What makes an eCommerce Web site a success? Obviously you must have a differentiated, quality product or service to sell and a marketing strategy to sell it. The performance of your site’s technology is critical as well. Bounce rates climb when sites load slowly and the customer won’t return to a store that doesn’t work.
But as you may have guessed from the title of this post, the eCommerce user experience shouldn’t be overlooked and incorporates your offering, marketing strategy, and technology. Your user experience, for example, has a major influence on your conversion rates and cart sizes. The easier your site makes it for your customer to understand, find and buy your products and services, the more they will buy and the more often they will return when you reach out to them with a new offer on Twitter, Facebook, or through your email newsletter campaign.
When I advise clients on designing the user experience for their eCommerce Web sites, I always like to focus on the business value of the user experience. It isn’t about making it look pretty, it’s about supporting and influencing your customers’ buying decisions. Here are few principles that will help you design a meaningful user experience that can create new customers and increase sales.
Test Your Site Early and Often—Then Test Again User experience isn’t something done far away by a design professional with a spark of creative genius. It isn’t a ‘make it pop’ or ‘put more products on the home page’ solution. While you must have talented and experienced design professionals to get the quality result you need, just as important it to make sure you are testing your designs with real customers.
Your customers are the ones who need to use the site to find the products and services they are looking for.
Your customers need to understand the value and performance of the products you offer.
If you can’t allocate a budget for usability testing, you can still conduct ad hoc usability tests with friends, family and colleagues.
In many cases you will have a broad demographic for a commercial eCommerce site.
When it comes to testing designs for usability, something is always better than nothing, and it always makes a huge difference. On one project a few years ago, the client for an eCommerce site re-design didn’t want to include customer product reviews because they were afraid that negative reviews would discourage sales. However, usability tests showed that, positive or negative, reviews tended to encourage customers to engage with the site. They actually purchased more. We discovered that many customers were leaving the site and Googling product reviews on other sites, and sometimes purchasing produces at competing stores. The reviews had a positive search engine optimization effect. We started getting page one results for some pretty strategic keywords. Without usability testing, we may have never reached consensus to institute a design enhancement that increased sales.
Make Customers An Offer Make your customer a meaningful offer on your homepage. While this may sound simple, many times eCommerce sites overcomplicate their offering in ways that confuse first time and return customers, or they present categories that conflict with their core offering. Remember, your customers are in a buying cycle for what you have to offer, and they want to learn more about the products and services they are interested in and purchase them. Every other feature and piece of content on your site must support that experience, not interfere with it.
Try to focus on the unique value of the products and services you offer. Present the products and services that make your brand unique in ways that are fresh, clear and above all, actionable. Make it easy to drop those special offers into a shopping cart. The most successful eCommerce sites out there put their products and services forward in ways their customers understand intuitively.
Part of making a meaningful offer is using what you know about your customers. The more you know about your customer, the better you will be at making them an offer. If your site sells groceries and you know I’m a vegetarian, then you probably shouldn’t promote bacon. If my last ten purchases were based on a free shipping offer, you may want to throw that offer at me again.
Every feature on your site should support the 'add to cart' event. If you are spending a lot of time developing tools and features that don’t have that as a direct result, I would step back and ask the question, ‘Is this helping my customer make a buy decision?’ ‘Does this feature leverage what I know about my customer?’ If it doesn’t, then take it off your list of features. Collect customer data and use it to make offers that resonate, and influence the click on ‘add to cart.’
Analyze the Analytics If you are re-designing an existing site or have just launched a new site, the analytics will help you understand exactly what your customers are doing on your site and help you test enhancements. Google Analytics is free and all of our customers benefit from it. Following click paths, bounce rates,and link popularity can quickly help you understand what works and what doesn’t work on your site.
One area to pay special attention to is your site’s navigation. Are you customers finding the products they are looking for? Does your site’s nomenclature reflect how your customers think about the product or how your internal lines of business are organized? Like usability testing, you can use this data to test user experience enhancements. You might provide two different product detail pages to random visitors and see if having a larger product photo makes a difference in your add to cart numbers, or if the left most horizontal navigation position will always be the most popular link on your site regardless of the product category you put there (it often is).
Of course a lot more goes into designing the user experience, but understanding your customers perspective, making the right offer, and tracking and adjusting based on real data will always lead to a better solution, more usable solution, and more sales.
Peter Nuefeld has a passion for user experience and usability. He oversees DOOR3's user experience practice and advises his clients on interactive brand and marketing, eCommerce, social media and mobile solutions. He has advised many leading eCommerce brands, including Eyes Lips Face, FreshDirect, Greendepot, Patagonia, Smith + Noble, and Williams-Sonoma, on how they can leverage user experience to increase cart size and order frequency. He can be reached at