Plenty of small companies do online commerce right, but here's a case study showcasing how not to run an e-commerce site.
My daughter likes American Girl dolls, and I discovered that a woman in my town has a business making clothes for these dolls. Upon scoring a $40 coupon for her site at a local charity auction, I was looking forward to shopping with my 8-year-old!
Then I tried to use the coupon. Here are the problems I encountered:
No electronic delivery. When I buy a coupon for an online store, I'm expecting someone to email me and deliver a coupon code or instructions for redeeming my prize on their site. Instead, all I got was a message telling me to come down to the organization's offices to pick up my prize. Pretty inconvenient.
No discount code. When I picked up my coupon envelope, it just had a slip of paper that said "Good for $40 at (name of store)." There was no special landing page I could go on, customer number or code given that I could use at checkout. Baffled, I attempted to ask for help.
Hidden contact information. Her site showed no phone number, email contact or street address. After clicking through a sea of Web pages, I finally discovered a "Contact" link at the very bottom of a big drop-down list from her last tab, labeled "More." But that led me to one of those email forms you have to fill out. I hate email contact forms.
Nobody home. I tracked down another site that mentioned a phone number for the owner and gave a call. Even though it was during her stated business hours, nobody answered. I left a detailed message and included my email address.
Bungled email. The owner sent me a reply in an email with no relevant subject line, and the email address didn't include the company name. It got lost in the avalanche of email I get every day, and I didn't see it. I finally broke down and sent an email through her contact form.
Bad attitude. The noticeably perturbed owner called me this time, and helped me locate her email. Here are her instructions: "Look through the site and decide what you want. Then call me on the phone and tell me what you want. I'll pull the items, and then you can make an appointment to come by and pick the items up at my house."
I think the point of shopping online is it's supposed to be easy to do, without leaving my house. I could easily have turned into a regular customer for this site, but after this experience I probably won't be back.
This owner wasn't interested in learning how to improve her online selling technique, either. When I mentioned that a low-cost cart system such as e-junkie would make it a snap to create discount codes and hold sales, she indicated that instead of checking into something like that, she planned after this experience to stop donating to charity!
While most small-business e-commerce sites aren't this bad, some of these issues are common, particularly the lack of easily visible contact information.
Are you making it easy for customers to shop your ecommerce store? Leave a comment and give us your tips.