The Anatomy of An Online Store

The Anatomy of An Online Store

Let’s not try to over simplify online shopping. If there was a magic formula that resulted in a guaranteed sale, there would be nothing special about Amazon or eBay. In fact, I would not be writing this article if that was the case, I would be on a yacht somewhere and you probably would be too.

Yet here we are, grounded in reality, so let’s make the best of it.

I’ve spent time looking into the whole eCommerce scene recently and come up with some potentially helpful trends and examples. Come along, won’t you?

The Product(s) – What Are You Selling?

If you go to any popular online store you can pretty much pick out the same recurring themes on the product pages. When it comes to pitching a product, there are some obvious things that need to be relayed (ie. price, name, specifications, rating), but what else can you benefit from?

Customers don’t always come to an online store with a specific product in mind, more like a problem that needs fixing. What do I mean by this? Let’s use your beloved Grandmother in this example.

Grandma has decided that she wants to be able to listen to music while knitting in her favorite chair (stereotypical, I know). Under the advice of her overwhelmingly intelligent grandson, she is told to get an iPod Nano from Apple, as she doesn’t need a that much space to store her prehistoric music.

Additionally, Grandma has chosen to migrate to Florida, so she has to brave the internet by herself, as she has isolated herself hours away from her nearest tech-savvy grandson.

After getting to the appropriate page, she is faced with a problem. Grandma doesn’t know what a gigabyte is, but now she is faced with a problem – how many of them does she need?

Fortunately there is a happy ending to the epic tale of your Grandmother’s internet adventure. Apple has included a handy point of reference that translates gigabytes into a more concrete example – 8GB: 2,000 songs / 8 hours of video. Armed with this knowledge Grandma now knows that this model will suit her needs and still leave room for 1,990 more songs.

iPod Nano

While this may seem like an extreme example, it should cause you to ask the question – who might be shopping here? Granted that consumer products like the iPod might need to cater to this demographic a little more than technical products like sticks of RAM.

Single Product Site

The single product page has the luxury of being incredibly specific. For single product sites, the visitor is there for one reason – to learn more about one specific product. Obviously the level the detail involved would depend on the complexity of the product, a T-shirt would obviously have considerably less description than a computer program. Coda

Sometimes one product has several variations, example being a computer or an iPod from the above example. Multiple tiers of pricing give the customer some flexibility with their budget so they don’t feel trapped in an all or nothing ultimatum.

The Shopping Cart – Push It Along To Checkout

The ideal visitor goes to your online store, loads up the cart, and then proceeds to checkout. Sadly, this is not always the case and often times carts can be abandoned with their content left in limbo. How can we fight for this lost revenue?

There are two plans of attack – stop them from being abandoned in the first place or bring them back to their abandoned cart.

Avoid Abandoned Carts Through Clear Directions

Prevent the confusion which can lead to the visitor closing out of your page by always giving them a next step. An interesting approach is to give them one of two choices at any given point – checkout or buy more stuff – within one click of the mouse.

If you are curious as to where you are losing visitors, make use of campaign monitors on sites like Google Analytics, which allow you to see what/where your potential customers are clicking or jumping ship.

Reduce Abandoned Carts Using Follow Up Emails

It’s not uncommon for a customer to fill up a shopping cart with all sorts of products, then click away from the site to never return. It is not game over when this happens, it just means you need to follow up and see what happened.

In one report I came across a company used email follow ups and experienced a 263% increase in the recovery of abandoned carts.

There are a number of reports, each sharing varying levels of success and suggested wording for the emails, but the important part is that a fair share of sales can be recovered with a simple check in.

Driving Sales – Get Your Customers Pumped

Recommended Products/Accessories

Convince your customers to not just buy a book, but a bookmark, and the accompanying book light as well. Amazon d0es this beautifully by recommending what others that bought after purchasing a product. They might not know they wanted or needed it until you tell them they do.

Amazon Recommends

Limited Supplies

Producing only a set amount of certain products has a few benefits:

  • Creates Urgency – If a product isn’t going to be around very long due to risk of running out, that speeds up the decision to purchase. Think about how works – every 24 hours there iss a new product for sale, making each purchase rapid fire. It creates an “if you don’t buy it there is someone else who will” mentality.
  • Prevents Over Saturation – Think about how many soap commercials, sitcom TV shows, and clothing lines Bruce Springsteen has. If you’re struggling, as I did, think about what happens when you see him appear on TV – you take notice. Now compare this approach to that of the legions of boy bands and pop stars that Disney constantly churns out. We see some of these young superstars with their own shows, clothing lines, and commercials – after a while we become desensitized and lose interest. Other examples to think about: Pokemon cards and Beenie Babies.
  • Reduces Risk – Let’s say you are a T-Shirt company (ie. Johnny Cupcakes), that only puts out 50 shirts of each design. If one design completely bombs, you aren’t that sore over your loss, because you have a such a small amount invested in them. Think of this as a Venture Capitalist approach, investing in one winner out of ten can more than cover your losses.
  • Allows for Premium Price – High demand + Low Quantity = Higher Prices. People pay for the unique nature of the product, that’s why Antique Roadshow is still bumping around on TV.

Social Media/Communities

Threadless Twitter, Facebook, Myspace – The list drags on and on, it really comes down to where your target market frequents and what spawns the best returns. To give you some inspiration, here’s how some companies are making social media/communities work for them:

  • Threadless has employed a model of community based crowdsourcing – designers submit T-shirt designs, which are then rated by fellow visitors, resulting in only the winning designs being printed. They also have encourage users to post pictures wearing shirts purchased on the site for store credit on future purpose.
  • Etsy groups similar interests together and provides plenty of platforms for interaction amongst the community via forums, chats, and online classes.
  • JetBlue makes use of Twitter to interact with travelers, field questions and complaints, and provide some rather impressive customer service.

Some eCommerce Engines

An eCommerce site from the ground up can be a hefty chunk of change, so why reinvent the wheel for thousands of dollars? There are plenty of sites that provide these services for you, although rather than turning this article into a series of reviews, I’ll let you pick through some engines that came up on my radar.

Further Reading

Posted Thursday, August 20th, 2009 · Back to Top


Add Comment

21 Comments 2 Mentions

  1. Eric B. Author Editor

    Thanks for the very helpful post! I always have a bit of trouble with working with online stores.
    .-= Eric B.´s last blog ..Creating a PHP CMS – Part 5 =-.


  2. Stefan Author Editor

    Have you tried Shopify? I’m using WP eCommerce at the moment but thinking about changing since there are lack of support and the source code is pretty messed up.
    .-= Stefan´s last blog ..How to Choose a Theme For Your WordPress Site =-.


  3. naturmed Author Editor

    This post is done very well. Thanks


  4. schuessler Author Editor

    Great images and explanation. Thank you for the information.


  5. Evan Jones Author Editor

    Still using a heavily modded oscommerce platform. Suits all my needs.

    I love these anatomy posts :)


  6. Duncan Author Editor

    Excellent post. Good advice. Thank you. Limited supplies and high cost items are something I am currently looking at.


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    Thanks very much, that is what I have found, I like that.


  8. Felipe Author Editor

    Excellent Post! As always, a great read!


  9. Jhsew Author Editor

    Better late than never!


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    Oh, very useful information, thanks.


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    Nice and very interesting post. Tanks.


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