What do I need in an e-commerce store (Part 2)
19 March 2014

What do I need in an e-commerce store (Part 2)

In the first part of this post we covered the e-commerce catalogue, variations and the payment gateway. In this part we look at the different features that can be built into an e-commerce store checkout. 

A e-commerce checkout is all about balance. On the one hand you want to capture plenty of valuable information from your customer, and shower them in offers and features that will entice them to keep coming back. On the other hand you want to keep the entire process as simple and streamlined as possible to avoid losing customers at the checkout. A useful thing to bear in mind is that during the checkout process every time you offer the customer another decision, it's another point at which they can choose to drop out of the buying process. So features need to be incorporated into a checkout carefully to provide the right balance for each store.

That said there are a number of core features which you may want to consider for your site.

Customer Accounts

Some sites allow a customer to register and setup an account. This is one of those features that needs to be very carefully weighed up. In todays online world everyone already has so many accounts that there can be resistance to creating yet another one. On the other hand if a customer creates an account then your site can remember their common details such as address, or postage preferences, and automatically populate them later. More advanced post-checkout features such as order review also become possible.

We'd always recommend that at least it is possible for customers to purchase without setting up an account, to avoid losing those customers who really don't want to create one.  Your store will still be able to capture a customers email address for future marketing correspondence, or offer online dispatch tracking based simply on the order reference and a unique code, so with the right e-commerce software not creating a customer account doesn't necessarily lose that much from the overal functionality of the site.

Discount Codes / Vouchers

These are common means for generating news sales or repeat sales.  Simple e-commerce software will allow you to setup simple codes such as 10% off, or free delivery.  More advanced software will support codes of arbitrary complexity (buy 4 products from manufacturer X and get the lowest priced one free).  One thing to keep in mind is that very complex codes may require some minimial intervention from a developer to setup as beyond a certain level of complexity the only way to express the logic of the code is via some programming script. 

An e-commerce store should also allow you to track the usage of codes, place an upper limit on the amount of times a code can be used (either via the number of times and/or the total value of the discount), limit the code to just one use per customer (or email address), and set expiry dates for codes.

Vouchers are slightly difference in that a voucher can often be purchased online and given to someone else (e.g. a gift voucher).  In the case of a discount code you will normally think up the code yourself, something memorable and representative of the offer (e.g. BOGOF2015).  With a voucher your site will often generate unique and hard to guess codes automatically and issue them on your behalf.

Delivery Costs & Methods

An often over looked aspect of a store is the calculation of delivery costs and methods. For some sites it makes sense to keep the cost of delivery within the price of a product and so offer 'free delivery'. The advantage of this approach is that it is attractive to customers, who feel they are getting a good deal, and who don't see the added delivery price suddenly added onto a basket cost. This comes back to the idea of minimising the decision points within a checkout. If your customer has already decided to buy your product for price X and then sees an additional delivery cost added on they need to make that purchasing decision all over again. Most of the time it may not be a problem, but inevitably sometimes it will.

That said if you do need to calculate a separate delivery charge then your store should be able to deal with a range of factors to arrive at the price. These could include the location of delivery (via region, country or postcode), the value of the basket, the presence of certain large or heavy items in a basket, reductions due to discount codes, different delivery methods (post, courier, etc). 

This post has covered a few of the common features to consider within an e-commerce checkout. Of course there are many more particularly advanced features that aren't covered here. If you're considering an e-commerce store and would like to talk through the options in more detail then please give us a call.

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