Every eCommerce site requires two essentials: content and customers. In this first post of my two-part eCommerce series, I will focus on the customer-half of the equation. Let’s face it: you can have all the content in the world but if nobody is buying, then half the equation is zero, and anything times zero equals—you guessed it—goose egg.

I have been involved in eCommerce since 1999, on the customer-side, shopping on various sites, and on the production-side, working as a Program Manager for the Department of Defense on DOD EMALL. I was the one who simultaneously marveled at how browsing virtual bookshelves made finding an interesting read a snap, and stayed awake at night wondering when I would be reporting rising sales figures by the day or week, instead of month.

The DOD EMALL started off with good content: 4 million DOD-stocked items (a mixture of commercial material and spare parts for vehicles, aircraft and ships) as well as several solid commercial catalogs from large companies like 3M. What the DOD EMALL didn’t have, however, was customers. The US Government is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, procedures and techniques and in 1999 eCommerce was no exception. Unlike the closest thing to DOD EMALL at the time; Amazon.com; what DOD EMALL didn’t have was a sense of how to make a positive customer experience.

Here are three things I learned from those early days that can still be applied to any eCommerce entity today. Believe it or not, these same mistakes—after well over a decade—are still being made. In fact, an eCommerce experience that I had this past weekend inspired me to write this post. So, consider these three eCommerce-don’ts when you’re laying out plans to start an eCommerce website or to improve the eCommerce site that you have already.

  1. You ignore system performance. Spending time and money on fine tuning your website’s performance is time and money well spent. If you’re lucky enough to have that customer visit your website, don’t lose your chance with them. Consumers are loath to visit sites plagued by slow searches, a lengthy process to add items to their shopping cart, and spinning progress indicators during the final submission of orders that seem to have no intention of stopping. Even if the customer endures your site long enough to complete the transaction, they’re likely to associate the negative buying experience with your brand and they’re not likely to return.
  2. You allow combinations that don’t work. For instance, if a customer attempts to mix a payment form with a promotion code that you aren’t going to allow, tell them at the time they attempt to do it that they must choose another option and make it obvious what their choices are. Live validation with helpful on-screen feedback will educate the user about your processes and prevent them from getting frustrated.
  3. You show items as available that are not actually available. Move that information right up front to your catalog searching results. Let the customer decide if they are willing to wait for an item before they get all excited about it. Most eCommerce websites pass the shopper into an order processing module once a customer indicates they are ready to checkout. If your design won’t let you check on item availability until this step, then at least make it simple for the customer to return to the shopping area to find an alternative. But it’s far better for your customer if you give them the information up front.

So, are you guilty of any of these eCommerce-don’ts? The benefits of online shopping for the consumer are huge, but creating a positive experience for our shoppers just sweetens the deal. I’m happy to share a few of the pointers that I’ve learned along the way. Share the eCommerce-don’ts that you’ve learned from your own experience in the comments section below or join us in the DOD EMALL Discussion Group – Unofficial on LinkedIn to trade more ideas.


This is the first in my two-part eCommerce series. Be sure to check out the second installment Four eCommerce Content Do’s.