If you’re running any kind of product-based business, then having your own website to host eCommerce is essential. If customers know your brand, they’ll expect to be able to find one, and if they don’t, it’s a great, SEO-friendly way to get yourself onto their radar.
That said, putting together a good eCommerce website is a lot of work, and brings with it a lot of unique challenges. There are some basic essential principles you can use, though, to guarantee that your site is the best it can be.
1. User-Friendly Design
This should be the guiding light for all the choices that you make. The internet is a competitive place, so you should be doing everything you can to make sure that once customers are on your site, they don’t want to leave.
You should be making all the UX considerations that any other website would, but it’s particularly important that yours is easy to navigate through. Customers need to feel that it’s effortless to find the products that they’re looking for, or they will go elsewhere.
To avoid that, put thought into aspects like your search function and megamenu, which you might have felt confident doing the bare minimum for. If you can think of a way to push the functionality just a little bit further, your customers will be receptive, and you’re likely to see great returns.
2. Plenty of Photographs
If you’ve ever bought anything online, this one probably feels obvious – but that just means it’s even more important to remember.
Getting high quality photographs may be the most important step in launching a successful eCommerce site. Remember, while you know that your products are great, your customers don’t.
The best way to get that across is with plenty of photographs that really convey exactly what your products look and feel like. The more you have, the more confident customers will feel making a purchase.
Making the effort also helps your site look more professional. Having only a single, poor-quality image of your product is likely to be an immediate red flag for consumers who are looking for legitimacy, so instead, you want to let them know that you’re a retailer who can be trusted to deliver.
3. Extensive Product Descriptions
Extensive product descriptions go hand in hand with the need for plenty of photographs. Despite eCommerce numbers skyrocketing during the pandemic, there is still a significant percentage of shoppers who say they are looking forward to returning to physical shopping.
When you’re designing your eCommerce website, you should have this in mind, and be looking to do whatever you can to close the gap between online and physical shopping. Writing product descriptions that are both informative and in the correct tone for your brand, is an important consideration for this.
Customers will expect information on sizes, materials, dimensions, warranties, and colours, as well as whatever else may be relevant to the item in question. A lot of this can be augmented by your use of photos – consider including images with models, for perspective – but people are still likely to be receptive to hard information.
4. Product Comparisons and Recommendations
This is a useful consideration that it’s definitely worth making the effort to include. If your customer is looking at an item, but can’t decide if it’s quite right for them, then it makes sense to have a range of other choices right under their nose.
Recommendations are something we almost take for granted now, with the vast majority of consumers actually feeling frustrated when website content isn’t customised enough for their needs.
Using records of what your customers have bought, or looked at previously, to promote similar products is a simple but powerful way of achieving this. You could also consider integrating it with marketing efforts – such as targeted newsletters – to make sure that you’re making the greatest impact possible.
Getting this right can be difficult, though. Companies like Amazon have incredibly sophisticated algorithms to target their users, but still get the wrong suggestions plenty of the time.
5. User Reviews
User reviews are a must-have if you want to look as credible as possible. Often, customers will trust these over anything else that your site says. The stats back this up – with research showing that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they would a friend’s recommendation.
If you’re going to include them, therefore, you should try and put them front and foremost, so they’re something a potential customer is able to clearly see when they’re considering an item. 91% of people use reviews when deciding whether to purchase, so making them easy to find essential.
6. Newsletter Pop-Up
There’s more to eCommerce than just getting your customers through their sale and off your site as smoothly as possible. You want them to keep coming back for more – and a tried-and-tested method for this is encouraging them to opt into a newsletter.
The classic way to do this is through email. Once they’ve given you their address, you can work on sending them offers and information on events to draw them back to your site. You can also use helpful tools like mailchimp to manage these campaigns, learn more about your audience, and work out which strategies are perfect for you.
Email newsletters are becoming less popular recently, though, due greatly to new GDPR legislation. Instead, in-browser notifications are stepping in to pick up the slack. They have a significantly higher engagement rate than emails, which meant they’re a great tool for you to prompt potential customers to engage with new deals.
7. Retargeting Features
Retargeting features are where you can bring many of the previous elements together. If a customer has put items in their cart, then left your site, it’s worth doing whatever you can to remind them of that fact.
If you can deliver newsletters, notifications, or targeted ads reminding them of the unfinished purchase, you raise your chances of encouraging them to make that purchase. Alternatively, try suggesting similar items from your inventory, which might be exactly what they’re looking for.
