of Upsell/Crosssell/Marketing: Upsell (upgrade your purchase) and crosssell (people who bought this item also bought…) and endless amounts of marketing (have you bought a domain at godaddy, you’ll understand) can turn a buyer off. Buyers should have the ability to purchase in a timely fashion: less than 60 seconds from “buy now”. While all of these devices are VERY useful and should be used, be sure not to over utilize them.

    Related: Post Marketing: when you’ve made a sale, automatically enroll (not actually legal) your buyer in your email list, or even if they’ve opted in, and now proceed to email them repeatedly about sales, promotions, etc. Be considerate about how often you blast your customers.

    The EXCELLENT news is that most shopping carts do indeed have some way to capture information about who has visited and tried to buy, but didn’t complete their sale. Remarketing to them with a coupon (“We see you tried to buy X, would 15% help? If you’re having trouble completing purchase, here’s our number) is highly effective.

  • Really interesting post, thank you. On point 5, I saw my sales increase substantially after I added an “about page” (on the suggestion of a very web savvy journalist) to What You Sow and a similar thing happened with my interactions when I added my real name before my shop name on twitter.

    People buying from small businesses do like to know they’re dealing with a real person!

  • I agree strongly with Amanda. No security/SSL makes me walk every time, no matter how much I want the item. That little padlock really means something to your customers!

    In the about us section, put in there that you have a real address and phone number as a real person. Nothing kills me more than having to deal with a company anonymous with not even an email to help me find you when there’s a problem OR more often, to tell you that I loved the item!

    If the account registration is easy, I’ll do it. If its more than name/rank/serial number (name/address/phone) I’m not going to do it. Why do you need to know my gender, mother’s maiden name, workplace, etc. when I am only trying to spend $15 bucks on one item?

    Unrealistic shipping rates drive me crazy. I know a small retailer can’t do flat shipping like Amazon or Overstock.com. When I see a rate that’s $9.99 for everything from one sheet of paper to a large piece of art, I know that the shipping is either where you’re making your money or where you’re losing it. I balk at anything that doesn’t seem reasonable.

    That said – put some detail on your shipping info! If you wrap every item like a present, package everything up in bubble wrap, send it USPS with insurance and signature required, TELL ME! I will adjust my expectations of the shipping cost and make the decision. (Also, disabling the option in UPS for me to adjust the shipping using UPS My Choice will make me stop shopping you. Immediately. If you think that every one of your customers can be home to pick up your package, you’re delusional. I still have to sign for it, show my ID, and get it home from my UPS center so it should be fine with you.)

    I think that’s about everything for me! Great article.

  • I live in Australia. How much shipping costs is a key factor in my purchasing decisions (a lot of thinks are unavailable in Australia, so we shop overseas stores often).

    I hate the “just go through the checkout and your shipping cost will be calculated there” instruction on many websites (and via email, when I enquire). I guess business owners think once I’ve started the checkout process, I’ll continue regardless of shipping? But actually, I just close & look for a competitor’s site that lists shipping somewhere easy to find.

  • One of my biggest online shopping issues is with buying jewelry in particular. So very often the photos will be beautiful but they won’t actually show the item on a model. When I’m buying earrings or a pendant I want to see it on someone’s ears or neck so I can determine scale. I won’t buy it if there’s no photo of it on a model. Same with sunglasses.

  • I bail if I don’t know the shipping charges. Many times you have to pretend to buy something to get to the screen that tells you how much shipping is. Why that isn’t always in the FAQs is beyond me.

  • As another Australian I too hate the’shipping costs shown at checkout.’ Even worse is the ‘us and Canada only.’ There are people outside those countries and they shop. I understand Australia punches well above its demographic weight when it comes to online shopping from overseas.

    Also, with clothing, if you don’t tell me the fabric composition and care instructions, I’m not buying. Hate polyester and dry clean only surprises.

