As with all industries, ecommerce has evolved over the last year. If you're looking to expand your business and connect with more consumers, this is a great time to try something new. Take a look at what has changed, what hasn't changed, and want you really should be doing to get and keep customers in 2016.

Don't surprise your customers

The number one reason customer abandon their cart is unexpected shipping costs. As he or she shops, your customer is adding up what they expect the price to be. They may be shopping with a coupon or looking for a specific item so when they get to the cart, they don't want to learn their total is $15 more than before. Make it clear from the beginning by offering free shipping over a certain amount. List a flat rate or shipping deal on the coupon or the home page. "We allow our users to calculate shipping costs up front in the checkout process," says James Varga, VP of ECommerce of WestPoint Home. "Customers have the option to checkout as a guest, and contact information for help is always clearly visible."

Businesses don't have to demand each person create an account or sign up for emails before checking out. Adding unnecessary steps will drive more people away. "The customer experience is at the forefront of our business," says Raise founder and CEO George Bousis. "It's not only about the speed and ease of use, but also understanding what your customers are looking for and then delivering the experience whenever or wherever it's convenient for them to make a transaction." Certainly make it an option for them but if the site requires an account to shop or view products, you'll see more drop off here.

Reviews are gold

There's been no change here. People love other people's opinions. Even if the other people are strangers they've never met, they will take their advice over anything they read from a company's website. In the same way people will go to social media and their friends before deciding on a brand or product, they'll skim the reviews on the product page before purchasing.

"With the increase of mobile web users, we understood that in today's world a mobile compatible experience is not enough - You have to be provide a mobile first experience and more - We call it mobile awesome. Therefore, we decided to build our system architecture in a way that integrates mobile devices, tablets and social networks. This also fits our vision of creating authentic reviews and user-generated content for eCommerce website.

After looking at over 160,000 eCommerce stores we also learned that there is a very strong likelihood that an eCommerce site's conversion rate grows in direct correlation to the amount of reviews its products receive.

Another crucial element is design. Brands have started to understand how important visuals are for business - especially with the growth of Instagram, Vine, Pinterest - and therefore started to embrace visual UGC," says Tomer Tagrin, the CEO of Yotpo.

Provide incentive for customers to leave honest feedback on products. And don't surprise them with a million steps to submit one either. They can create an account, sure, but a name, email address and a rating system is all you need. Otherwise, you'll lose their interest before they finish reviewing the item.

Think bigger and cleaner

When it comes to ecommerce design, clean up the clutter. Hidden menus and card design help to make it easier on the shopper. All the information is there but it's clean, it's out of the way, and it's easy to find. "E-commerce systems are growing more intuitive," says Maria Pergolino, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Apttus. "The fewer steps a customer needs to satisfy all their needs, the more successful the purchasing platform is."

Responsive design was huge in 2015, it's true. But that was about mobile devices. Now it's time to think bigger, too. Shoppers are now browsing on larger screens and smart TVs. Photos and graphics must have a high resolution. What's more, consumers love large backgrounds that tell a story, animation that gives them insight into the brand and interesting content.

Overall, think about the the decision-making process and buying habits of your market. While trends and even habits change, one thing doesn't. Consumers want an experience that is engaging and exciting, but requires minimal effort.

Published on: Feb 23, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.