Adding un-necessary bells and whistles

Flash intros rock. Add two of them, and make sure you don’t put one of those annoying ‘Skip intro’ links at the bottom. Heck, if you did that nobody would see Uncle Joe’s mediocre flash skills.

Then, when you finally let the three customers who are willing to sit through your crappy intro into your store, make sure you have a flash product menu, a flash header, and random flash buttons all over the page. Page animations and moving text = Quality and usability, and don’t you ever forget it.

Don’t worry- if that doesn’t slow your site down to a crawl you can always add Java. Sure, most professional developers and customers alike refer to Java as ‘That F&%@*$# Java!?’, but your customers are different. Put random Java image switchers on every page. Put that neat-o Java water ripple effect thingy on your homepage, because that wasn’t old and tired in 1993.

And make sure you require Java along with Flash and Windows Media Player and QuickTime and Comet Cursor to use your site properly. Maybe throw in an ActiveX dialer installer just for good measure- Customers love compulsory ad ware laden downloads and plugins while trying to spend their money on your products!

If you didn’t get the sarcasm in the above, then it might just be that your site needs a makeover and quickly.

Flash, Java, and all that other ‘stuff that moves’ has no place on a productive website. Adding a flash intro only adds another layer of ‘junk’ between the customer and the product info page where the action happens.

Flash headers only make low bandwidth connections slower to your site. Java image switchers literally crash half the browsers on the planet, and moving junk all over your site makes it look like some MySpace homepage.

Look at your 10 favorite shopping sites online. Count how many moving, annoying things they have blinking and flashing and scrolling around. Now look at yours. You might want to reassess if that neat Flash header with the annoying SWOOOOSH! noise every time a page is loaded is really worth it.

The whole point of owning an e-commerce site is to get customers to your product pages as quickly as possible – and then have them click that all important “BUY” button. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING that you put in the way of that is only going to hurt your bottom line.

This post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

Horrible or Awesome #8 – Product Descriptions

Completely leave out product descriptions

All your customers need is a blurry, browser resized, stretched picture of your product. They don’t need to know its features, limitations, or comparisons to other products. Hey, if they knew all that they would probably go buy the other guys widget right?

Don’t describe your product at all. Be sure to use your own arbitrary part number scheme too, so customers can’t search by the manufacturer’s part number to find the products they already know they want to buy.

Oh, and use some random other picture for your product with a note at the bottom that says ‘Picture is a demo, actual product may vary’ so the customer never really knows what they are going to get.

Sound familiar?  The amount of shops that have little to no product information is staggering – one my own clients just will not listen to my advice about giving customers as much information as possible.  He prefers the page to look “uncluttered”…d’oh.

Get descriptive with your products

Tell all about your products. Tell what they are made of, how they fit (Loose? Tight?), what colors they come in, who is their intended user group, what they do, how they do it, why the customer wants to buy it.

In a brick-and-mortar store, customers can read the box. They can pick up the item and hold it in their hands, check out all the angles, and try it on. On your website, they can’t. This is why a comprehensive product description is a must.

Not only is a customer going to base their purchasing decision off your description (or lack thereof), search engines are going to index your site and position your listings based on the quality of your content. Now which site do you think is going to get the better listing for a given product- The one that says ‘Boot’ or the one that has two paragraphs about an awesome mid-thigh leather boot with rhinestones, fit and quality of the materials, and care instructions?

If you run any type of website that sells anything, you need to give the potential buyer enough information to get out his credit card.  If you don’t give the info, then you are a fool.  Note that I am not asking you to write “War and Peace” – just give enough info to make the buyer happy!

Most of this post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

Horrible or Awesome #7 – Terms, Privacy, Conditions

Adding Terms of Use, Privacy, Conditions of Sale statements etc is a MUST

Some might say that customers like to know who they are dealing with, but those people are full of it. Customers don’t care about your return policies, what to do if they receive a broken product, or what to do if the size they ordered is wrong.

Likewise, they don’t care what you are going to do with the personally identifiable information you collect. I know for a fact there are people who love SPAM mail- I got an email selling me Viagra today that told me all about it.

Never mind that providing privacy and terms of sale information is a legal requirement almost everywhere – that just goes back to your customers getting a lawyer. Everybody knows that people don’t like to sue lazy, complacent companies for easy money, right?

If you are running any site, you will need to let your customers know exactly who they are dealing and under what terms you operate.

At the very least, each site needs a privacy policy (you might have read about the recent changes required by Google on all sites that have Adsense on them…) and also contact details.

Each country will also have it’s own laws requiring site owners to do certain things…

Its easy to forget to add these items – you spend 3 months tweaking your sites visuals, two months adding products, and you just want to launch that puppy and let it fly. However, these are the documents that people are going to read when deciding if they want to give you their email address or their credit card number.

Statistics show that while more and more people are buying online, an increasing number of them are even more wary about privacy policies, if they can return an item, and what making a purchase consents them to.

