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- 08 June 2013 20:40
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How to Build a Successful Ecommerce Website
Set clear goals on every page. Each page of your website should have a clear purpose. For example, your homepage’s goal is to entice users to click through to your categories, or better yet, straight through to a product. On a product page, your objective is to provide the user with all the information necessary to convince them to make a purchase and make it very simple and easy to add an item to the shopping cart. Your shopping cart page’s purpose is to initiate the first step of the checkout process by clicking on "Checkout”. Keep this in mind when planning out the various types of pages on your ecommerce website.
Get users to come back. Look for ways to get users to regularly come back. One great example is Threadless.com, which brings users back to its website through regular emails that go out announcing the arrival of new t-shirt designs. Another way they accomplish this is to allow users to get notified when a sold-out size is back in stock. Look for opportunities to bring users back to your website wherever possible. Ideally, the more a visitor visits your website, the more likely they are to make a purchase.
Create easy points of contact. Break down the wall between you and your customers as much as possible. Find ways to make it very simple and enticing for customers to contact you, thus putting you directly in touch with them. A few such examples may be the ability for customers to inquire about a product, to leave reviews, or to upload a photo of themselves using the product.
Clearly display contact information. Display your contact information visibly for your customers. This way they know how to contact you if they have a question. Don't frustrate them by having them scour your entire site to find your contact information or it could lose you sales.
Simplify the checkout. Create a checkout process that makes it effortless for your visitors to get their products. For example, don’t ask for unnecessary information from the customers. It has been proven that the more fields there are in a Web form, the fewer people fill it out. Also, the pages in your checkout process should be clearly labeled and free of clutter. For example, visitors should be able to easily distinguish between a shipping form and a credit card form.
Remember you’re not alone. Most people shop online by visiting a multitude of websites when searching for a particular product. They will eventually narrow down their choices to one. Whether your ecommerce website makes the cut will depend on a variety of factors.
Beware of your pricing. Make sure it is not higher than your competitor’s for the same product(s).
Beware of your shipping costs. If your shipping rates are not customized to specific products weights and distances, your website may be charging too much for shipping and thus costing you business.
Do not try to be Amazon. Rather than selling everything under the moon, focus on a few niche product lines and grow from there.
Be up 100% of the time. Make sure that your hosting plan is solid and that it can grow as you grow. This is one place you do not want to be skimpy.
Be fully secure. Shopping online offers a lot of benefits but many customers are still hesitant to buy because they are worried about having their information stolen. Do everything you can to keep information of your customers safe. And display those trust symbols (i.e. VeriSign & McAfee) proudly on your site, indicating that your checkout process has been verified and is secure.
Designing a Successful Ecommerce Web Site
Cleanliness. Keep the design of the website as clutter-free as possible. There are probably many elements that you would like to put on every page of the website, but think about what are most necessary to convince the customer to make a purchase. List all of your elements and decide which ones are vital to making a sale. Also prioritize what information is most important to least important. For example, on a product page, the image of the product, its title, description, availability, prices, etc. are obviously important. Keep this in mind throughout all pages of the website and avoid overwhelming visitors with too much information within a small area.
Visible Shopping Cart. Design a shopping cart that remains visible throughout the stay so that users are re-assured of what exactly they have in their cart and how much it costs. This also makes it easy for them to quickly checkout.
Clear Navigation Paths. Give users a clear idea of where they are within your website structure. Breadcrumb links are one good way to do this, as well as having dropdown menus which demonstrate the structure of the website.
Strong Calls-to-Action. Each page where an action is required of a user, such as a product detail page, should have a strong call-to-action, which incites the user to take the next step toward accomplishing the goal of the page. This may be "Add to Cart”, "Checkout”, or most importantly, "Submit Payment”. Be sure to not have more than one prominent call-to-action - call it your primary call-to-action – per page. Secondary calls-to-action are good to have as a another choice when a user is not quite ready to commit to the primary call-to-action. For example, they may be willing to view your software demo, but not ready to purchase your software. Rather than lose that visitor, keep them on your website for a few more minutes by offering them secondary options.
Intuitiveness. In any website design, it should be crystal clear to your customers what is going to happen when they click on something and how it is they are going to go about accomplishing their objectives on the website. Use on-hover techniques to keep your design clean, yet explicative of what is going to happen when they click. Label links in a way that helps understand what the user should expect on that page of your website. Give your customers an experience that is pleasant, without surprises. Look at major ecommerce websites, and borrow techniques that seem consistent across many of them. This will most often be a safe bet to take. Major website companies test their designs over and over again to find what generates the best results. Some of their techniques can be borrowed for your website.
Consistency. Whether it’s your colors, your layout, or style guidelines, keep a consistent image across your website so as to avoid confusing your visitors. If you have a variety of colors being used for the same type of button, it may cause a drop-off in sales simply due to the uncertainty brought on by the inconsistency of your design.
Easy Checkout. Create a checkout process that is as simple as can be. Fields should be easy to fill-out, not too close to each other. Pages should be clearly labeled and free of clutter. Look at some of our e-commerce websites for ideas on what a good checkout process might look like.
