The Pixel has been creating ecommerce websites for the last 15 years. Over those years we’ve learnt a fair bit about what does and doesn’t work in the world of selling online, and we’ve noticed some consistencies. Creating a site is (relatively!) easy; managing it, marketing it, developing it and adapting it to make money, to continue or start to grow, has always been the tricky part.

The good news is whether your site has been struggling for years or has just been static in its growth, there are always new techniques that can be applied. We’ve asked some of the key members of our team what areas they’ve learnt to be crucial to ecommerce success over the years.

Customer focus – from eCommerce Editor Dan Marsh

We all know we need customers – no news there. But finding them, building trust with them, and generating loyalty is the key if your online business is to succeed. If you’re a new ecommerce site then customers won’t have heard of your brand, and you’ll find you’re competing with countless other bigger names that have already established that rapport. You’ll also be competing with bricks and mortar stores – the advantage they both have is that ability to gain trust with their customers; a physical shop can gain it with personal interaction, and big brands with established customer loyalty. That’s what you have to compete with and emulate. Some pointers in the right direction:

Tell your story: Who are you, why are you selling what you’re selling, why are you the place to purchase from? It’s your content that’s going to allow you to establish this relationship, and so it has to work hard to win your customers’ hearts. Don’t just have a boring piece of text – use videos, graphics and anything you can think of to tell your story. Otherwise you’re just another website.

Keep it real: One of the best ways of fostering trust with a customer is with transparency and openness about your business. Providing clear contact information, including names and emails, telephone numbers and a physical address to let your customers know that your business is the real deal, and that they are dealing with real people, not just HTML.

Feedback: Provide an easy forum for customers to leave reviews of your products or services and make it easily visible. Set up a blog, Facebook & other social media that will allow you to connect with customers, providing responses to queries and answering criticism when necessary. You could also create a loyalty scheme to reward repeat business and set up personalised advertising (available as features in Magento).

Mobile optimisation – from Digital Marketing Manager Miles Woolgar

Mobile’s share of UK digital commerce will leap to 33.3% this year, so if your ecommerce store is not catering to the consumer on the go, you’re missing out. It’s a priority to ensure your site is mobile responsive.

Optimise for mobile: Make it easy to shop on a mobile device: focus on photos, make it easy to read, simplify the design, include a prominent search box, have large buttons, eliminate unnecessary buying steps, and more. Mobile apps are best at providing a customised mobile experience, but come with heavy development costs and are unlikely to be downloaded by anyone other than hardened fans (do you have any?), and therefore optimising your existing site for mobile is the best option for most.

Eliminate buying steps: Can you reduce the buying steps for mobile users? If you can you’re on to a winner; with mobile, the faster the better. Mobile customers are less likely to make it through complicated steps without abandoning carts. Make it easier for returning customers by saving their payment and shipping information (with consent); that way there’ll be an incentive to return to the site in the future to process fast transactions.

Online security – from Managing Director Steve Leyton

Many ecommerce sites still do not take website security seriously. But with 5.1 million estimated cyber crimes and frauds in 2014 it’s clear that criminals do and that it’s on the rise – it’s big business. When it comes to security, it’s worth spending money in order to save money (and hassle) in the future. It’s also a massively important area in obtaining the customer trust we talked about earlier. If you’ve done all you can to make sure you’re as safe as possible, then that will inspire confidence in your site and consumers.

Patching software Magento & WordPress: It is absolutely critical to ensure all software you operate is up-to-date with all security patches. Sadly we see many sites that have suffered a security breach due to applications such as WordPress not being updated. Both Magento & WordPress release regular security patches that need to be install as soon as they are released. As a Magento agency, our policy is to test and install all security patches first and then notify the clients when it is complete, rather than wait for the client to ask. All Magento agencies should do the same.

PCI Compliance for small & medium businesses: 80% of small businesses that suffer a breach go out of business after 18 months*. This makes it absolutely critical that you have the right compliancy for your business. Expert PCI advice can be expensive but very much worth it; there is a lot of misinformation online, so we would always advise you speak with your payment providers to ensure you have adequate protection in place. If a security breach is found on your site the responsibility lies directly with the business owner, and if your site is considered to be non-compliant you’ll have no protection from the card industry.

Server updates & security: Server updates and security patches should be a weekly routine (sometimes multiple times a week), if you’re not updating your server software on a regular basis then you risk attacks that will compromise your security. Setting up third party Web Application Firewalls (WAF) such as CloudFlare can really help to protect against common attacks that could impact your website’s uptime and security.

* https://www.trustwave.com/Services/Compliance-and-Risk/PCI-Services/PCI-for-Small-and-Midsized-Businesses/

Order fulfilment & returns – from Project Manager Kath Senior

It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but selling online is an altogether different kettle of retail fish. There’s packaging to consider, couriers and postal services, insurance and shipping prices – there’s a lot to get right, and if you don’t, your customers would rather shop with someone that does. Harsh but true.

Packing process: The packing and shipping process has to be well thought out from the start, and fast order fulfilment is now expected by all. This goes for whether you’re selling thousands of products a day from a warehouse, or just a few from boxes stacked in your spare room – it’s all about the process. Make sure all your systems (and people!) talk to each other and that everyone knows who is doing what. Put software in place that facilitates that process. ERP systems that integrate with Magento are an excellent way to eliminate as many opportunities for mistakes as possible, and will allow your website to talk to your packaging operation seamlessly.

Logistics & shipping: Choose the right couriers and postal services that are the most economical and reliable for both you and your customers. Additional attention to detail can also help, like helping to map out routes for drivers. The most important aspect? Ensuring all delivery times are fulfilled.

Returns & customer service: An established system for handling returns, exchanges and refunds needs to be in place, even before day one. Returns, exchanges and refunds are one of the most important things to consider if your goal is to create a great customer experience and generate maximum customer satisfaction. Create a clear and transparent policy for each scenario, and make it easy to find whilst browsing the site so that everyone knows where they stand.