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December 17, 2020 | Convert Users
In many ways, building your eCommerce website is like designing your dream home. You want the stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and the bathrooms with heated floor tiles—but before you get to that, you need to make sure the roof doesn’t leak. The same philosophy holds true when creating a website that’s built to sell: you need a sturdy foundation of eCommerce website features before you chase the fancy stuff.
It can be tempting to start looking at website themes, designs, and header images first, but when you’re getting started, it’s best to build from the ground up. A stable foundation starts with the following collection of non-negotiable eCommerce web design features.
The following three online store website features are vital to get right no matter what product or service you sell online, period. Think of them as the plumbing, electrical, and walls of your dream house. You probably take them for granted, until they’re not there, and it’s possible they haven’t even made your “features I want” list. But they deserve a front-and-center spot, as you’ll soon see.
No matter what you sell, you need to protect the data your customers give you. Their contact info, their credit card numbers, their email addresses; all of these data points need to be locked down by, at minimum, an HTTPS security feature. If you’re in the dark about what that is, we’ve got an article here for you that explains it and gives pointers on how to set it up.
Beyond that, you need to protect your own data, the bank accounts that store your funds, the logins for employees to access back-end services, and so on. Knowing that you’ve protected yourself from malicious forces needs to be checked off of the to-do list before you start considering colors and whether or not to use a header video.
If you get hacked and have to send the dreaded “unfortunately, you need to get a new debit card” email, your customers are going to evaporate like morning dew in Death Valley.
If you decided to forgo a staircase in your dream house because a rock wall sounded cooler, great grandma is going to have a rough time visiting for Christmas. In the same way, you need to make your site accessible to every potential customer, regardless of the device they’re using or their level of accessibility.
Again, this may not be something you’d initially consider when setting your business up, but making sure your eCommerce site is compatible with the devices used by your customers is critical if you want to succeed. If your site only works on desktop, you’re missing out on millions of potential customers who use their phones and tablets to shop. You’ve got the same problem if you only design for iPhones and not Android devices. You’re basically telling your customers they can only pay by mailing you a check or a money order. Eugh.
You need to make sure your eCommerce website delivers the optimum user experience, regardless of the device your customer has. Just like you’d need to adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for having wheelchair access if you had a brick-and-mortar store, you need to adhere to the unwritten law of the internet: every site needs to be compatible with every device. Focusing on mobile-first web design solves a lot of the accessibility headaches that eCommerce businesses can have. Table stakes here is responsive design—but make sure any agency building your site goes well beyond the minimum.
Unless your last name is Winchester, you probably don’t want your dream house to feel like a maze, full of dead ends and staircases to nowhere. And when you’re designing an eCommerce website, the same rule applies: don’t build a maze. You want to get a customer from the home page to the product they’re interested in, to check out in as few clicks as possible. Conventional wisdom (at least from when this writer was in college) says that a customer should be able to get anywhere they want in three clicks or less.
Simple and easy-to-use navigation doesn’t just mean having a simple header and only one or two links; it means that everything from a product page to the ‘about us’ section is connected with links. You don’t want a customer to be confused about anything on your site, especially not about how to move around and find information. If they want to get your contact information, it should be easy to find. If they’re interested in learning more about your company’s history, that shouldn’t be buried under a dozen other pages. If they want to get to a product page and add it to their cart, that process needs to feel seamless.
Navigation design and information systems management are huge, intimidating subjects for the untrained; which is why we wrote this helpful primer for you if you want more information.
Beyond the three absolute essentials of security, compatibility, and navigation, which comprise the bones of our eCommerce dream house, there are three more features that, while not strictly necessary, are extraordinarily important for success in online business. In the same way that you could live in a house that has no furniture and no light fixtures, you can run an eCommerce business without the following—but we wouldn’t recommend it.
A huge advantage of an eCommerce business is that you have access to a massive amount of data on your customers and the paths they took to arrive at your store. You can actively track their search history, which ads worked to get them to your site if they are connected with you on social media or not, and so on, all from the comfort of your couch. When somebody strolls into a Macy’s and buys some perfume, the company has no clue what brought that person in for that purchase. An online store, however, has access to a ton of data and can infer the answer, if not outright discover it.
Cashflow is the blood that keeps an eCommerce store alive, and if customers aren’t buying, you’re not going to be in business long. The absolute worst thing that can happen is for a customer to decide to make a purchase, and then to become confused or frustrated by the checkout process. If they lose trust in the site’s security, become frustrated with the forms they have to fill out, or even if it takes too long to load, you can lose them completely.
As an eCommerce business, you should be dedicating some time to studying both the checkout process and the design of your shopping cart, focusing on the user’s interface and what the user experiences when they are trying to do a certain thing. Practice adding something to a card, then adding a duplicate; removing that duplicate, then changing the quantity, and write down where potential pain points are. Or, better yet, have a friend who doesn’t know your site well do it, and watch them and see where they struggle. While you know the ideal path for adding a product, setting a quantity, and finishing up a purchase observing someone not familiar with the process can provide valuable insights. Sometimes, those fresh pairs of eyes and actions can identify a new—perhaps even better—way of helping customers get to the checkout and thank you pages.
How your product pages are designed and the content that is on them has a huge impact not just on whether or not your customers buy your products, but on whether or not your customers even see them when using a search engine like Google or Bing. If your analytics (another reason why they’re so important!) is telling you that customers are arriving at a product page and then bouncing, it means you need to spend some time analyzing the pages and improving them. Product pages are your salespeople; they are pitching your item or service and trying to convince a customer to say yes and click “add to cart.” Their design, layout, the images used on them, and the copy on the page all work together to make this pitch, and if any of those elements are out of balance, it can spell disaster.
