7 Secrets of Designing an eCommerce Website

Simon Sterne.
August 15, 2023

Have you ever wondered why some ecommerce sites have you effortlessly gliding from page to page, product to cart, while others feel like trudging through digital quicksand? The answer lies in design.

7 Secrets of Designing an eCommerce Website.

When done right, design isn’t just visual — it’s experiential. It can engage, captivate, and guide users through a curated journey. From the moment they land on your page to that satisfying click of “Buy Now,” every element plays a role in crafting their experience.

Think of your favorite physical stores. Is it just the products that draw you in? Or is it the ambiance, layout, and service? Similarly, in the digital realm, the design of your ecommerce site can make or break the user’s journey. A well-thought-out design doesn’t just boost UX (User Experience) — it can skyrocket your sales.

Follow these seven tips to ensure your site is as enticing as your products:

1. Understand User Behaviour

Creating a successful e-commerce site isn’t just about having the right products or slick marketing: it begins with understanding user behavior.

User-Centered Design — When designing your ecommerce site, it’s crucial to have a user-centered approach. Remember, your site isn’t for you; it’s for your users. Think about their wants and needs. What are they looking for? What’s their shopping journey like? Once you have these answers, you can craft an experience tailored just for them. Remember, a satisfied user is often a repeat customer.

Mobile is the Future — Currently, over half of online shopping happens on mobile devices, so if your site isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re essentially turning away potential customers. Make sure your design is responsive, meaning it looks and functions beautifully on any device, be it a smartphone, tablet, or desktop.

Vitra looks great at all sizes.

Speed is of the Essence — It’s frustrating to have to wait for a site to load. Speed matters, especially when it comes to ecommerce. Slow load times can deter potential customers, decreasing sales and increasing bounce rates. Ensure your images are optimized, keep scripts to a minimum, and regularly test your site’s speed. Your users are on the go, and their time is precious – don’t keep them waiting.

In essence, when you step into the shoes of your users and genuinely understand their behavior and preferences, you lay the foundation for a successful e-commerce experience. Prioritize them, and you’ll be on the road to success.

2. Guide Your User’s Journey

No one likes getting lost, especially not online shoppers on a mission. The solution? Crystal-clear and intuitive navigation. Here’s how you make that happen.

The Beauty of a Simplified Menu — When was the last time you appreciated a cluttered menu? Probably never, because a cluttered menu is overwhelming and confusing. Refining your menu to only the most essential items makes the user’s journey straightforward and delightful. You don’t want to play hide and seek with your core pages, so make them front and center.

Sephora keeps its massive product range well-organized with clear navigation.

Search: Your User’s Best Friend — Have you ever been on an e-commerce site with a specific product in mind but can’t find it? This is where a search feature comes in. Incorporating an effective search function gives your users the power to cut through all the noise and go straight to what they want. Ultimately, it’s about providing them with control over their shopping experience.

Leaving Breadcrumbs — Breadcrumb navigation may sound like a fanciful concept from a storybook, but it serves a practical purpose in the digital world. These markers provide users with information on their location and how they arrived there. By using breadcrumbs, not only do you improve the user experience by preventing them from feeling disoriented, but you also subtly encourage them to explore more of what you have to offer.

Remember, your e-commerce site is a journey for your users. And every journey needs clear signposts and a smooth path. By offering transparent and intuitive navigation, you’re ensuring your visitors not only start their expedition but see it through to the checkout.

3. Earn Your Customer’s Confidence

Trust is the invisible currency of the digital world. Would you willingly hand over your credit card details to someone you don’t trust? Likely not. The same principle applies to ecommerce. Your customers need to feel safe and secure. Here’s how you can reassure them.

Trust Badges — Trust badges are simple tools to reassure users and instill trust. They are emblems from payment providers, security companies, and other trusted institutions. It’s akin to having a trusted friend vouch for you at a party. When users see these badges, they instantly feel more at ease. You’re showing them you associate with brands they already know and trust.

Transparent Return Policies — A lot of hesitation over buying online comes from ‘what ifs.’ What if it doesn’t fit? What if it looks different in person? Transparent return policies are the answer. You reduce your customers’ sense of risk by being upfront about returns, exchanges, and refunds. It might seem like a small thing, but it can make a world of difference in a user’s decision to buy.

M&S offer free returns for online orders on its homepage.

SSL Certificates — Ever noticed that tiny lock symbol next to a website’s URL? That’s an SSL certificate at work. In layperson’s terms, it encrypts sensitive data, ensuring it’s safely transported from one point to another. If you’re serious about protecting your customers’ data (and you should be), an SSL certificate is non-negotiable.

Building trust isn’t an overnight endeavor. It’s a consistent effort to show your users you’re on their side, ensuring their security and prioritizing transparency. When you stitch trustworthiness into the very fabric of your ecommerce site, you’re not just winning sales – you’re earning loyalty.

4. Present Products Perfectly

In a successful brick-and-mortar store, a lot of effort goes into displaying products to their best advantage: position, lighting, environment, and the option to touch the item, read its label or packaging, and even try it out. So how can you match that experience on a website?

High-Quality Images — Users can’t touch, feel, or try out your products when shopping online. Your images are their eyes. By investing in high-resolution, multi-angle shots, you’re essentially giving them a virtual tour. It’s a promise that what they see is what they’ll get.

