Most people know that to start selling online they need products, payment services, and a mailing address, but other not-so-obvious concerns may slip through the cracks. Thankfully, store owners can plan for many of the significant issues that can crop up and get in the way of eCommerce sales. This post will look at solutions to five common issues that harm store launches and early sales but are often ignored until they become much bigger problems. 

We’ll cover:

  • How to help people find products on your site
  •  Why you need a plan for running out of inventory
  • The benefits of offering product returns
  • Core reasons to speed test your sites on mobiles
  • Reasons to have a plan for fast shipping in the future

Let’s start by focusing on your site.

1. Make products discoverable

Your visitors probably have a general idea of what you offer, but they may not always use the same vocabulary to find products. Let’s say you’re selling personal watercraft. Some of your customers may use that as a search term, or they may look for “water scooter” or “recreational watercraft,” but how many might also search for Sea-Doo or WaveRunner, popular brands (that might be competitors!)? You need to be sure to include on-site search tools that help people find the right product and understand the different names or ideas people use.

Tackle this by adding detailed product descriptions that address multiple terms. If you must mention a competitor, consider writing a sentence that compares it and your products. That should help your on-site search tools find the right page, and it’ll also help you think about what Google search results you want to advertise against or attempt to rank organically for, in order to capture a competitor’s potential traffic.

Make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for with Nested Category Layout.

Live search options, like WooCommerce Product Search, can add images to searches as they’re happening, making discovery even easier. And site navigation plugins, like Nested Category Layout, can make it easier for shoppers to browse to the products they seek.

Remember to organize your products not just by type, but also by uses, styles, and audiences, for example, “for Dad” or “Graduation gifts.”

2. Plan for stockouts

Most eCommerce stores experience stockouts, or going out of stock on an item, as they grow. It’s wise to plan for what you will do when these occur so that you can respond quickly. The core decisions to make are:

  • How you’ll communicate stockouts to customers, and
  • What you’ll sell (if anything) when you don’t have something in stock

Do you want to offer a backorder for the product and ship it to customers as soon as you restock? Or do you prefer to direct people to similar products that you can fill right now?

Backorders can be helpful to generate revenue even when you lack a product, but they tend to have higher cancellation rates and may increase your customer service demands if they take too long to fill. Suggesting other products won’t always lead to a sale, but it can keep your service demands lower. If you have well-known target audiences, look for research or case studies around those audiences to tell you what similar items might work for them.

Some companies hide or even delete pages when products are out of stock, but this can harm your SEO, which is especially bad if you plan on restocking those items in the future. Instead, create page elements and actions to use when something is out of stock. These can include:

  • Alternative images that say “out of stock” or “on backorder” across the product
  • Banners or page elements that list when you expect a product to return
  • Buttons that allow someone to sign up for email notifications when a product is back
  • Alternative text for suggested products along the lines of: “While that’s out, try these”
  • Product tags for being out of stock that tell your site not to allow these items in carts

Create a plan and test it before your site goes live. That way, you can quickly change those settings and not have to scramble or worry about improper orders or upset customers.

3. Turn returns into a benefit

Returns will happen, so prepare for them.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed more people to eCommerce, and that massive surge of online purchases came hand-in-hand with a wave of returns. UPS hit a record for daily returns after the 2020 year-end holiday season, and while eCommerce had a 32.4 percent gain in sales, the industry also experienced a 70 percent jump in returns when comparing 2020 to 2019.

It should be clear that your eCommerce store needs a policy on returns before it launches. You’ll want your sales and support teams to know it backwards and forwards, and it should be published on your site and easy for customers to find. Because you’re likely to get a lot of questions about your return policy, canned responses for your customer support team are worth creating. And it’s a good idea to test the process within your eCommerce platforms, especially if you offer return labels for customers to use.

For WooCommerce stores, the Returns and Warranty Requests extension allows store owners to manage the returns process and enables customers to create RMA (return merchandise authorization) numbers from their accounts.

Unsure if it’s a smart move for your business to allow returns? The best place to start is if you can afford to process and handle returns. If you have the margins to protect against some returns, consider them. If your margins on products are low enough that paying for return shipping will harm you, however, you might want to avoid them, only allow exchanges, or require customers to pay for return shipping.

