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Anatomy Of A Great Ecommerce Website

You want to sell things online. Your customers want to buy things online. So what’s the problem?

All too often, the problem is your ecommerce website. For every great example of an ecommerce website that works brilliantly for both a company and its customers, there are a whole lot of sites that are too slow, too complicated, too confusing, too mobile-unfriendly, or just too difficult to buy from. That leaves your customers unhappy – and it leaves your accountant unhappy too.

So, what features make for a great ecommerce website?

1. Checkout is fast and painless

It might seem odd to start with the checkout process – doesn’t that come last, not first? But if your customers can’t figure out how to buy your products without going through a world of pain, they’ll give up long before their money and your goods change hands.

A good checkout process starts with a good shopping cart. Here are some features to look for:

  • Does your shopping cart show the user thumbnail images of each product in the cart?
  • Does your shopping cart show or link to product details, so that the user has the chance to double-check that they have selected the correct item?
  • Is it easy for the user to edit the items in the cart: by adding items, removing items, or deciding to change the quantity of a particular item?

Users want a clear, simple checkout process, and they don’t want unpleasant surprises – like discovering high shipping costs only after they’ve decided on their purchase. Here are our suggestions for getting rid of unpleasant surprises in the checkout process:

  • Show shipping costs clearly prior to checkout, and don’t present unexpected costs at checkout – make sure users know all the costs they’re signing up for.
  • Accept all common payment methods – don’t lose customers because you don’t accept their cards.
  • If possible, include a payment method that doesn’t require a credit card.
  • Make it easy for users to contact customer support if they run into problems.
  • Have a big, clear checkout button! If there was ever a place your Call to Action needed to stand out, this is it.
  • Don’t force people to sign up in advance. Consider either allowing them to make a purchase with a guest signup, or leaving the whole signup process until after the order has been made.

2. Mobile users have at least as good an experience as desktop users

These days, more people buy on mobile than on desktop. That means your ecommerce shop doesn’t just need to be mobile-friendly – increasingly, it needs to be mobile-first. And that means designing for a wide range of devices and screen sizes – and making sure to test on those devices and screen sizes, too.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Is your mobile navigation easy to use?
  • Are buttons on your site large enough so that users can tap on them without difficulty?
  • Do your images look good on mobile?
  • Does your shopping cart work well no matter what width or length of screen is being used?

If you solve these problems for your mobile users, then you will have gone a long way towards solving them for your desktop users, too.

3.The design is clear, attractive and easy to navigate

Is your ecommerce website clearly laid out, attractive, and easy to navigate – or is it a cluttered mess? When it comes to selling stuff to busy users who have a world of other choices and not much time to make them, design is crucial.

Before you contact Webstruxure or another web design company, think about your own experience of using ecommerce sites. What ecommerce sites work best for you? Do the sites that you favour have design features in common? What keeps you moving through the online sales process, and what makes you give up?

Your own reactions and preferences are a valuable guide, but you can’t assume that they’re typical of your audience. That’s where design and user experience experts can validate your assumptions about works and what doesn’t, if necessary by carrying out user research.

4. Your pages load fast

The faster that pages load on your ecommerce website, the more likely your users are to complete the purchase process. Add speed to ease of use, and you’re onto a winner.

Google search rankings now penalise sites with slow load speed, but in compensation they provide a very handy online page load speed measurement tool, which also recommends what improvements you need to make to increase page speed.

Many of those changes will need technical assistance from a web developer . But one improvement you may be able to make without technical help is to optimise your product images for use on the web. Since ecommerce websites tend to be very image-heavy, reducing the file sizes of your images can make a big difference to page load speed.

5. Product photos and descriptions are clear and useful

In a bricks-and-mortar store, customers can examine goods closely. But in an ecommerce website, all they have to go on are product photos and descriptions. So it’s vital you get these right.

Here are some things to consider when choosing and uploading product photos:

  • Are your product images clear and well lit?
  • Can you include multiple photos of one product, so you can display all its features?
  • Do you have photos of the product in use, as well as on the shelf?
  • Can users zoom in or click to see a larger version of the product image?

When it comes to product descriptions, avoid the temptation to cut and paste manufacturers’ product descriptions. That’s likely to be bad for both your customers and your search engine optimisation:

Bad for customers: Because manufacturer’s product descriptions are often poorly written or translated and uninformative.
Bad for search engine optimisation: Unless yours is only the only site containing these manufacturers’ product descriptions, there will be multiple copies of them across the Internet, and thus your product pages may be penalised by Google for containing duplicate content.

Take the time to rewrite product descriptions so that they’re well-written, concise, and search engine friendly – or get your friendly local content creators to do that work for you.

6. Your returns policy is designed to help, not hinder

You don’t want to deal with lots of product returns, so there’s a temptation to make your returns policy as difficult, obstructive and legalistic as possible. Avoid that temptation, because the existence of a clear returns policy tells customers that they can purchase from your site with confidence, while a restrictive returns policy makes customers suspicious that something isn’t on the level.

The best way to avoid returns is to provide clear, accurate, high-quality product images and descriptions that minimise the risk customers will buy something that isn’t what they wanted or intended.

But if users do need to return items, then you need a returns policy that is easy to understand, is upfront about any cost the customer incurs by returning an item and is clear about the terms of the return.

7. You follow up your customers just often enough

You want to turn first-time customers into returning customers and encourage returning customers to return again and again. The best way of doing that is with follow-up messages – and the trick is to send enough to be helpful, but not enough to be spammy. Overdo it, and you’ll end up getting hit with spam complaints that are bad both for your company’s reputation and your email service’s performance. The key is to follow up in ways that the customer perceives as helpful rather than intrusive.

Here are some suggested ways of following up a transaction:

  • Send the customer a receipt.
  • Send the customer order tracking information.
  • Send a thank-you email to the customer around a week after they have made their purchase.
  • If a couple of months have passed and the customer hasn’t ordered from you again, send them a follow up email with a discount code. (Of course, this period may need to be shorter or longer, depending on what you’re selling.)

A great ecommerce website can make a huge difference to your business – and Webstruxure has plenty pf experience in both creating new ecommerce websites and improving existing ones. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.

Webstruxure is here to make the web work smarter. Let us know how we can help you for user friendly, mobile friendly and search engine friendly websites. Our services include:
Web design
Content strategy
 User experience

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Tim Jones - Content Strategist at Webstruxure
Tim Jones – Lord of the Words

Tim works as a content strategist and project manager for Webstruxure, helping clients make sure their websites meet user needs and business goals. He is also a published author of fiction and poetry, with seven books published, and has co-edited two poetry anthologies. You can find out more about Tim’s writing on the New Zealand Book Council website.

Also published on Medium.