The sun rises, the ocean is wet, and people make mistakes. These are a few of the many facts of life. When it comes to ecommerce, this last one means you’ll need to embrace some best practices for dealing with user errors on your site. Handled properly, mistakes present an opportunity to make your customers smile, demonstrate your humanity and even make an add-on sale.

Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Reduce the Likelihood in the First Place

Of all the best practices for handling user errors on your ecommerce site, the smartest one is doing everything possible to prevent them. Taking care to design your user interface in the most intuitive manner possible will prevent many errors. Placing menu items where users expect them to be and offering predictive suggestions as users type search terms reduces errors significantly.

  1. Offer Explanations in Human-speak

Imagine explaining the problem to a child. Yes, we deal with websites and their functions every day, but most shoppers only know what they need to know to make a purchase.  If you start talking to them like they’re well versed in coding, you’ll lose them. Additionally, your messages should never lay blame at the feet of the user. People are already intimidated and feeling like they’ve done something wrong, now they’re being made to feel dumb too? Bad idea.

  1. Make Error Messages Specific & Informative

When you’re forced to present an error message to a user, customize it to reflect the nature of the error. Too many times, people get a generic “404’, giving them no idea where they went wrong. If you leave them in the dark, they won’t know what to do to avoid making the same mistake again. This could lead to inertia and abandonment of your site. The best enterprise ecommerce platforms tell people exactly what triggered the error and offers positive next steps.  Say for example a customer searches for an item you don’t have or misspells the name of the item. You can offer suggestions based upon items spelled similarly, or items that perform similarly to what they typed if you don’t have the exact item. Customers sometimes buy the alternative when afforded the opportunity.

  1. Make it Funny When Appropriate

Humor almost always relieves tense situations. However, you have to make sure the joke is on you—as opposed to being on your customer. Yes, your error message should be informative, easily understood and polite. However, within all of that, you can inject a bit of humor too where it’s appropriate. While you’ll probably want to avoid making jokes on your payment page, other places offer plenty of opportunities for laughter. Smiling users stay engaged and try again.

  1. Employ Inline Validation

It’s better to inform users of mistakes as they go along when they have a lengthy form to complete. Doing so is much better than waiting until they get to the bottom of the form and click submit. The former allows them to correct errors on the fly. The latter robs them of their sense of completion and forces them to go back and try to find their error. Always lean toward being helpful when given a choice. Your conversion rate will reflect your consideration.

One of the facts of life, mistakes are simply part of the human condition. These five best practices for dealing with user errors on your ecommerce site will humanize your business, offer customers another opportunity to buy and leave them feeling positive. After all, when it comes to shopping, customers want to feel good about what they’re buying and who they’re buying it from. Holding their hands—rather than slapping them—will stand you in good stead.


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