  • So some ecommerce systems will not even let customers from an area that they don’t ship to ATTEMPT to buy product from their site. If you run an ecomm site, its important to enable this based on IP, not forcing customers to be logged in.

  • Great article! Will keep this in mind for my store that’s launching this summer!

    Aside from being a shop owner, I am also an avid online shopper as well and I agree with some of the lovely ladies here that the ability to purchase as a guest is important! Only when i have the time then I’ll consider signing up, because being able to see my order history/shipment tracking is super important to me.

  • Some interesting points but, obviously, it’s much more complicated than this. Your website should be a “Respondsive Design” for a start, a fancy term for being adaptable to iPhones, tablets, and the myriad of other gadgets available. If it isn’t you’ll lose far more sales this way than with a bit of bad content. This can be easily solved, of course, by getting one of your IT dudes/dudette’s to set it all up, or switch web servers to somewhere which allows your site to bend to each technological whim.

    There’s another big turn off I’ve found – popup adverts. These things are infuriating and often see me leave a site without even bothering to look at it. Don’t use them, no matter how tempted you are.

  • Really excellent info! These were the exact things I kept in mind when setting up my e-commerce site and so glad to see it validated here. As a frequent shopper (and seller) these are all perfect tips. Also making yourself available and quick responses to inquiries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to throw hundreds of dollars at a seller or company, but since they never bothered to respond to a simple question such as a combined shipping quote after multiple attempts, I give up. Thanks for this :)

  • As an online shop owner, I know most of the things in this post, but learned a lot from the comments! Keeping shipping costs reasonable has always been really important to me (to the point that we somewhat subsidize shipping fees) but I hadn’t realized the importance of posting them on the site so customers can see what the charges will be ahead of time–thank you! Amanda offered a lot of useful points as well. The DesignSponge readers are always a savvy bunch!

  • I appreciate the comments about being easy to contact. Like so many other small business owners, it’s just me managing my website, product descriptions, photos and inventory. I can’t do what huge companies can in volume, but I can give much better customer service. I’ve tried to be as available and responsive to customers as possible, by making my email address readily available and adding to my “about” and “shipping” pages. I love shopping from small businesses and always think about what I like best when tweaking my site.

    My one frustration is that I’m not well versed in web design, so even if I want to make changes, I can’t always and shopify, my site host, is wonderful in many ways, but they aren’t responsive! My site, for example doesn’t let people add discount codes until after they’ve entered their credit card info, which I didn’t realize for a while and now I have to work to change.

    I empathize with the Australian shopper! I’ve sent a few things to Europe, Australia and New Zeland. I really want to do it to keep my far-away customers happy, but one package was nearly lost and it’s so expensive now, it’s hard to make it worth while.

  • Jennifer – I strongly agree with #5 on your list. I personally would never purchase something on a site with no contact or about us details. It creates a trust issue. I use the WOT (Web of Trust) app when I am browsing in Firefox. It shows a rating of user’s user experience and trust level of a site (similar to traffic light – green is good and red is poor). What I have seen is that sites which do not have any real detail on their about us or contact pages very frequently have poor ratings on WOT.

  • Currently all of my sales are processed through the Etsy website. I remember the days when Etsy only accepted Paypal instead of direct checkout. I feel that direct checkout has certainly increased the sales on my site. Thank you for the great advice about stream lining the sale, so that I when I do create my own online shop…I can make sure it is programmed in the best way!

  • I’ve lurked the site from time to time,
    but this is my first comment and I’m looking up all the old articles.
    Thanks so much for the wonderful info. I’m currently making a list of things I need to change to my storenvy shop and my new business in general.

  • So glad I found this– but sad that Etsy doesn’t have a guest checkout feature. I’m getting traffic from another country (lots) right now, and I’m pretty sure I’m missing out on favorites and purchases because the viewers are likely not Etsy members. I don’t like the thought of people not being able to give me their money. I really feel for them and want to help.

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.