Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer who covers everything from data center technology to holistic veterinary care and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.
What is the major difference between good and great ecommerce sites? “Good” e-commerce sites in the cloud just connect a user or consumer to a product; while “Great” e-commerce websites, on the other hand, successfully connect a user to a product with a system that is efficient, easy and fun, according to Daniel Alves, the design director for the small business web design division at the digital marketing and web design company 352 Media Group.
Alves offers some simple pointers on developing a successful (and efficient, easy and fun) e-commerce site that not only gives users what they’re looking for, but also contributes to increased profitability, repeat business, loyal customers and business growth.
It’s important to approach the challenge by thinking like a consumer. First, Alves said, recognize that there are three basic steps in an online shopping experience: First, the shopper must find the product; second, it must be “showcased” – more on that later – and third, it should offer a simple, streamlined checkout process.
1. Finding the Product
Surprisingly, usability issues that prevent users from finding what they’re looking for are the biggest reason e-commerce websites fail, Alvez said. Your first priority should be to make finding products as simple and fast as possible, but you’ll have to walk a fine line and understand the three types of shoppers you’re trying to reach.
Alvez separates online shoppers into three different categories:
The Power Shopper: A Power Shopper knows exactly what they want, how to get it and aren’t wasting any time casually browsing.
“For these shoppers, your first priority is to provide them with an awesome search bar so they can type exactly what they want,” he said. In terms of design, you want to make sure your search bar is large and presented with enough contrast so it’s easily visible. Per conventions, place it in the top-right of your website and make sure it is consistent across.”
Then, there’s the Recreational Shopper: We all know at least one of these types of shoppers; they can spend an entire afternoon at the mall checking out anything that catches their eye. For them, shopping is an experience in and of itself, not just a means to an end. These shoppers are impulsive, so wowing them with visual stimulation – Alvez advises high-end photography, boutique-style showcases, related items, and, of course, unbeatable prices – is crucial when addressing these folks.
Finally, Alvez tackles The Reluctant Shopper: This is typically a technophobe who is excessively nervous about privacy and security. These shoppers can be reassured by statements and promises of trust and security, as well as to high-touch customer service. Alvez notes that with this type of shopper in particular, promoting return and refund policies greatly increases the likelihood they will do business with you.
2. Showcasing the Product
Once a shopper finds their desired product, there are a few key steps – the “showcasing” mentioned earlier – that your site should take to make sure that item ends up in a shopper’s cart.
Photos: If shoppers can’t see your product, they won’t buy, so even one photo can mean the difference between a sale and a failure, Alvez said.
“If you can only give them one photo, make sure the product has a distraction-free, neutral-colored background. If you do show your product in a lifestyle-oriented setting, make sure the product is overtly emphasized, so as not to confuse the shopper and take attention away from the product,” he said.
Price: Of course, price still is the major reason shoppers will go elsewhere for the same product. Pricing is mostly out of your control, but don’t try to hide the price, Alvez said. Make sure you display any discounts in addition to the suggested retail price so shoppers know they’re getting a deal.
Reviews: “Social influences have a profound effect on our shopping behaviors,” according to Alvez. “You can tout the virtues of your product with fancy and elaborate prose, but shoppers won’t believe one word of it until it’s been confirmed by an independent customer.”
The upshot? Offer customers the ability to write and submit product reviews. Sure, you’re taking the chance that negative reviews will scare shoppers away from certain items, but there’s also an opportunity, said Alvez.
“Negative reviews give you a unique opportunity to either make product changes or respond to customer concerns publicly. This open and proactive approach to giving and receiving feedback ultimately gives your website more credibility, which translates into loyal customers and repeat sales,” he said.
Add to Cart: Use the phrase, “Add to Cart.” Not “Buy Now,” – too much pressure on the customer – or “Add to Bag” – customers are confused by this non-traditional phrase. Alvez said the convention of the words “Add to Cart” is non-committal, and leaves shoppers comfortable enough to keep on shopping.
“It’s your most important button, so don’t hide it. Use bold colors that contrast well with your design and attract attention. Try choosing a color that is not used anywhere else in the design to really set it apart. By making the button plainly visible, shoppers won’t have to wonder how to add items to their shopping carts,” he said.
3. Sealing the Deal
Alvez notes that one of the biggest hurdles a shopper must overcome is the checkout process, which can be laborious and frustrating if not done right. As Alvez puts it, “While shopping is fun, spending money isn’t. Your job is to get customers through the payment as quickly and painlessly as possible.”
You can speed up this process by allowing users the option of registering your site before purchase or checking out as a guest, by offering one-page checkouts, instant access to a customer service rep via a chat feature, and using cookies to remember a users’ shopping history if they come back to your site, Alvez advises.
It takes a combination of marketing, design, sales and usability experts to develop a top-notch e-commerce site. But these suggestions should help increase sales, repeat business and loyal customers.