Do your customers a favor and put these policies in place, even if it’s only to cover your own butt. That way if there ever is a problem at least you have a published, established policy you can point the customer to and not come off like you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes and take advantage of them.

Most of this post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

Top 100 osCommerce Sites Update

2 more sites added by readers today;

These two are different to normal osCommerce, so of course, they get added – take a look then vote them at the Top 100 list!

I don’t know why but someone also added a few osCommerce sites that are pretty much out of the box – standard osCommerce – I didn’t set them live, sorry – the point of the list is to showcase shops that are exceptional, different, unique. Someone also added a Paypal Shop – d’oh.

The Top 5 as at 10am Easter Sunday;

Can any shop knock TexereSilk off it’s perch?  Assault Shirts has been in the Top 5 since Day 1 of this list…

Does YOUR osCommerce site have what it takes to get on this list?  These are the TOP 1% of all osCommerce sites out there, so your site needs something VERY special!  Submit it at the Top 100 List.

The Checkout Success Page

The very last page in the checkout procedure is “checkout_success.php” – this is a completely useless page which needs attention.

My idea would be to remove the page entirely, and simply redirect the buyer to “account_history_info.php” to show him/her the summary of the order that they just made.  Obviously, you, the shop owner would need to add some verbiage to this page in order to make buyers aware “thank you for your order, here is a summary” type of thing.

Another option would be to use the “checkout_success.php” page as an upsell page – perhaps you could add “gift wrapping” to their order or “batteries” or whatever.  With some coding skills, this could be added to the already existing order without the buyer having to make their way all the way through the chekout again – however, I see no reason why the buyer shouldn’t go through the checkout, after all they are already logged in so it’s only 3 or so clicks (in an optimised checkout tunnel)…

Or, you could have some functionality to create a discount coupon for the buyer for the next time that they shop at your store.  Or you could run a poll on the page, or do any other number of interesting stuff…

So, my challenge to everyone reading this is to have a real good think about the “checkout_success.php” page and see if you cannot come up with something that is a little better than the standard osCommerce version.

How about personalizing the page, by adding the buyers name and postage selection?  How about making the page into a gateway page for other products?  How about having your “special offer” products listed on the page?  There’s lots of things you can do if you THINK ABOUT IT!

Get a FREE Book from osC Books

Here’s another special deal that I’ve been able to come up with.

If you order any book at osC Books, you’ll get another one to equivalent value for FREE.

osc-designing.gifSo, if you were to order “Designing for osCommerce”, you could choose “SEO for osCommerce” or “Faster osCommerce” for free!

All you have to do to be eligible, is purchase an eBook at osC Books and then send an email stating whichever eBook you want for free to email address;  shop AT oscbooks DOT com

Remember – this offer is only good for readers of this blog, and the offer only applies on equivalently or lower priced eBooks – so you can’t buy a $1.99 tutorial and get a $25 eBook for free – sorry!

I particularly recommend “Designing for osCommerce” as this one takes you on a journey of discovery from the first awful gray/blue osCommerce look to a design that is much nicer.  You’ll certainly learn enough to apply the principles of what you learned to any site design…

Horrible or Awesome #6 – SSL

All that junk about customers “Caring about their privacy” and being “Worried about identity theft” is unfounded. Just ask my friend “John” from Indonesia. Hey, by the way, he has $30,000,000.00 he wants to send you- he just needs your credit card number along with your name and billing address.

Never mind that SSL certificates enable the 128bit encrypted tunnel between the customers computer and your payment processor – all that stuff can just be sent plain text across the internet. SSL certificates cost money, and you are on a budget.

Sure, the customer can sue you after your website is responsible for their identity theft, but that’s not very likely to happen. After all, you treat your customers like they are dumb and their personally identifiable information is worthless, so they probably don’t have the smarts to hire a lawyer to sue you into the poor house. After all, $50 is a lot of money for security and peace of mind!

If you didn’t already realise, all of the above is supposed to be tongue in cheek.  Adding SSL (Secure Socket Layer) to your website is just about THE most important thing that you can do.  I recently saw an offer at namecheap.com for SSL for $15 per year.  At those prices, can you afford not to add SSL?

What’s that you say – you don’t know what SSL is?!?  In very basic terms, it’s the little padlock you see when you are on some websites…makes sense now?

Read on, to find out why you MUST add a SSL Certificate to your site…

It does not matter if you plan on using Paypal, Authorize.net, Worldpay, ProtX or some other provider. Your site is going to be collecting personal identifiable information in the form of shipping addresses, phone numbers, and customer names. You need an SSL certificate. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

padlock.gifSSL certificates vary in price from $20-$400 a year. Make sure you get a minimum 128 bit security certificate- the rest of the price variation is in name brand recognition of the certificate issuer.

