22 Golden rules of e-commerce

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Want to make your online business a hit? There’s no silver bullet, but there is plenty of ammunition: here are DHL's 22 golden rules of e-commerce.

In 2017, emarketer.com revealed that retail e-commerce sales worldwide rose 23.2% to US$2.29trn. So getting e-commerce right (or wrong) will have a massive impact on your bottom line.

Rule #1 Keep testing

Products, pictures, design, descriptions, discounts, links, upsells, cross-sells, colors … test everything, and never stop. This testing system might help. 'Page cannot be displayed' is an instant sale killer. If you don’t identify the problems, they won’t get fixed.

Rule #2 Avoid clutter

Keep your site clean and unfussy, even if you’re running a discount warehouse. Resist the urge to load your landing page with everything you can think of. Go easy on fonts, flashes and pop-ups.

Rule #3 Consider a countdown indicator

These show the time left on a particular offer or the numbers remaining in stock of a certain product. Provided they’re genuine (i.e. customers don’t see the same technique used the following week), they can play on a customer’s fear of missing out on a bargain.

Rule #4 Offer 'free' delivery

It’s not always possible, but it will boost sales. Obviously 'free' means the cost of delivery is absorbed elsewhere, but it's still a key selling point. And if you offer it, flaunt it, with a mention on your home page and in your ads.

Desk organiser with phone, pen, money and watch

Rule #5 Leverage customer reviews

Nothing persuades like other people’s recommendations. The trust that endorsements from others holds cannot be understated. So sprinkle positive reviews liberally across your e-commerce store. Try your luck with a celebrity – their endorsements are particularly worthwhile. Link to a third-party review such as TrustPilot and make a point of responding to reviews – both good and bad.

Rule #6 Make your copy sing

Not literally. Just make your product descriptions seductive and persuasive. Include enough detail to satisfy consumers’ curiosity but remember that, in the world of digital marketing, people are turned on more by benefits than lists of specs.

Rule #7 Set up a referral program

AKA Member Get Member, a referral program encourages people to find you new customers by promising rewards such as discounts for either or both parties.

padlocks on rope

Rule #8 Run a secure site

Publish your customer privacy policy and display your SSL certificate symbol, and consider using established e-commerce platforms such as Shopify.

Rule #9 Get writing

Reach new customers by writing guest posts on relevant blogs. Resist the urge to over-promote your own site, but do remember to link back to your own blog.

Rule #10 Go the extra mile

Include a free gift with a customer’s first order, add a little extra to refunds, send handwritten thank-you cards to new customers. They’re all quick and easy things you can do to spread goodwill and encourage repeat customers.

Rule #11 Encourage sharing

Ask buyers to share their purchases on social media. Use a tool like Checkout Share to make it easy for customers to say lovely things about your products/service.

Rule #12 Include video content

It could be a product demo, a how-to instructional piece or just 60 seconds of product-related fun. People love watching and sharing video content; it’s been shown to boost sales and is a key feature of online marketing.

Rule #13 Be responsive to queries

For occasional enquiries, phone or email will probably be enough. But if your e-commerce site starts generating 20, 50 or hundreds of messages a day, you’ll want to investigate instant chat or even a chatbot.

Rule #14 Think U over X

In other words, make the user your priority when considering user experience (UX). Steps should feel natural and logical, with the fewest clicks to reach the product and from there to the checkout.


Woman laying upside down with camera

Rule #15 Don't skimp on photography

Use a professional photographer for your main ‘brand’ images. However, doing this can be prohibitively expensive for individual product shots, especially if your product line is constantly evolving. In most cases, a decent camera phone, a plain background, lots of natural light and a tripod should be all you need.

Rule #16 Don't overwhelm with offers and options

If people are poised to buy, too many distractions might put them off.

Rule #17 Don't ignore mobile

You can’t seriously discuss e-commerce strategy without talking mobile these days. As a recent Forbes article revealed, “It’s forecasted that mobile e-commerce will reach US$218bn by 2019. Some estimates note that by 2020, 45% of e-commerce purchases will be done on mobile devices.” In other words, time spent making your site more mobile-responsive and user-friendly can really pay off.

Rule #18 Don't forget

Send ‘nudge’ emails to your customers after an appropriate period of time has elapsed. Offer the same or similar products with an added reward for buying again, such as a discount or free shipping.

Rule #19 Don't hide charges

It’s a familiar story: a customer is heading happily to the checkout when they get hit with the shipping fees and bam! … they get cold feet. Delivery charges are the biggest cause of abandoned shopping carts. E-commerce platform Shopify has three possible solutions: offer free shipping with a specified minimum order amount, absorb the fees into the price of your products and do away with them altogether or install a tool that allows customers to input their details and get real-time shipping quotes. Just remember, transparency is king.

Rule #20 Don't make people jump through hoops

… neither when they’re buying NOR when they wish to return goods. They’ll think more highly of your business if the process is quick and straightforward.

Rule #21 Don't demand registration without a very good reason

Never demand registration to make a purchase – by all means ask for details as an option, but always offer the ability to check out as a guest. People don’t expect this in a store, why should they have to put up with it online?

Rule #22 Really. Never demand registration without good reason

It can never be said often enough ;).