Jul 16, 2014

eCommerce Website Essentials

In the United States, eCommerce sales are expected to reach over $434 billion by the end of the year. That’s a lot of dough, and this doesn’t even take into account the rest of the world.

eCommerce is big business, and has been for a while now. While eCommerce sites were once treated with suspicion by internet users, it’s become as common as checking email. While I’m sure there are some internet users out there who have never made an online purchase, they’re getting rarer by the day.

As a website designer, you can’t afford to ignore good ecommerce design. Here’s a guide to creating great ecommerce website development.

The Design Process

While the design process for an ecommerce site isn’t drastically different from the process for any other kind of site, there are some additional things to consider and to figure out prior to actually designing and throughout the process until (and after) it goes live.

One thing to consider is existing product photos, and whether there’s a budget for new ones. If every product photo you’ll have to use has a very minimalistic look, then designing a very ornate site may not work. Better to find out from the beginning than to wait until the design is finished only to be provided with photos that clash horribly (and therefore make the products look bad themselves).

3 Things Every Online Store Needs

A lot goes into building a successful online shopping experience, but there are three key elements that every site needs:

  • Trustworthiness: Every ecommerce site out there needs to build a sense of trust among shoppers. If a shopper doesn’t feel like the site is trustworthy, they’ll take their business elsewhere.
  • Simplicity and Ease of Use: An online store needs to be simple in the way that it functions, if not in the design itself. At no point should your shopper be left wondering what to do next.
  • Transparency: Transparency goes hand-in-hand with trustworthiness, but it goes further. Transparency means you ned to make sure that things such as contact information and the merchant’s policies for things like shipping and returns are easy to find. It can also be tied into things such as customer reviews on the site, and openly addressing any criticism that may come you way.

Make sure these three things are incorporated into your ecommerce website, along with the follow best practices:

Best Practices

Like we’ve said before, there’s a lot to consider when building an ecommerce website. Some are dependent on the type of site, the company, and the products being sold. But there are others that are applicable to almost any type of site.

Here are some of the best practices you should keep in mind, most of which applies regardless of the type of product you’re selling.

Big Images & Lots of Them

People want to see the products they’re buying prior to making a purchase. Since online shopping prevents them from seeing what they’re buying, they rely on images that give them as close to the same experience as possible.

That means there should be photos from every possible angle, and those photos should be large and zoomable. As a designer, make sure that you design product pages in a way that allows for a lot of images to be displayed. So, what if you’re selling a virtual product? How do you handle photos then? Screenshots are generally the best idea.

Draw Attention to Related Products

Unless you’re selling a single product, every product page should include links to other, related products. These should be given a prominent spot on the page, and be integrated into the design from the get-go, rather than something tacked on at the end.

Make it Easy to Share

Social media sharing functions should also be made a prominent part of your product page design. Word of mouth is also a powerful advertisement, and making it easy for customers to share their purchase is a valuable way to get essentially free advertising.

Make sure your ecommerce site integrates share buttons on the product pages, as well as after the visitor has made their purchase.

Simplify Checkout

The checkout process should be quick and easy. Ideally, you’d have a single page that lets buyer review what’s in their cart and enter their billing and shipping information, with an additional page to confirm their order before placing it.

Some sites create a longer checkout funnel, with a page to review their cart, a separate page to enter shipping information, and page to enter billing information, a place to review the order, and an additional page to confirm before finally placing it. A checkout process that’s this long and complicated can actually deter customers and make them abandon their cart.

However, one page you shouldn’t skip, though, is a page for customers to review their entire order before finalizing and placing it. Shoppers are used to this step, and may hesitate more if they don’t have a final page to review before placing the order.

Don’t Require an Account

Requiring an account to make a purchase is generally a bad idea there are exceptions, though.

Instead of asking shoppers to sign up for an account prior to purchase, give them the option at the end, after their purchase is complete. And if an account is absolutely necessary, integrate the signup with one of the other pages in your checkout process, like the billing or shipping information page.

Calls to Action

The call to action on any ecommerce site is absolutely one of the most important elements of its design. Without an effective call to action, your sales are going to seriously suffer.

Now, there are two different kinds of calls to action that you’re likely to find, depending on which type of site it is. eCommerce sites selling multiple products are going to have calls to action on each product page, as well as possibly a call to action for each product on search results or browse pages.

In either case, most are going to include terminology like “add to cart”. On occasion, you might find a call to action that says something like “buy now” instead.

eCommerce sites selling a single product may have more than one call to action on the site, often with one on each page.

The basic elements of good ecommerce designs are something every website designer should be familiar with, if only because it’s bound to come up with the client at some point. Ignoring this aspect of design is either going to result in dissatisfied clients with your work, or clients who simply turn elsewhere.

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