2029 words|8.1 min read|

EcommerceIt’s easy to get carried away when building an ecommerce website and even more so when designing it.  You add beveled and bubbly text, shadows and underlines, clip art icons and real-life photos, and before you know it your website looks ridiculous.  Unless there’s a method to your madness, those excess digital designs are probably adding little value to your website.

If you’re still debating, just look at some of the world’s most accomplished ecommerce websites – Amazon, eBay, Zappos.  What do they have in common?  They adhere to the philosophy of function over form.  They have the funds to do anything they want, but they use it towards making it work rather than making it pretty.  In other words, they dedicate their sites to improving usability for the consumer as opposed to studding their sites with 3D effects.

You have to treat your website like you would treat a brick-and-mortar business that has no staff.  Make it easy for consumers to get in, grab what they came for, and get out.  Make the experience enjoyable BECAUSE it’s so easy.

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second, aren’t you website design company?”  You might call us that, but I prefer the term website development company.  There are many ways to explain the difference but for the purpose of this article I’ll put it this way:

The statement “make my website look beautiful” might be answered this way:

  • A website design company would say – “OK! We can do that!”
  • A website development company would say – “Why? Who’s the target audience? What is your existing brand image like? Will a beautiful design add value to the user’s experience?”

You can see the difference.  We’re a website development company that asks the right questions and now has the answers for the perfect ecommerce website…

Transparent Homepage

Think about Olive Garden for a second.  When you pull up to their restaurants what do you see?  A big sign that says “Olive Garden – Italian Restaurant” and a building designed like a Tuscan villa.  Before you step inside, you know exactly what kind of food experience you’re about to get.  This same concept of transparency must be applied to your website:  from the moment someone lands on your homepage, you need to be as direct, clear, and authentic as possible before users even begin to click.

So when a new visitor lands on your website you’ll need to answer these questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you sell?
  3. Why should I trust you?

Everything you do should be built around the answers to these questions, because if you can’t answer these questions, then how will you move potential buyers further through the funnel?

You can answer these questions through a combination of means, none of which is a long-winded explanatory paragraph.  A solid design, high-quality graphics, strong branding elements, hard-hitting titles, obvious navigation controls, well-known security symbols like Veri-Sign, and clearly stated privacy policies and guarantees are all simple, yet more effective ways of telling people who you are, what you sell, and why you can be trusted.

Because that’s what transparency is all about – trust.  Trust makes a user more willing to stay on your website, browse around, and make purchases.  If you can design an ecommerce website homepage that delivers transparency, you’re already halfway down the road to perfection.

Just look at the homepage for Columbia Sportswear.  What do you see?  High-quality imagery with people wearing Columbia clothing in action, info on the latest sports technology, and a reference to the company’s roots (“SINCE 1938”).   The logo, photos, and titles are all right there in your face.  That’s transparency:

columbia

Intuitive Navigation

After landing on a homepage, a user needs to know what to do next.  It’s your job to make that possible.  By providing a well-organized and intuitive display of tabs and drop-down menus, users can quickly scan and find the portion of your business that they seek.  The faster they can move through your products and services, the easier it will be for them to transact on your website.  You can even encourage faster navigation by adding convenient “past purchases” or “similar products” sections in the sidebar as they search.

The best way to display tabs is to work with the way people read (so left to right and up to down).  That means putting your most important information in the upper left corner first.  This will also help you keep your most important information “above the fold” or before the bottom of the screen where users have to scroll to see more.

There are other ways to implement easy navigation too.  Include a visible search bar for users with specific needs.  Create an accessible FAQ section for curious visitors and make your customer service number readily available for concerned visitors.  The eBay.com homepage is a great example of intuitive navigation, with a huge search bar/button across the top and popular categories listed on the left:
ebay

Powerful Imagery (and Videos)

Ecommerce is far from perfect.  While your customers can buy your products from anywhere in the world, they lack the ability to touch, hold, smell, taste, feel, rub, or accidentally break your products (ok fine, that last one IS perfect).  That’s why photos, as well as videos, are crucial for the sale of your product.  They bring your products to life and make it possible for consumers to make educated purchasing decisions.

Therefore you need your photos to be as awesome as possible.  They should have a high resolution, vivid color, large size, viewable angle, and overall comprehension.  And you want to use a plain background (rather than an image) to make sure they stand out on the page.  Your videos should also be high resolution, show your product in use, and inspire your consumers rather than just inform.

Where do you need photos and videos most?  On the product detail pages, of course.   The best ecommerce websites offer photos from different angles with different color combinations and offer videos that showcase the product in action.  That extra effort equates to more sales.  Just look at what Zappos.com does to a simple shoe.  They offer three different color options, seven different photo angles, plus a video!  If that doesn’t convince you, then nothing will.