11 ways to improve an online shop

Smashing Magazine recently posted an article discussing 15 common mistakes in ecommerce design, and that got us thinking. This is a subject close to our hearts – we have helped many of our clients increase their online sales – and we think we’re quite well placed to talk about making improvements.

There isn’t really a “One size fits all” approach to increasing online conversion. We always recommend our client establish detailed web analytics that allow them to see exactly what users do at each stage of the buying process and employ methods for gathering insight into why they behave the way they do (e.g. user testing, focus groups, online surveys).

We also recommend a “suck it and see” approach; we encourage our clients to make incremental changes and to use techniques like MVT and A/B testing to monitor the effectiveness of each change.

That said, we thought we’d have a bash at our own top tips on how to improve the user experience and bottom line…

1. Make sure the primary navigation is focused on products

Dominant links to product related content will obviously help to drive more direct traffic to product pages. The main navigation should be entirely focused on products, and links to all other content should be less obvious and appear elsewhere (e.g. secondary header, footer).

2. Make more of primary drop down menus

Navigational drop downs should include more detail (e.g. product images, deep links to product and lists, and promotions). More detail and direct links to product pages will allow users to get straight to what they want quickly.

3. Introduce a product picker on the homepage

It could be useful to offer an interactive tool that quickly returns products that match a user’s specified needs (e.g. type of product, price range, colour, size). Allowing users to say what they want, in their language, will allow them to more quickly match their needs to the products.

4. Consider the benefits of a product comparison tool

There is a strong argument for offering a tool that allows users to compare multiple products in one place (e.g. by type, price, weight, size, style). A comparison table will allow users to view relatively complicated information in a simple way and can  speed up the decision process.

5. Give users predictive search suggestions

Predictive search text can simplify the process for users who don’t know what they want; a suggestion can quickly put them on the right path (e.g. when they type “Sh…”, “Shoes” appears in a drop down list).

6. Provide better control of product lists

Lists of products should be simple and users shouldn’t be distracted by superfluous content and features (e.g. large banners and graphics). Users should also be given plenty of tools that allow them to arrange lists in a way that suits their needs:

  • Filtering (e.g. by product type, age range, colour, size, weight, price)
  • Organisation (e.g. number of results per page, page layout)
  • Ordering (e.g. arrange by price / product name)

Users should also be given bold calls to action for all products listed (e.g. buy now, more info).

7. Enrich product pages with strong content

Product pages should help to build a deeper emotional connection between users and their chosen products. Features could include:

  • Strong and dominant product imagery
  • Image galleries
  • 360° product viewers
  • Reviews and endorsements from happy customers
  • Prominent promotional and demonstration video.

Providing rich media content will help to build a connection between users and products; it will move them from knowing a little to knowing a lot. The more they know about the product, the more likely they are to buy it.

8. Make the basket obvious and open

Users should be able to see the basket, even when it’s empty. They should also be able to add products to it without logging in and the site should remember what they added, even after they close their browser.

In some cases users don’t buy products on their first visit; they may leave the site and carry out more research. Making it easier for repeat visitors to find products they have previously added to a basket should help to improve conversion.

9. Offer flexible payment options

Users should be able to pay for products in a variety of ways (e.g. credit card, PayPal, Google checkout); providing users with more flexible methods of purchase will decrease drop off at the point of purchase.

Current research shows that online payment methods, like PayPal, are becoming increasingly important as more and more customers opt to buy via mobile devices.

10. Make the purchase process as short as possible

Removing barriers from the purchase process (i.e. not asking lots of questions) will reduce drop off rates and increase overall conversion.

Users should be asked the minimal number of questions during the checkout process. Ideally, the checkout should only ask for information that directly affects the sale and users should know why they are providing the information:

  • Name and email address
  • Billing details
  • Delivery details
  • Payment details

Users can be encouraged to opt in for future communications via a simple check box, but this feature should be less prominent than questions relating to the purchase process.

11. Go mobile

M-commerce is proving to be a successful channel for online retailers so make use of the technology.

There should be a mobile-enable web interface, which is a simplified version of the full website (note: this is NOT the same a smart phone app):

  • The mobile-enabled website should draw the content from the same CMS as the full website, to avoid duplication of content and effort
  • It should be designed in a way that is easy to navigate via mobile (e.g. large buttons, large text)
  • The navigation should be reduced to focus on key features content (e.g. products and basket)
  • The content should also be reduced to suit the mobile platform.

Value-added tools, such as QR code scanners, can make it easier for users to find product information, so consider using them.

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