With growing numbers of businesses taking their products and services to the web, offering greater reach and accessibility of their wares to their existing and potential clients, we as web designers need to be ready to deliver on their e-commerce web wants and needs. Across the Web we see numerous examples of both ends of this spectrum, e-commerce websites done extremely well and, unfortunately, some extremely poorly.
Here we'll shine a light on what makes an e-commerce website really work. We discuss the basics that are required for success and highlight them with some sites that exemplify the points in focus. Overall, much of the weight of a successful e-commerce site falls under the UX umbrella, with functionality being key.
And while it is true that could be argued for every site on the Web, given the very nature of them, e-commerce sites' success rely so heavily on usability and function, that any choice which would strain either of these aspects of the site should not ever be considered.
Not only do you need at least one very prominant search box on the site, it also needs to work impecibly. Visitors are going to be searching for the items they wish to purchase from the site and if the search function is below par, and they have any kinds of issues whatsoever finding exactly what they're looking for, it could cost users and potential buyers. In fact, chances are, with the high number of both local and national chains operating in the same markets the users will end up going to a competitor where they don't have as many issues.
So be clear not only with how they can search the products and services on offer, but also be sure that you give them a trail of breadcrumbs that highlight where in the shop the item they were searching for hides. This way they can easily browse related items in the same category. It is all about giving them as much flexibility to access the store items as possible, while doing it subtly enough as to not overwhelm them. It is a fine balance to strike indeed.
Like the search box, visitors not only need an easy and apparent way to get to their shopping cart from any page on the site, the cart itself needs to be highly user friendly and functional. Users have expectations that need to be looked after if they are expected to stick around and spend their money at any particular site, and the shopping cart is one area where dropping the ball on meeting those expectations can be unneccessarily costly.
Customers need to be able to easily delete items from their cart as well as change the quantities of items in there. Meeting these expectations is good, but exceeding them where you can is even better. Go above and beyond by offering an estimate on shipping based on the customer's zip code and offering multiple shipping options when available. Make the entire check-out process completely intuitive, an absolute no-brainer, so as to remove any chance of customer confusion.
Naturally you want to showcase the product line in the most effective and attractive way possible. The photographs of the products is the last place any client needs to try and save some money, so you may need to convince them to hire the best photographer they can afford. Make sure the product images show them in their best light possible, and to do so, there needs to be a professional on the other end of the lens.
A gorgeous image with just the right light and composition versus a dark fuzzy photo will make the difference between a sale and a customer lost to a lack of professionalism on display. Almost as important as the way the products look is the way they are described on the site. Give as detailed a description as possible, covering everything the customers could possibly have a question about. Color choices, exact dimensions, weight, and so on.
Calls to action
Though they are often vital to the mission at hand, the prettiest pictures and best descriptions in the world won't make a bit of difference if the customer can't find the button to actually purchase the item. The various calls to action throughout will be the proverbial bread and butter of any ecommerce site. Make sure you highlight them effectively enough to find the users' eye as they're lead through the design and visually commands them to click.
Which also leads to the next point, be sure they all work properly. Again this is an area where lack of functionality can spell disaster for the site's effectiveness and overall popularity. If the site is known to have issues with any of CTA's, then what is the enticement for users to return in search of goods they possibly cannot access or procure. And it is always frustrating for a user when the design visually calls to them saying "Click Here", and when they do, absolutely nothing occurs.
If the potential customers are going to be giving their payment details through the site you want to make sure they feel as secure as possible in doing so. If there is anything on the site that gives them a less than comforting feeling, with regards to the security of the information required to complete their transactions, good luck getting this to be a successful ecommerce site. So site security has to be priority. Visably so.
Make sure the site have an up-to-date SSL certificate to start with. Also be sure that the site uses an approved and reputable payment gateway to offer users a sense of comfort when they begin handing over their payment information. And speaking of said info, it is good practice to never save credit card information being transmitted via the site. Not only that, but be sure to encrypt all communications with the credit card processor.
Hopefully, if all the other advice is followed, the customers coming to the site will be able to easily find what they are looking for and make their purchase without impedence, but with so many factors influencing all user interactions with the site this is not always a guarantee. Should the users end up with a question they need an answer to, before they buy from the site, giving them a simple way to contact someone who can help is a must.
If someone cannot be on hand immediately to address the customer's concerns, it becomes imperative to make sure and get back to them in as timely a manner as possible. Keeping them waiting around, is never any kind of solid plan. It can often backfire and cause them to seek out alternatives to your shop.