I personally think that Geotrust is the best balance of value for price, but there are many others much cheaper and more expensive. Do your research, and buy the one that would make YOU must comfortable as a consumer.

Most of this post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

Horrible or Awesome #5 – Your Market

Ignore the market you are going to sell in at YOUR PERIL…

Sure, there are 50,000 computer stores online, but yours is going to be better! Market research is for people who don’t know what they want to sell, right?

You didn’t research for your term paper in high school and you passed, so why should an online business be any different? Don’t invest time or money in unique products or services, and don’t even think of developing some sort of unique selling proposition.

Just bang out a site with the exact same products as your competition, only make yours more expensive, lesser known, and harder to deal with!

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been researching osCommerce sites for addition onto the Hot 100 – and I cannot tell you the number of osCommerce stores that do NOTHING to differentiate themselves from others (in terms of USP).

In the osCommerce Live Shops list, I would guesstimate that at least 15% of ALL the stores no longer exist – which says much for the amount of planning that potential business owners actually put into their business. Another 25% are running osCommerce out of the box, and a further 25% are using “Monster” templates which give no USP at all. Come on people, wake up and smell the coffee!

For the uninitiated, a USP is a Unique Selling Proposition. In layman’s terms, it’s what makes your website special for the customer. It’s why customers would buy from you instead of the big guys, and it’s probably the single most important thing for your sales.

You may want to make a website that sells computer parts, but you have to understand that there are 50,000 companies selling computer parts.

Just what is going to set your site apart? Great shipping deals? Lower prices? Advanced configurations? Whatever it is, you need to do your market research, find out what your USP is going to be, and implement it successfully to make money.

Most of this post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.

Hot 100 New Additions…

I found another 5 sites today that I feel are deserving of an entry into the osCommerce Hot 100 – taking the total number of exceptional osCommerce sites upto 50. Surely there are 50 more to complete the Top 100 ??

The 5 added today are, in no particular order:

I particularly like The Mozilla Store!

As of right now, the Top 5 osCommerce Stores are as follows:

  1. Assault Shirt 7.1/10
  2. Punk Baby Clothes 6.1/10
  3. Oh Cheri! 5.8/10
  4. Vital Skin Care 5.2/10
  5. Xavier Master Cheese Refiner 5.2/10

Got a site that you think can make it onto the Top 100 list? Submit it!

So long as it has something “different” that takes it away from being standard osCommerce, it’ll be added.

Horrible or Awesome #4 – The Checkout Process

Who needs a quick checkout? People love clicking through 8 pages of forms they have to fill in before buying stuff. Better yet, add in a couple more pages and hoodwink the customer just when they think they are finally through!

Sure, you need the customer’s age, gender, and the name of their first born son to sell them your hand painted dishrags. Make it as hard as you can for the customer to actually complete a sale and pay you money because that’s how you can tell if a customer is truly dedicated (or if they love pain).

Have you ever been to a website and realised that they want you to give over more details than you are prepared to part with?  Sure, a site needs your delivery address and payment details – but anything more than this?  No.   Quite often, I make it a mission to NOT shop at osCommerce stores as I know the checkout process is so crap.  As a shop owner, have a think about that!

There are numerous industry studies and reports that say shorter, fewer page checkouts improve conversion rates. I personally think the ideal is a two or three page checkout- Enter your stuff, confirm, you’re done.

There is a long and still active thread (after 5 years!!!) on the official osCommerce Forum with many code hints, tips, and tricks. It covers checkout, account creation, making the customer log in, etc. It’s a great read, and I would say a requirement for anyone wanting to run an osC shop.

So, my idea for a simplified checkout would be as follows;

  1. Change the in-your-face “Account” functionality.  Who wants to set up an “account” when they are only going to buy from your shop one time.  Change the wording to “Your profile” or “Your details”.
  2. Show the shipping cost (even if it’s an estimate) BEFORE the Account Creation.  So obvious and yet almost ALL osCommerce stores FAIL BADLY at this.
  3. Redirect to “account set up” rather than “login”.  Known to increase conversion rates substantially.
  4. Remove Passwords from “account set up”.  Have a tickbox that says “remember my details for next time”.  If they tick it, send a randomly created password by email.
  5. Get rid the welcoming email.  They already know that they are shopping at your store – why tell then again?
  6. Get rid the useless checkout pages, like “create account success” and “checkout success”.  What the heck is the use of “checkout success” anyway?  The product notifications don’t work!  If you have to have it, make it useful.  How about an UPSELL, or a miling list signup?  Or maybe a special offer discount code for their next purchase!  Come on, THINK ABOUT IT.
  7. Merge multiple pages.  Merge the shipping and billing page.  Marge that into the customer details page.

The point of this post is to get YOU, the shop owner, to think like a CUSTOMER.  Make shopping at your site as painless as possible.  By cutting down on crap, you won’t hurt your sales, but you might just increase them.

Most of this post is courtesy of my good friend Jason over at JC Commerce.