One consideration for the “offer them” column is that they can improve your relationships with customers. Studies suggest that roughly 80 percent of people who will return something to retailers are repeat shoppers at that retailer. When the returns experience is positive, those customers are even more likely to buy from you again.

Even if people never return a purchase, they like a return policy they can understand, so keep yours simple. When you make it straightforward for customers, it’ll also be clear for your employees. Clarify the policy for everyone so it’s easy to tell what products can be returned and the condition they need to be in for you to accept the return. 

If you decide against offering returns, make sure that’s clearly articulated on your site, too.

4. Optimize for speed

People won’t stay on a site if it takes too long to load. For about half of your mobile audience, they’ll leave if your site takes more than 3 seconds, which is why Google recommends pages should load in under two seconds.

Optimize for mobile by designing for mobile.

Tackle this concern by optimizing your WooCommerce site. Here are some essential elements to start with:

  • Choose themes that are designed to be fast. Not only do you want one built for eCommerce, but it should load quickly. Test out the theme you plan to use before you buy it if possible.
  • Compress images to reduce file size and speed up load times. You can use a variety of online tools to compress images before you add them to your site or turn to plugins to optimize existing images.
  • Limit the number of items on a page. Put a cap on products returned in search results and on reviews and get users to click “See More” to read the rest. Do the same on your blog. Pagination (or infinite scroll) can increase speed by limiting how many things the browser has to load at once.
  • Disable pingbacks on your entire site. Typically found in the “Discussion Settings” of WordPress, pingbacks let blogs communicate to notify each other when they’ve linked to a blog post or product page. Unfortunately, they’re often just a form of spam that can slow down your site.

And finally, you’ll want to optimize for mobile devices. Mobile accounts for about 31% of all digital eCommerce spending each quarter, and that number has been rising steadily. Smartphone conversion rates are on par with desktop rates, but tablet eCommerce conversion is higher than either, so building for mobile is no longer just smart—it’s necessary.

You’re likely building your website on a desktop and testing it there, which puts you at risk if you forget mobile testing. Ensure that you’re mobile-friendly, by embracing mobile-first design.

5. Offer free or two-day delivery

Customers love fast and free shipping options, and you want to be able to offer at least one of them as you grow. Many companies start with fixed-cost shipping options, allowing people to pay for two-day shipping. That works best for more expensive products and if your audience is predominantly younger or male.

It’s also worth considering free shipping. Nearly 90% of shoppers will choose free options when available, even if that means adding more products to meet a minimum order requirement. There are multiple ways to make this affordable, such as baking costs into product pricing, or, as mentioned, creating a free shipping threshold, and you’ll want to research and test what works best for your audience.

If you’re not sure how to make this possible, or you can’t keep up with the demand, look for help. This may mean finding an eCommerce fulfillment partner or learning the cutoff times that allow your team to box up an order and drive it to the nearest UPS or FedEx store before they close for the day. It’s better to understand this and have it as a clear goal from day one than to realize you’ve been losing sales because of it for months and not have a plan to offer it.

Conclusion

We’ve looked at five business and website considerations that are often overlooked by those launching a new WooCommerce store. But addressing these issues can increase conversion rates and encourage customers to buy from you more often. Addressing these concerns early will also make your life easier and set you up for long-term growth.

To recap:

  • Help customers find products. Enable better search and navigation elements and include alternative product names in your site copy.
  • Plan for stock issues. Stockouts and other stock issues will happen, so make sure you have a plan for how you’ll deal with them.
  • Create a return policy. Returns can be a benefit, but only if you plan your approach. Make sure you have a return policy that’s clearly articulated to both customers and employees.
  • Speed up your site. You only have a few seconds to make a first impression, don’t waste them with a slow-loading store.
  • Offer free and fast delivery. Even if you can’t afford it yet, free and two-day delivery moves the needle, so make a plan now to offer it when you can. 

The following extensions mentioned in this post are included at no additional charge in the GoDaddy Managed WordPress eCommerce hosting package:

  • Nested Category Layouts
  • WooCommerce Returns and Warranty Request

Click here to learn more about GoDaddy’s WooCommerce hosting options.

Published by Jake Rheude

Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.

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