8. Streamlined Checkout System
Keeping your checkout system straightforward is essential. Whether your customer has been trawling through websites looking for the perfect item for weeks, or is simply making a spur-of-the-moment purchase, making sure that there are as few barriers as possible between them and their purchase is crucial.
Almost 70% of online shopping carts are ultimately abandoned, and if your checkout is confusing or just poorly designed, you risk pushing that number up and up.
To avoid that, you want to make sure that the progression from adding items, through to making the final purchase, is effortless. Consider how easy it is to move between steps, whether it’s obvious how to edit the cart, or how long your site takes to load each page.
9. Guest Account Options
Having a guest account option is a big part of keeping your checkout system streamlined. Casual visitors to your site are important, and the best way to cultivate them is by making sure they have the best experience possible.
Allowing them to use guest account options means they can quickly progress with their purchase, without having to worry about the effort of filling out registration forms. If they’re happy with your products, they’re likely to remember you anyway, and may return to make a profile without being forced to.
Wishlists are another tool you need to have on your site. They’re just one of the many small features that your customers probably won’t even think about, unless they notice that they’re not there. You always want to be giving people everything they may need to make a purchase, either at that moment or in future, so if you’re lacking anything, you’re potentially missing out.
These can also function similarly to items left in the checkout. Anything customers leave in their wishlists can be used to personalise suggestions, and target them with deals in future. It’s also possible to integrate wishlists with social media functions, so your users can share them with others online, and drive more interest.
11. Call-to-action (CTA)
A call-to-action is a link, or image, or button, that encourages a viewer to perform an action. Common examples are phrases such as “Buy Now”, or “Save 20%”, which draw a potential customer deeper into your website. Ideally you want these to be obvious, and enticing, but not so intrusive that they frustrate users who are looking for something specific on your site.
Getting the perfect call-to-action can be difficult, but if you find the perfect way to connect with people on your site, this can have major returns. You should be trying to subtly include as many as possible, without making the space overcrowded or irritating.
12. Customer Support Options
Keeping your customer support options prominent is a great way to help customers feel more confident in your business. If they can see that it’s easy to get help, they’re likely to trust your site more, and feel happier making purchases.
It’s also important to have this for in case any issues arise. There’s a reason that Amazon is known for having excellent customer service – being there to quickly resolve any problems or questions makes your customers feel valued, which makes them more likely to go ahead with purchases, and return in future.
13. Transparent Shipping Costs
It might feel like it makes sense to advertise items at the lowest cost that you can, hiding shipping fees, but in fact, the opposite is true. 28% of shoppers will abandon a shopping cart if they encounter unexpected shipping costs at the checkout.
Changing your website so that delivery costs are shown upfront, rather than being hidden until the later stages of a purchase, is a small change, but by doing it, you could be eliminating the most popular for reason for people not to go through with buying an item.
You may want to think about the ramifications of this further. Delivery is clearly massively important to consumers, and, indeed, a major part of Amazon’s success has been their free shipping plans. If it’s feasible for you to offer the same, consider the potential benefits of this.
14. Payment Options
At the final stage of the purchase journey now, payment options are your final hurdle. Including as many options for payment as possible is the ideal – consider integrating functionality for tools like PayPal in addition to regular card options, as these make the process far easier.
However, you also want to be certain that customers feel secure. This is when consumers will be most conscious of how safe your site feels, and whether they believe that your security is trustworthy.
Make the effort to do everything possible to keep them feeling safe, or you’re likely to lose their business permanently. This brings us neatly onto the final point on our list:
15. Data Privacy and Security Features
Since GDPR, data privacy has become something the entire internet is more conscious of. As an eCommerce site, however, this is especially important for you. Cybercriminals are more likely to target sites like yours, as you’ll be storing high-value information such as payment details, delivery addresses, and contact numbers and emails.
If you don’t keep this data at a high level of security, you are inviting disaster for both your customers and for yourself. You should purchase an SSL certificate to ensure the highest possible level of safety, and keep your site up to date at all times.
Hosting your own eCommerce site is an important part of doing business in the crowded modern marketplace, but it’s also a big responsibility. A poorly designed website can give your brand an awful image, and if you’re unable to keep it secure, it can cripple your business.
However, stick to these 15 essentials, and you’re likely to end up with an online space that’s a major benefit to your company, and will have you seeing returns greater than ever before.