I’ve had the pleasure of working on a number of successful eCommerce websites. Some operated in very competitive industries including online fashion retail. Most of the projects were struggling at the time I commenced making changes. In some cases, these changes were drastic to the point of turning inside out, the original eCommerce design.
Here I have pooled together my top considerations for building successful eCommerce websites.
No. 1 Product Navigation
Perhaps the most important component of an online store is its navigation system. Users need to have the ability to browse among different categories and products quickly through an intuitive navigation system. Investing in the information architecture of an eCommerce website is key to success. Also, consideration of responsive design will appease the continuing increase in mobile device based online shopping.
Why consider responsive design? One website for all devices just makes sense. And, in the US this year 15% of online retail sales are expected to take place via a mobile device.
(Update: Mobile traffic & online purchases have shot through the sky since this article was originally published. Plus, mobile-friendly websites are having a better time SEO-wise! Go mobile & get responsive.)
No. 2 Product Search Functionality
Offering a product search in an eCommerce website is important to cater for the many users who know specifically what they are looking. A search feature also offers a positive navigation experience. Plus, you can often track these search queries and the results pages in analytics for a helpful insight into what you’re online traffic came looking for!
No. 3 Featured Products
By having the ability to put featured products on the center stage of your website, you are in a position to promote specific products over others. This can be especially powerful in terms of the first impression of your brand’s pricing and your brand’s quality.
No. 4 Categories For Products
The way products are categorised needs to be in keeping with an easy to use navigation system. A well thought-out categorisation system or hierarchy from merchandise type (Jackets) to sub-type (Winter Jackets) and size / colour variations (Large, Black) will help customers find exactly what they are looking for, easily. Don’t lump everything into one category, but also don’t go too far and end up with categories that offer only two or a few products. The latter is disastrous for bounce-rates and engagement.
No. 5 Product Images
The quality and appeal of product images is one of the most important ingredients to a successful eCommerce business. Images of the products must be displayed in an enticing way. Images must be big enough, and clear enough to fill potential customers with confidence. Don’t settle for mediocrity. If the image is a 15 or 30kb .jpeg file, just don’t. Try to avoid using images from a supplier (ever!) because your competition will most likely be doing exactly the same. Your supplier will usually have okay quality product images (if you are lucky). Get professional product photography for your website. And watermark your unique product images, so they stay yours as well as providing some promotion of your website name via Google images.
No. 5 An Easy To Use & Trustworthy Check-Out
The payment gateway (and your merchant account) will greatly dictate how the Check-Out system works. However, keep in mind one simple, golden rule. Keep it simple and limit the number of the clicks and or pageviews required to complete the transaction.
No. 6 Customer Help & Support
All potential online customers like to be reassured of trust, quality and on-going support. Basic support options can include: Email and a dedicated phone number.Advanced support options include: Live Chat, Customer Reviews & Testimonials. Don’t discount the reality that people, even when buying online, do like to talk to someone. Especially old(er) people, in my experience. When a potential customer can call and speak to a salesperson, the conversion rates are typically higher, and more sales are closed. This applies across all industries.
No. 7 Sell Something Unique
The statement is made more often than you probably want to hear it. I won’t say it is always 100% correct, but it’s an important business model consideration: “If the product you want to sell online, is already for sale on amazon, you shouldn’t setup your own eCommerce website.” Unfortunately, competition can be the difference between big eCommerce ventures and just making a few dollars.
No. 8 Invest in Search Engine Optimisation
An investment in SEO, whether it be a freelance SEO, or SEO company; will help ensure your eCommerce website isn’t just built, but that all roads to in fact lead to Rome. Your SEO workflow should ensure that all products have good quality unique product descriptions and at the very least, a navigation system that communicates clearly with both customers and Google alike.