The other day a friend asked me to help them purchase a music album online.  We tried in vain for more than 30-minutes to complete the transaction through both Apple iTunes and Amazon but neither would accept our money, it seems the eco-systems they’ve created to lock customers in was is so comprehensive that it locked us out of their buying process despite several attempts to create accounts, download software, recover login details, load credit cards and actually finish the checkout. We abandoned the purchase without spending a cent.

This leads me to a few points which you need to consider when designing the online experience for your customers:

a) Robust and Reliable – your store needs to be robust and reliable.  The lost password function should work every time and should deliver the necessary email notifications within seconds.  Waiting even 1-minute to recover a password is not acceptable, it must be instantaneous. If a customer cannot login, they cannot checkout.

b) Carefully consider your eco-system – most companies create and eco-system to lock customers in and keep competitors out, think of it like a moat around a castle.  This eco-system works well for large established businesses but often not so well for smaller players.  If you’re building an online store, consider whether it’s necessary for a customer to have to create an account or whether a ‘guest checkout’ will do.  A simpler checkout means a fast checkout, often leading to better conversion rates.  Carefully weigh up the options before settling on the final experience.

c) Make it easy.  Everything must be easy, from adding an item to your cart to checkout and payment.  If a customer wants to part with their money they shouldn’t have to be a science major to understand how it works and they should be able to do so as quickly as possible.  No-one likes standing in line at the checkout waiting to pay, so help the customer complete the transaction as quickly & smoothly as possible.

And finally, follow the entire buying process yourself.  That’s right, use your own store, purchase an item and pay for it.  It doesn’t matter what product it is, but if you’re expecting a customer to use your store then you need to have used it yourself first.  A simple but golden rule which will enable you to streamline the online experience.