The success of an e-commerce website is not determined only by its products and offers, no matter how amazing they are. It is also influenced by how visitors feel about the website, how easy they find products and how they understand information. For people to buy something from a website they need to live a shopping experience that rises to their expectations. So which are these expectations or how does a website have to function to get more customers?
Sales and user experience – why they’re interlinked
Everything that you put on your website has to work well with other elements, to have a purpose, and to be understood by different segments of users from your target market.
The key word in web design for e-shops is not “beautiful”, it’s “usability”. Your website is the interface between your customer and you, and its purpose is to generate as many sales as possible. With this mantra in mind, you should always ask yourself “What more can I do to enhance user experience? What would a visitor want to know and how can I display this information more efficiently?”.
Understanding how visitors interact with e-shops
If you want to make business, and drive visitors as smoothly as possible on the path to conversion, try by every possible mean to reduce the effort they put into making the purchase.
Once you have found who are the target customers of your website and what experience you want to create for them, things should be easier. Create scenarios and see what users could want during each step of the navigation on the website and during their purchase.
The stages which a visitor passes through while on an e-shop, can be categorized as follows: searching, comprehending, and interacting. Here’s how you can create the best user experience according to this model of usability:
Tasks related to finding products (navigation, search, information architecture)
Shopping has always been a complex activity with many social and pragmatic facets that we now have to translate online. The good news is that websites have an infinite space for displaying information. Unlike in a brick and mortar store, you can create as many offers as you like, propose as much information as necessary. The secret to it all is to find the best way to organize it so that it responds to people’s shopping habits and patterns of thinking when searching for different types of merchandise.
Menus are a fundamental element of navigation. If you want to provide users with a way of navigation no matter where they are on the website, menus are the solution.
What can transform an average menu into a great one is its power to provide categories and structures that match the way visitors perceive or use the products. For example, you can create categories by brands, by the context of using, by shared features of products or by how certain products work together.
The purchase decision is influenced by the speed of finding the right information at the right time. Trust and the way visitors feel about the site are equally important. And a sloppy, chaotic website won’t generate much trust. So organize methodically every product and every piece of information you have.
For example, Thespicehouse.com chose to organize their spices in alphabetical order (for users that know exactly what they are searching for), by their nature (herbs, cocoa, barbeque), by cuisine (for visitors who know what they want to cook, but don’t know what to use), and by season.
Of course, if you don’t have a huge e-shop and if your target visitors are young people interested in unconventional things, you can always try an alternative navigation style. Like Drippinginfat.com did:
There are users who return to the site search whenever their navigation is hindered by some sort of detail. So make sure the plugin you’re using or the algorithm you designed for your website can provide intuitive search. It’s also crucial that the engine makes complex association between what the visitor searched for and the products you provide. “Could not find any results” should be a message rarely displayed.
Information architecture also makes a great contribution to user experience. It’s mainly about not letting users get lost on the website and making information available as easily as possible. A good architecture is a shallow architecture or a mean of organization that doesn’t require too many levels. A homepage – category – subcategory – product page, should be sufficient and not lead customers to a never-ending quest for the right product.
Another way to avoid website intricacies is by displaying large amounts of information in a minimalistic, yet complete way. Here’s how Myspicesage.com encompassed so much information in these self explanatory labels:
Tasks related to comprehending information related to the purchase (content, message, presentation – design, call to action buttons)
Aesthetics are, of course, important and they contribute to the overall success of a website, but only as a mean to great user experience. A big shift has taken place from artistic design to persuasion design. This doesn’t mean that design loses its qualities, it just has additional goals: a commercial objective and a usability objective.
Good design means letting out all unnecessary things and displaying only the essential ones, in a way that increases usability, and, if possible, pleases the eye.
Mingaberlin.com is a website that relies on the power of an art (photography) to put its products forefront. Pictures are so cool that no additional information is necessary on the homepage.
Wildandbare.com, a teashop, also uses photography based design to recreate the tasteful world of teas.
Content can make the difference between a great e-shop and an average one. Using the right words can attract visitors’ attention and engage them, can make offers more compelling.
However, user experience is not always about copywriting. Sometimes, in order to be efficient, content has to pass unnoticeable, and just do his job. Users must navigate naturally, without needing to focus on words. A shopping experience is one through which users enjoy the discovery of products and the positive feeling of getting something desired, not an experience of admiring ingenious phrases.
Call to action buttons generate the desire to pursue an action, and lead visitors on the path to conversion. They are inherent to conversion optimization and used as elements that boost sales. However, they also have a linking role that makes them very valuable for creating coherent user experiences. Call to action buttons have to promise something that will be continued on another page. This is why their appearance and the text they display have to be chosen with great care.
Example: Instead of using the classical “Add to cart” or “Buy now” call to action, Asos.com chose something that suits better its image as a top fashion e-tailer: “Add to bag”.
Tasks related to interacting with the website and creating unique experiences (personalization, rich media)
Personalization can be a very effective method of creating user experiences that are remembered and that create user engagement with the website and with the brand.
Personalization can be seen as a website that adapts itself to each visitor’s needs and preferences: recognizing where each visitor is from and prompting delivery information, displaying custom offers, sending visitors messages and offers coordinated with what they do on the website and the choices they make.
Childrensplace.com uses location based personalization:
Just think about it: what if your website would have a framework or a fundamental structure that’s being filled in with different layers, each time a new visitor enters the website? A fluent structure like a collection of layers that superpose to create unique experiences for each user. If you are interested in the personalization techniques, Omniconvert has an interesting feature that allows you to create smart interactions.
Rich media (videos, flash animations) are sometimes considered anti-conversion: they’re not easily indexed by search engines, and, depending on browser version and installed plugins, they are not visible to all visitors. However, rich media are very powerful in creating unparalleled user experiences and work like nothing else on summarizing and making information attractive. Cinematic experiences can explain in one minute information that would take much longer to read. So don’t be afraid to use flash and videos, if you think it’s what your website needs.
Dunlop Tire is not an e-shop but it’s a great example of how rich media can be used. Dunlop has a beautiful and ingenious website which uses rich media to express information: chronology, maps, etc.
User experience oriented design is meant to create purposeful experiences. Your products can be very beautiful and of top quality, but the design of your website also has to prove it. Simply put, a good website supports the idea of a well done business.
If you want to experiment more with conversion optimization techniques, test your design ideas through A/B testing or use personalized interactions, you can freely test Omniconvert, the 3 in 1 conversion tool.