How to build a successful online shop: User experience
In our world, that gets more and more digital every day, e-commerce is one of the most popular business trends. There are millions of web stores which sell physical and digital products not only in local markets, but also globally. Online marketing, combined with having an e-shop, can bring even the smallest businesses the opportunity to succeed and profit without a big investment. But steering “e-shopaholics” to your online store and enticing them to buy is not as easy as one might think, especially when we add security as a factor that every internet buyer is concerned about. And besides that, competition with the already mentioned millions of e-shops. In this series of posts we’ll go through the basic things which you need to consider and be aware of when you start developing your e-shop. If you already have one, this will help you improve your strategy and make your e-shop more profitable.
We’ll start with user experience. Usability testing is not cheap, so not every business can afford it – but there are basic things that are valid for every e-shop (as well as for websites). Have these in mind and revise regularly if your online store answers to these requirements.
Domain and hosting
The first really significant steps in creating your online store are registering a domain and choosing a web host. Take your time thinking about it before purchasing your domain – it’s important for the overall performance of your shop and it’s not really a good idea to change it after 6 months. Consider the backend language and server settings when choosing hosting. If you don’t have a clue about hosting services, better ask someone who knows or do proper research on the internet.
Create a good first impression
First impressions define the mood in which the user will browse in your e-shop – and you want them to be in a good mood, so that they will be more likely to buy your products. Loading time is the first thing every user will notice. Test this and improve it as much as you can. You don’t want the user to close your page before it’s even loaded. The same applies for every page in your online store. Internet users get nervous easily and they can leave at a very crucial moment – even before clicking the Buy button. Test your e-shop in every browser – it should work and display correctly in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari. These are the most commonly used browsers worldwide, but do some research to find out what browsers are most used in your country. Maybe there’s another browser that is widely used, and if so, make sure you don’t leave it out of your tests. You don’t want to lose customers just because your site looks ugly in their browser. Remember, they won’t open it in another browser and they won’t come back just because you’ve fixed the problem. For the same reasons, test your e-shop appearance in different resolutions and on mobile devices – smartphones and tablets. The best decision is to have a mobile version of your e-shop, but that’s not cheap and maybe you won’t be able to consider it in the beginning. But the habit of buying from a mobile device depends on the country and your market, so a mobile version might not be necessary for you.
A crucial point in a user’s buying process (when they’re already in your e-shop) is if they will easily understand how to actually buy something. Your main menu should be clear and consistent through all the pages. Use commonly used terms so that you can be reassured that users will understand everything and understand it in the right way; creative labels are not in favor. Knowing exactly where they are gives the user a sense of control and orientation. Using breadcrumbs will increase users’ positive experience in your e-shop. Create a sitemap. It shows all available links and will help your customers to find the exact page they want. Place a visible Search box, so that users can find a product by keyword. Research the commonly used icons in e-shops and keep them in mind when you create your icons – try not to confuse customers.
Broken links and 404 page
Default 404 error pages are a dangerous thing. If you use them, you take the risk that your customers may get confused if they reach a non-existent page. They’ll have the option to go back but will still not know where to find what they want, or they may just close your page. Customizing your 404 error page will prevent that. Provide users who arrive at your non-existent page with a simple sitemap of your shop – this way they can decide where to go instead of being confused. Online users (as well as search engines) don’t like broken links. They’ll create the impression that your e-shop is not updated, so regularly check and delete any broken links. You can use specific tools for doing that.
Where does the customer come from?
Identify as many possible entry points as you can – where can your user land when entering your e-shop? Try to give them what they expect to see on these landing pages. Mainly, they come directly by clicking your e-shop button on the main menu or sitemap or by clicking the “Buy” button on any product. Clicking the “Buy” button means the user wants to buy quickly and that they know the product details already. A predefined shopping cart (with a pre-entered product) in these cases is a good decision. If a customer comes from the main menu, they would like to see more information about the products, advice about which product to buy according to their needs and more information about payment and delivery.
When you develop your e-shop, gather a small focus group – made up of your friends and family for example. Test the user experience with them and correct anything that confuses them. After that, well, even a user friendly e-shop that’s easy to understand and where it’s simple-to-buy needs good content. To find out how to create effective online store content, read E-shopaholics wanted (part 2) coming out next week.