By Mat Peck, Head of R&D at Sage Pay

2010 was a record year for online sales with consumers spending over £58bn on goods bought over the internet. All the signs are that this trend will continue in 2011 as an increasing number of would-be entrepreneurs and established businesses set up online.

Getting a basic ecommerce site up and running may be simpler than it has ever been, but it's surprising how many businesses become preoccupied with aesthetics, while the really crucial things, like how customers will actually pay for goods, end up as an afterthought.

When you buy something in a shop, you usually reach for your purse or wallet, pull out cash or a card, hand it over, get a receipt, and then head out with your purchase. Online, things should be just as straightforward. A clunky or unprofessional looking site, particularly one with multiple checkout pages, can be the kiss of death for even the best looking site.

Research we conducted through our annual eBusiness Benchmark Report found successful businesses with ‘above average’ rates of completed online sales tended to have fewer pages in their checkout process. Notably, the optimum number of payment pages for top performers was two, after which the proportion of completed sales began to drop off dramatically

Further to that, almost 100% of our high performing respondents’ payment pages included their own branding, or had been adapted to match the look and feel of their website. This promotes the idea that consumers feel more reassured spending online when the payment system appears to be seamlessly integrated with the rest of the site. Suddenly being forwarded – without warning – to a payment interface that has a different look and feel could cause shoppers to be concerned about fraud and drop out of the purchase.

When it comes to ecommerce, understanding the challenges, and getting the basics right can make a huge difference. Choosing the right payment service provider (PSP) is vital. Businesses looking to provide a more seamless, secure experience for shoppers should particularly look to options like “Tokenisation”, which enables a 'single-click' payment that's many consumers have come to expect from their online shopping experience.