Damian Burke

Important e-Commerce Elements

by Damian Burke


An interesting take on online shopping.

Er...I don't think that's how you do it. (Image by Gareth Saunders under CC)

Shopping Online in South Africa: Part One

I recently started shopping online for things other than band t-shirts, concert tickets and DVDs. Now I know this is nothing new, but in South Africa it's still a bit of a novelty that deserves to be taken seriously.

Local merchants haven’t been well represented online until recently, and payment systems have always been a bit of a problem.

In this two part look at e-Commerce, we’ll be tackling a few important elements to a successful site (part one), followed by a study (part two) of the following three South African online stores:

What Makes A Good Online Retail Site?

Let’s take a look at what elements make up a good e-Commerce site:

Keeping it simple
If your site isn’t user-friendly – just like having insolent or incompetent staff in a physical store – you’re product simply isn’t going to leave the shelf. 

  • Keeping down the number of clicks from entry to checkout.
  • Outlining the next step in the buying process.
  • Keep registration forms uncomplicated.
  • Keep basket/trolley visible at all times (including number of items).
  • Employing breadcrumb links.
  • Using logical URL structures.

In store stability
An easy to navigate site is important for the user, but it needs to be built on a strong foundation. A website that crashes can lose a lot of customers. Security and authority are ultra important – whether potential customers are aware of it or not. One security breach can ruin the reputation of an online store. 

  • Valid W3C coding.
  • Ensuring that the site fits in all the popular screen resolutions and browsers.
  • Avoiding popups and element which may require users download software.
  • A full Flash site probably isn’t a good idea.
  • SSL Security to ensure safe transactions.
  • Make sure your server is capable of handling the site.

Keeping it dynamic
From a user perspective, a predictable experience is crucial in building trust and credibility – but making those shelves interesting with new products, promotions and other specials is also essential when enticing customers.

  • Utilising the space ‘above the fold’
  • Split information into recognizable sections
  • Use that CMS wisely, and include fresh content and product information.
  • Allow users to ‘view all’ products, depending on category (e.g. sale items, new range etc).

Social Interactivity
Something that can really help sell products (and give the shop owner the opportunity to know what to do to sell more products) is social commentary. By giving users a chance to review products, make comments or have full discussions, there’s more chance for sales.

  • Send to a friend option.
  • Social media chiclets
  • Product reviews.
  • Extended information and consumer discussion.

Make it easy for the user to pay, before they have a chance to change their mind. Offer various payment methods to generate as many sales as possible – and also remember to show the user how far along the process they are.

  • Remember to include a thank you page or email notification – also a good place for newsletter sign ups, ‘send to a friend’ options and cross-selling.

Remember to look out for the case study of our three South African sites next week! 

Update*: You can check out Part Two here.


"Keeping down the number of clicks from entry to checkout" + "Outlining the next step in the buying process"

Great points made there, it is rather surprising sometimes when site owners try and have "fancy" functions within these key areas, when in fact, simple is better and works. Nothing worse than having good volumes into the sales funnel, only to have high percentages of abandonment towards the end in the checkout process.

Posted by Brett Pringle on 2009/03/03

I find it makes it easier when the various steps are outlined before you start. (1. Register, 2. Browse, 3. Checkout)

Much the queue in a physical store, if I know it's only going to be a few short steps, I'd be less likely to abandon the sale.

Posted by Damian Burke on 2009/03/03

Great article, Damian!

Another element I would add is the importance of creating trust. Even if your site navigates beautifully and has a gorgeous design, I will not buy from you if there are no contact details on your site (no, a contact form will not do), no shipping details or no FAQ explaining the process in detail. Customer testimonials also help build credibility.

Looking forward to part 2!

Posted by Amelia Mulder on 2009/03/03

Excellent article!! Great to see mainstream e-commerce starting to get some real exposure in SA. One thing I would add to the article and comments already posted, is that it is imperative to still offer some form of human interaction in the transaction.

Our market is, in my experience, not yet mature enough to fully utilize a Live Help facility. The other option is the good old telephone. Adding a telephone number in a very prominent spot will result in conversion rates increasing substantially.

I would also support the comments on building and embedding trust in prospects. Like Brand building in the offline world, there are lots of tiny little things that all contribute towards this - perhaps the topic of part 3 :).

Provided one has taken care of all the little things, testimonials are definitely one of the most important tools in building trust online. Once again, there are quite a few factors to keep in mind, in order to make full use of testimonials.

These include; keeping them short (sound-bites), Placing a date next to each one, Rotating them, Linking to a complete list etc....

Looking forward to part 2.....

Posted by Gary Amstutz on 2009/03/03


Posted by Damian Burke on 2009/03/09

I agree that trust is a big issue, and a big problem. Plenty of the e-shops have sites that are so generic in their look, that there is no evidence that there is anyone who cares in the background.

I started a e-shop review site for this very purpose. Anyone can go and review/rate a South African e-shop. Haven't had much time to publicise it yet, but it is getting some traction already. www.click.co.za

Hopefully it will help let the cream rise to the top, and the rubbish will simply disappear.

Posted by Eve Dmochowska on 2009/03/09

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