It’s a great time to be in an online retail business. According to eMarketer, the eCommerce market has already reached $1.3 trillion in 2014, led by China and the U.S. By 2018, it is forecast to reach almost $2.5 trillion, accounting for 8.8 percent of the total global retail market. That’s a lot of money, proving that online retailing is indeed a big and growing business.
However, it is not all a bed of roses for retailers. In a competitive landscape that lacks tactile stimuli and seasoned sales people the challenge lies in providing your potential customers the best possible user experience to encourage them to complete a purchase. It is therefore essential to remain up to date with current industry best practices and latest techniques to deliver a better experience to your users and stay one step ahead of the competition.
The following are 4 UX design best practices for eCommerce websites to help you provide the best possible experience to your visitors.
1. Leverage Your Hero Area
For any website, the home page plays one of the most crucial roles. Since it gets the most traffic, it provides the best opportunity to impress your visitors. For an online retailer, the home page is like your storefront window. You should make it obvious that you sell items the visitor is looking for, and should make an immediate and positive impression.
The “hero” or “featured” area is the most prominent part of your home page, where most companies place image, videos, banners or slide shows about their top selling products.
To maximize your chances of capturing someone’s attention, use simple and uncluttered design. Eliminate everything that fails to make an impact. Keep text to a minimum, and make copy snappy and effective. Use this area to display timely offers and eye-catching imagery that represents your core offering.
2. Simplify Your Primary Navigation
The navigation of your eCommerce website is perhaps the most critical factor when it comes to UX design, especially when you have a wide range of products spanning multiple categories and variations. The quicker your visitors find what they are looking for, the faster they are likely to proceed towards the checkout process. A cumbersome menu and a clunky search functionality is a serious roadblock.
- Simplify a large inventory into intuitive parent categories. (This can be a great place to AB test which type of hierarchy visitors are most likely to identify with. Experiment with product-led vs need-based categorization, or drop down sub categories.)
- Avoid over-classifying your catalog- your search function should let visitors get more granular in their hunt for specific items.
- Use a multi-column drop down menu to maximize space and allow for the best possible way to drill-down into sub categories.
- Cross reference your products whenever applicable into multiple categories. For example a men’s cashmere sweater might fall under Menswear, Cashmere Clothing or Tops. Just be aware of SEO best practices to avoid the same product listings being seen by search engines as duplicate content.
- Use faceted search interfaces to make it easier for your customers to refine their product search. Take inspiration from Amazon.com and Airbnb.com for some great examples of slick search UI that allow visitors to find products based on the criteria that are most important to them whether it’s price, size or customer ratings.
- Save on valuable sales real estate by storing customer service links such as “Contact Us,” “About Us,” “Support” or “Shipping” in a secondary navigation menu at the bottom or in a single drop down menu choice.
3. Use Quality Product Images
A picture is worth a thousand words. Never is this more true that in eCommerce where limited screen space and visitor attention span demand that you showcase your product as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Use high-quality photos, ideally with a white background. People often pick up information from large product images that are otherwise not available in the product description.
Include a zoom feature and use photos that show multiple angles. This is the closest a shopper will get to your product when purchasing digitally so you have to satisfy their curiosity. Include videos and examples of the product in use.
Large images are great, but LARGER images are better. Find the optimum balance between image size and load time, using lightbox and zoom functionality as needed to allow you to use the largest image possible and dare to push the boundaries. Case studies by eConsultancy found that bigger images significantly improved conversion rates (by over 300%), even when the larger photos resulted in pushing other content below the fold.
4. Add Suggested Products
Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature is a now-familiar phrase for online shoppers. Needless to say this recommendation system works. We are social animals at heart, and still easily influenced by peer behavior. Our perceived desirability of an item increases when we know that others want, or have it.
From product discovery to checkout, integrate recommendations for similar or compatible products wherever possible. Keep suggestions unobtrusive to make sure buyers find them useful when it comes to product discovery.
Relevancy should be the prime factor for product recommendations. Recommend related products that go with each other, products that are similar, or products that other shoppers often choose when looking at similar search criteria.
Depending on the sophistication of your eCommerce platform suggestions can also be based on the customer’s previous browsing history and known profile information.
Getting product recommendations right can be tricky and time consuming, but the efforts are well worth it. Well executed suggestions can improve conversions by 150 percent and improve revenue by up to 300 percent.
Providing a positive user experience doesn’t necessarily mean investing thousands of dollars in your eCommerce website. Spend some time thinking about the shopping experience from your buyer’s point of view to identify small changes you can make to improve. Look regularly at your competitor’s site to make sure you are keeping up with changes that can add to the customer experience on your own website. Even simple, small tweaks can have a big impact on conversions, so the key is to keep trying new things.
Over the last 8 years Ian has founded two companies and helped thousands of business owners start theirs. He is the Managing Director of Magicdust – a Sydney web design company that has created over 7000 websites for small businesses since 2006. They also specialize in SEO and in 2011 was ranked the 76th fastest growing business in Australia.