Colorful Standard
Colorful Standard showcases multiple products in a hero video on their homepage.

Detailed Product Descriptions — Your product images might pull users in, but the product description seals the deal. Dive into the details. What are its features? How can it benefit the user? Why is it better than the competition? Think of it as telling a compelling story where your product is the protagonist.

Customer Reviews and Ratings — There’s no marketing quite as powerful as genuine praise from someone who’s been there and tried that. Customer reviews and ratings are your gold mines of credibility. When potential buyers see honest feedback from others, it solidifies trust, clarifies uncertainties, and often tips them over into buying.

In a digital marketplace where users can’t physically interact with products, how you present them becomes paramount. It’s about crafting a narrative, being visually compelling, and harnessing the power of peer approval.

5. Streamline Your Checkout Process

We’ve all been there: excitedly filling our online cart, ready to make a purchase, only to be faced with a confusing, lengthy checkout process. The result? A swift click on that dreaded ‘x’ and an abandoned cart. But you have the power to make your checkout a breeze, ensuring your customers cross the finish line with ease.

Guest Checkout Option — Not everyone wants to commit on a first date. Similarly, not every shopper wants to create an account right off the bat. You’re extending a hand of convenience by offering a guest checkout option. It’s like saying, “Hey, no pressure. Just enjoy your shopping experience on your terms.”

Minimizing Steps: Less is More — The fewer the steps, the quicker the checkout, and the happier the customer. Audit your process, trim the fat, and watch as more users glide effortlessly from cart to confirmation.

Clear Call-to-Action (CTA) Buttons — Your CTAs are the clear signs on the user’s journey. Bold, unmistakable, and unmissable. Whether it’s “Proceed to Checkout,” “Apply Coupon,” or “Confirm Purchase,” your CTAs should stand out and guide the user intuitively.

Crafting a seamless checkout is about anticipating user needs, removing roadblocks, and providing clear guidance. With these tweaks, you’ll offer an experience users will want to revisit.

6. Encourage Engagement and Interaction

The world of e-commerce is not just about selling products—it’s about connecting to your customers. Ever walked into a store and felt instantly at home, thanks to the helpful staff and personalized touches? That’s what you are trying to recreate for your digital visitors.

Live Chat: Your 24/7 Digital Concierge — If a user is browsing your store and has a question you haven’t foreseen, having a friendly face ready to help in real time can make a big difference. Live chat isn’t just a support tool; it’s an engagement powerhouse. But, just like in the real world, having a shop assistant hovering around can make some customers uncomfortable, so having a chat bubble in the way can get irritating: make sure it can be closed.

Email Sign-Up — You’ve piqued their interest; now you want to keep the conversation going. Enter the humble email sign-up. With tailored newsletters, exclusive deals, and personalized updates, you’re not just selling; you’re building a relationship. Just be careful not to bombard them with too many emails too often.

Related Products — By showcasing related products, you’re offering users a curated journey of discovery. It’s virtual upselling: your way of saying, “If you loved this, we have more things you’ll like.”

Engaging with users requires care, attention, and a touch of personalization. When you infuse your ecommerce site with genuine interaction tools, you’re not just driving sales; you’re creating a relationship with your customer.

7. SEO and Performance

Wander through the vast expanse of the online marketplace, and you’ll notice that it’s buzzing, dynamic, and crowded. You need to ensure that your e-commerce site stands tall, catching the eye of every potential explorer. That’s where SEO comes in.

Optimized Product Titles and Descriptions — How do you get your products to stand out among the vast array of similar goods available online? By having razor-sharp, optimized titles and descriptions. They’re not just labels; they’re your SEO-powered magnets, drawing in users with pinpoint precision. You need to get your products screaming “Look at me!” in search engine results.

Fast and Responsive Design — We’ve already discussed the importance of speed for ensuring a positive user experience, but it is also a ranking factor for search engines. Keep your load times low, and everybody will be happy.

Integrated Blog — Blogs are often underestimated as e-commerce tools, but a blog can be beneficial as a strategic SEO move, enriching your site with fresh content, keywords, and engagement opportunities. By fostering organic growth through insightful posts, you’re not just informing; you’re raising your SEO game.

Transparent has a ’Journal’ section with articles featuring its products in use.

In the ever-evolving world of e-commerce, SEO isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the path to your door. Get it right, and customers will be headed your way.

Bonus Tip: Feedback and Iteration

Once you have launched your web store, it would be nice to just sit back and watch the customers roll up. But that’s not the way it works. You need to keep track of how the site is being used so you can make sure it continues producing results.

User testing with real users will give you direct feedback on the user experience, while analytics tools like Google Analytics will show you larger patterns over time. Use this feedback to help you update and refine your site and keep those sales climbing.

When crafting an outstanding ecommerce experience, it’s all in the details—every subtle touch matters, from the grand gestures to the small nuances influencing each user’s journey. Remember, adhering to design principles is crucial for building a solid foundation for your online store. By prioritizing the user experience, you ensure every visitor has an experience worth returning for.

Simon Sterne

Simon Sterne is a staff writer at WebdesignerDepot. He’s interested in technology, WordPress, and all things UX. In his spare time he enjoys photography.

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