Features of a Successful Ecommerce Website
Featured Promotions. Highlight certain promotions, usually seasonal, which can push traffic to specific parts of your website. For example, our client, Anthony.com features their Father’s Day gift bags on their homepage the weeks leading up to Father’s Day. This helps the Anthony team increase sales of these items, which are high in demand.
Search and Auto-Complete. Give users the flexibility of searching for products that they are interested in. If the search bar suggests results, that will help you sell more by sending traffic to those specific products or categories rather than displaying a general search results page.
Sorting, Filtering, and Viewing All. Allow your customers to customize their ecommerce experience. Give them the ability to arrange your category pages as they please; to sort using various criteria like prices, popularity, a-z, etc. Also provide filters where necessary. Many customers do not enjoy clicking through pages of products and so having a "View All” option is a good idea.
Quick Preview. For fear of having to wait for another page to load, many customers may not want to click through to view your product pages. Instead, using a quick preview on category pages will provide them with the information they need to decide if they want the product without having to click through to the product page. Just like having secondary calls-to-action, a quick preview option gives users a secondary choice when browsing your website.
Related Products. When a customer visits a particular product page, he or she demonstrates an interest in that type of product. Why not show them other products that either compliment the product being looked at or solve similar problems? This type of feature can keep users on your website for longer and increase the amount of money that each customer spends.
Share Features. Give your customers quick and easy ways to share your product pages with friends and colleagues. Although it is very easy to do this manually, it increases the chances that someone will share a product with a friend if there is an easy-to-use button to do so.
Out of Stock. Just because some products, sizes, or colors go out of stock, does not mean that your customers should have no options. When such an event occurs, allow customers to sign-up to be notified when the product size and color they desired is back in stock. That way they are less likely to go to a competitor and it shows that you care about serving their needs.
Product Details. Extensive product details can make the difference between almost making a sale and an actual sale. If a customer cannot find all the information they are looking for regarding a product, they may feel too uncertain about completing their purchase. It is very important to provide all of the information that you have on your products in a clean, concise manner.
Dynamic Shopping Cart. When a visitor adds an item to your shopping cart, rather than taking them straight to the shopping cart, display your shopping cart on the page in a small window that dynamically populates with the product(s) the customer is adding. This way the user experience is smooth and the customer is assured that their products have been added to the cart.
Save for Later. Many visitors may add a number of items to their shopping cart without having the intention of actually completing their purchase. Rather than forcing your customers to make the black and white choice of deleting a product from the cart or buying it, allow them instead to save it for later.
Shipping Cost Calculator. Allow customers to calculate the shipping costs directly from your shopping cart before going through the checkout process. The purpose of this is to avoid having users who leave due to the uncertainty they face going into the checkout process. Since the checkout process is a significant investment of time and effort, many will rather not start the process than find out halfway through that your shipping costs are too high. Instead, give them the ability to find out upfront, to avoid disappointment later. This may also give them the chance to go back and change some of the items in their cart or save them for later.
Shipping Options. Do not use a flat rate or a single rate for shipping. Different customers will want different shipping methods; some will wany their products to arrive immediately and others are fine with paying less for slower shipping. Cater to all types of clients to avoid a drop-off in sales due to shipping options.
Payment Confirmation. Clicking the final "Submit Payment” button for many customers can be a stressful moment. Calm their nerves by not only displaying a payment confirmation page, but also sending an email confirming reception of their payment and containing next steps that they should expect.
Order Tracking. Once an order has shipped, provide your customers with tracking information so they can feel at ease during the shipment of their order.
Back-end Features of a Successful Ecommerce Website
Dashboard. As the administrator of your website, you should have a place where you can review all pertinent information regarding the performance of your website. The dashboard should be customizable and offer summary information regarding various aspects of the website: out of stock items, information requests, sales figures, and ecommerce performance metrics.
Administrator Management. You may have a team to work on your website, which means you should be able to give each team member a certain amount of administrative control. You should be able to decide what sections of your CMS each team member can edit or view.
META Data Control. Ability to control your meta data is crucial when trying to get your website to rank well for various relevant keywords in search engines. You should be able to customize the title tag of every page on your website as well as easily create rules for types of pages to handle title tag creation. For example, you would not want to have to write the page title of each and every product on your website, especially if you have thousands of products. Instead, creating rules for each product will help you optimize a large number of product pages all at once.
Crawler Control. A robots.txt file allows you to limit what content search engine crawlers get access to. Your content management system should allow you to upload a robots.txt and also be able to edit it if need be.
Sitemap. A sitemap.xml file tells search engines of all the pages on your website, to ensure that those pages get crawled.
Tracking Code Addition and Editing. Whether it’s your Google Analytics code or Google Website Optimizer, you should have the ability to easily add and update tracking code on various pages. This will compress testing timelines by skipping the need for a web developer each time work is required.
Store Management. Each of your categories, subcategories, and products should be easily editable through your ecommerce back-end. That includes updating of product colors, sizes, descriptions, etc. and the ability to specify which categories/subcategories to feature on the home page or menu.
Order Management. Whether you have integrated with a 3rd party system or not, you should have a comprehensive understanding of the status of sales on the website, shipping orders, and customer information.