Careful consideration is essential when designing any website, but ecommerce websites in particular present challenges which require special attention.
When the primary purpose of the site you are designing for is commerce, it is extremely important that the user (your potential customer) is given no excuse to navigate away, give up or get distracted from what you want them to do which is place an order on your site.
Here are a few things to consider as you think about your design…
Maximise screen real-estate but keep page weight low
An ever-present design challenge, when designing for the web, is making the best use of screen real estate whilst keeping page weight (or file size) down. This is especially important on an ecommerce website, as there are potentially numerous other websites offering the same product as you. Your potential customer is not going to hang around if your site is noticeably slower than your competitors. They need to be able to find what they’re looking for, or what you want them to look for (more on this in a moment), quickly and efficiently.
Virtually every pixel on an ecommerce design needs to be carefully considered, however, the usual rules of visual hierarchy still apply and positioning your most important elements in the right places will pay dividends. Thorough research into the browsing habits of your core demographic is essential for gleaning the most value from every pixel.
Navigation and organisation
A good primary navigation, well organised site structure and search tools are of paramount importance. Ensure your products are categorised in a coherent manner, changes may need to be made to these either seasonally or event-driven, especially when it comes to your navigation.
The top-left item in your navigation will get the most attention and this will taper off as you progress through the remaining options, so give this careful thought and organise the options you present to your user in order of importance.
A search field is essential for an ecommerce site as many users will reach your site already knowing exactly what they want, particularly if they’ve stopped by to see if you are cheaper than the competition. It also offers the user a way to find what they are looking for if they can’t see a category or navigation option that fits the bill.
Always provide a sitemap or A-Z listing of your products and possibly some browsing options in addition to your categories. Offer the user multiple ways to reach each of your products. Your categories may represent a range of products and by offering your users other ways to find the products in each category, you open up your site more. For example: you may have a category for the range ‘Garden Tools’, by offering users an additional menu of more specific tool options such as ‘Forks’, ‘Hoes’ and ‘Spades’ you could capture the user who knows what type of tool he is after.
Test ways of guiding your users to products that you want them to buy, utilise techniques such as well positioned up-selling panels; while a user is browsing a particular product, subtly offer them one or two similar (but more profitable) products. Keep it subtle though, as being too bold with it may turn out to be counterproductive if you scare them off. Choose the range of products displayed on your homepage carefully, as having the right products on your homepage could be the difference between a casual browser making a purchase or going elsewhere.
Interest persuasion and calls to action
Once a user has landed on your site, you need to ensure you keep their interest and make the route through to payment as easy as possible.
Ensure your product images are high quality and that they show your products in their best light, however, make sure they remain representative and realistic as offering something you cannot deliver will be counterproductive in the long term.
Keep your copy concise and relevant and sum up the features of each product in a bullet list where appropriate.
Consider the placement of calls to action such as ‘place order’ buttons, make them vibrant and obvious and keep them consistent throughout your site. Have a generic button style for things such as ‘back’ and ‘edit’ and a separate, more attention-grabbing style and position for your calls to action.
Once a user has started your checkout process, remove all distractions that could cause them to navigate away. Consider removing your main navigation and any extraneous links but remember to keep the feel consistent with the rest of your site, your user needs to remain confident they are still on the site that they trust. You should be aiming to remove as many distractions as possible in a way that the user will not really be aware of.
Make good use of testimonials and customer feedback in your design. Where possible; use comments from social networks that can be linked. This provides the reader a chance to verify the review is genuinely from an external source.
Analytics, testing and continuous improvement
Do not underestimate the importance of analysing all aspects of your design on an ongoing basis to see what is working and what would benefit from a change.
If you have the technical skills in-house, A/B test any major updates to your site, this way you can ensure any changes you are considering making will actually improve conversion or add value to your design.
The design process for any website is a crucial stage that needs to be carefully thought through, however, ecommerce designs present unique challenges. Nailing a great ecommerce design should mean conversion rates are good and users will enjoy browsing and trust your site.
Make sure your design is consistent throughout the site so that users are not given any reason to abandon their purchase in the later stages.
The nature of ecommerce websites; their size and technical challenges means that a designer and developer team collaboration will work best. Quality valid code and well constructed source is vital for accessibility and SEO along with good copy (not just taken from your printed media!)
Make sure you are designing with your target demographic in mind, with ecommerce it’s imperative that you create a design that your core users will appreciate, rather than being led too much by the latest trends or trying to showcase your design skills with something too elaborate.
Ecommerce is an area where form definitely needs to follow function, however, with a considered approach you should be able to come up with an aesthetically pleasing experience for your users which will keep their interest and result in more sales.