8 Tips for Developing E-Commerce Sites With Consumers in Mind
As e-commerce has evolved, it's become a much warmer, more personal and more frequently shared experience for consumers. When the technology was first being adopted in retail, consumers were often happy to find a text-based catalog from which they could order online. Today, however, retailers go to great lengths to distinguish their e-commerce sites from those of competitors in order to make their online experiences unique to their brand.
The objective of promoting a favorable and distinctive online experience is a deepening engagement with consumers. This means understanding the consumer's psychology and fashioning your website to appeal to the way people shop in the era of social networking, mobile devices and voice-prompted actions. Every e-commerce site is now at shoppers’ fingertips, enabling them to compare prices and features with a few clicks.
By remembering the following eight tips, website designers can help ensure they keep this on-the-go, socially focused shopper in mind when creating e-commerce pages, text and graphics:
1. Find the characteristics of a product that are key to the customer's decision. For an apparel retailer, it may be a photo; for an electronics site, specs and ratings are important; for a home improvement brand, "how to" videos may make it stand out. It's critical to the success of the site to place those elements that are most important to the purchase decision up front on the homepage.
2. Keep product and store reviews current, and make them easy to find. Reviews that are months old imply that no one has bought anything on the site recently. Search engines look more negatively on sites without recent reviews, and newer reviews will have a positive impact on search engine optimization results.
3. Avoid using standard product descriptions that are provided by the manufacturer. Such descriptions make you the same as competitors, not distinctive. Instead, fashion descriptions to match the brand, perhaps casual and breezy on a trendy site for teen shoppers or conversational and informative for a retailer selling to new moms. The site should reflect the shopper's language to make her feel welcome.
4. While images may be critical to marketing the brand, don't ignore text. Search engines give higher rankings to sites with unique product descriptions and keywords that shoppers use to find the brand's products.
5. Use social networks to evaluate product preferences and site performance. If an item accumulates many "likes" on Facebook, you're engaging well and have found a good market with which to relate. If a product receives poor ratings, you often can clearly spot the product's flaws or poor positioning from the comments of the reviewers and then take steps to make improvements.
6. Don't require a visitor to log in up front. From the shopper's perspective, providing credentials (e.g., an email address) is a long-term commitment they may not be ready to make. Position the log-in at the end of the process, and make it optional.
7. Enable visitors to log in as a guest. Furthermore, make it easy for them to enroll later on, after they've shopped and explored the site.
8. Collect only the information you absolutely must have from customers. Avoid forms that request nonessential personal information. Keep the number of fields that must be completed to a minimum, and spread them over multiple pages instead of presenting one long, complex page.
Designing e-commerce sites that respond to the consumer's mind-set can draw shoppers into your brand and encourage both interaction and trust.
Kevin Simons is the manager of user experience at MICROS, which develops point-of-sale and enterprise information system software for retailers.