If you don’t have a clue about SEO beyond “you should do it,” we’ve got a breakdown for you right here.
Let’s walk you through the four key steps you need to take when setting up an online business and include our recommendations to make it as easy as possible for you to start making money online. And best of all, building an online business isn’t rocket surgery—we’ll prove it!
It can be tempting to think of blazing your own trail when it comes to starting an eCommerce business, but, in general, it is a safer (and more successful) bet to stick with established online store platforms. Odds are you want to spend your time focusing on growing your business and not troubleshooting your online store, so let the pros handle the coding and the technical stuff. When you’re selecting an eCommerce website host, it’s best to choose one that is widely known and trusted by both customers and other businesses you might work with. With that in mind, there’s two that we think are head and shoulders above the rest: WooCommerce and Shopify.
WooCommerce is an open source eCommerce plugin you can integrate with any WordPress site to start selling. This is especially great if your business’s website is already hosted on WordPress; you don’t have the hassle of making two different systems play nice together. Even if you’re not already using a WordPress site, setting one up is free and easy to start out with, and Woo even offers a “new store” walkthrough that can get you up and running in under a day.
WooCommerce is free to start using, but in order to get the security and domain hosting you need to keep your customers safe, you’ll have to eke out a few bucks to upgrade to those features. What’s more, WooCommerce has a wide variety of free and premium subscription “extensions” that can take the platform to the next level. Even with the base costs and a few extensions, it’s still very reasonably priced when compared to other eCommerce platforms on the market.
The downside to Woo is also the greatest benefit: it is infinitely customizable. That means if you don’t have any website building knowledge or coding experience, you might feel like your site is very cookie-cutter. On the other hand though, if you do know your way around some code, you’ll be able to create a truly bespoke site that can scale to nearly any design or functionality need.
We’ve built several advanced ecommerce websites using WooCommerce, and it tends to be our platform of choice when clients are seeking that extra level of customization. Check out our eCommerce web design services to see our full capabilities and samples of work.
Shopify is our other recommendation because it is an all-in-one solution for a flat monthly fee, though it’s not for everyone. In fact, we wrote a whole post on why and when to use Shopify here if you want to dig in further. One nice thing about Shopify is that you don’t have to pay extra for that critical https security or domain hosting, and you don’t need to know a single line of code in order to start. It’s got a teensy learning curve (especially compared to Woo) and Shopify runs a few million eCommerce stores around the web, meaning it’s a trusted name.
Shopify also partners with shipping companies like USPS, UPS and Canada Post to give its users easy integration for sending products to the customer. If your business revolves around shipping or dropshipping, the existing integration alone might make it worthwhile for you to use Shopify.
Shopify’s downside is that they charge transaction fees unless you use their subsidiary sales processing gateway, Shopify Payments. That isn’t a deal breaker for most people, but it’s worth noting. Other payment gateway fees will vary depending on which solution you implement (Stripe, Authorize.net, etc.). Shopify also features a walkthrough for first-timers looking to get an eCommerce store up and running, and it’s full of helpful tips and recommendations.
A side benefit of choosing either Woo or Shopify is that we’re experienced working in either platform, so if (when!) you decide to partner with a full-service digital marketing agency, there won’t be any hiccups if we end up working together.
The internet is an inherently visual place, and it is extremely beneficial to invest in high-quality creative elements for your digital advertising and online store experiences. Especially for an eCommerce store, high-quality product photos are vital for the longevity of the business. Quality creative is imperative to creating trust and value signals to your potential buyers.
If your site features a grainy, badly lit shot of your amazing product, few customers are going to be able to look past the bad picture. This goes double if you are selling something where its appearance makes it valuable to a customer, like clothing, wall art, or a snarky coffee cup. When in doubt, make sure the product photos you take are just as nice as the product itself.
It can be easy to forget that traffic flowing to your online store and the number of those visitors who become customers is the king metric. Even if your social media game is on point and your paid advertisements are raking in the views, if you can’t convert, you’re going to go out of business. Fortunately, we’ve got guides that’ll help you get those tasty sales locked down.
You can’t rely on flyers, billboards and wacky-waving-inflatible-arm-people to advertise your eCommerce store; you also need to put ads where your customers are online. Whether you rely on paid search from Google and Bing or paid social media ads, focus on being better than the best. A poorly crafted ad is easy to skip over. Beyond that, make sure each advertising avenue redirects to a different page on your main website so you can track which ads are pulling their weight and which need to be cut.
Important to consider alongside any paid advertising, in particular with eCommerce, is a great content strategy for your site. ECommerce marketing can often take a blend of performance and content driven campaigns to really be effective. For example, your top of funnel campaign may drive users to a solution driven video or blog, while your remarketing campaign is purely product or sale focused.
Even when selling online, it is vital to know who your target audience is and how you plan to reach them. This is Marketing 101: you’ve got to know who is going to buy your product, where they are, and how you’re going to reach them. Are you going to have drivers doing delivery, or are you going to rely on USPS to ship? If you sell a digital product like a video course , ebook, or a file, how are you going to prevent link-thieves from sharing your product all over the darkweb?
Beyond that, where do your customers hang out online? Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, spacejam.com? Whatever the answer, you need to know, and that’s where you need to be. Finding the small communities of like minded people and inserting your advertising there is a great way to get customers who are invested in your product and your success.
From organic channels, word of mouth, and paid advertising, there are infinite channels to drive awareness and commerce through your online store. If you’re just getting started, now is the time to experiment with the delivery and messaging through these channels to refine your marketing mix to best reach your defined audiences. If you need a hand through this process, drop us a line!
A custom design experience tailored for maximum ROI on your marketing efforts.
Multi-channel, blended search strategies for full-funnel lead generation.