E-Commerce Insights: Designed to Kill
In e-commerce, your homepage is who you are. It’s prospective customers first impression of you. Visitors will decide to either do or not do business with you based on their experience with your homepage.
Considering that the homepage usually gets a disproportionately larger amount of traffic than any other page on your website, it would be unwise not to optimize it.
However, there are still a lot of retailers that treat the homepage simply as a dumping ground for their marketing promos and other nonessential elements. The result is often a giant mess that creates a labyrinthine experience for visitors.
Below are examples of five of the most common homepage design mistakes — which lead to poor conversion rates — and how you can fix them.
What’s the first thing you notice when you land on an e-commerce homepage?
Chances are, it’s a giant rotating banner pointing to a sale or promo of some kind, like this one on Free People.
A lot of online retailers are guilty of this practice. It’s as if the marketing team thought it had to inundate visitors with promotions and discounts to get them to take action once they were on-site.
Unfortunately, having too many marketing items on the homepage accomplishes the opposite. Rotating banners and other promotional elements distract users and hinder them from accomplishing their tasks. Banners or sliders with automatic transitions are the worst offenders as humans are wired to pay attention to motion. The movement from these elements keep visitors from consuming other content on your page.
The presence of excessive promotional elements on the homepage is symptomatic of a bigger and deeper problem. It reflects a brand’s inability to prioritize web content according to the needs of its visitors. Rather than providing shoppers with options that are important for navigating their websites, they present them with promotional elements that may not even be remotely interesting or even relevant to them.
Visitors come to your website with a specific goal in mind: They want to quickly find what they’re looking, get off the homepage, and accomplish their task at hand. Give visitors a clear, high-level map of navigation options on your homepage that will allow them to immediately and easily see the range of choices available to them.
Premature Product Intro
A number of e-commerce websites display individual products the moment a visitor lands on the homepage under the “most popular or best-selling products” category. Other websites show these items as “recommended” or “daily deals,” occupying prime real estate on the homepage, like this example from Swanson Health Products.
Putting individual products on the homepage has a negative effect on usability and user experience. Like promotional elements, this tactic can be distracting for visitors. Even worse, spotlighting individual products can be confusing and misleading for visitors who are unfamiliar with your brand. They won’t know the extensive product collection you have.
This practice reflects a poor understanding of customer journey and online behavior. It assumes that the majority of visitors would be ready to buy or sign up for a specific product right there and then after landing on the homepage. In reality, unless you have a very good personalization tool or you sell a very limited number of products, these product selections appear as nothing but random items to visitors.
Remember that your homepage’s main purpose is to establish information scent for visitors. The homepage is there to provide primary navigational choices for drilling into your main product categories. It should give visitors an idea of the depth and breadth of products they can buy from your website, not attempt a hard sell when they’ve just arrived on your site.
Visuals are essential in capturing visitor interest and keeping them engaged.
Unfortunately, a lot of retailers use visuals as embellishments — i.e., they put images, videos and graphics on the page without giving much thought on how they affect the user experience. Take the homepage of ABOF, for instance, which uses tiled images as main content and navigation paths.
ABOF’s homepage may look good, but it doesn’t provide visitors much help in terms of learning where they should go to find the item they want. Unless ABOF intentionally wants visitors to be distracted with celebrity pictures and stories, this homepage is bound to confuse would-be customers instead of inspiring them to buy, what with all those images vying for attention.
We all want our sites to be Pinterest-beautiful, but that shouldn’t mean throwing usability out the window. Use visual elements wisely to direct visitors’ attention. Use images or videos that don’t overpower the main content and distract shoppers from their goals.
Have you ever heard of the Paradox of Choice?
If you have, then you know that visitors find it difficult to decide when they’re presented with too many choices. Look at Costume Craze’s website.
The page has too many navigational elements, which could overwhelm Costume Craze’s visitors. The retailer is showing all of its subcategories on the homepage, making it look very cluttered. When you display every available subcategory, in effect you’re requiring visitors to use precious cognitive energy on information processing.
The human brain is inherently lazy and impatient. That’s why giving visitors too many choices often leads to decision paralysis. The brain shuts down and visitors end up delaying a decision and buying nothing at all.
If you want visitors to convert at a higher rate, unburden their cognitive load as much as possible by instead of including all of your subcategories on the homepage, design your website according to the most common use case scenarios and provide visitors the ability to self-select. You can also use wizards or guides to make it easier for visitors to get closer to the specific products they’re interested in.
Missing Trust Symbols
It’s amazing to me how many e-commerce sites still fail to use trust symbols and guarantees.
If you’re not a well-known brand, don’t expect first-time visitors to immediately trust your website. It’s normal for people to be apprehensive about shopping from lesser-known brands. They may have doubts that they’ll get products as described, or worry if your website — and their data — is safe from the clutches of cybercriminals.
Expect that visitors, especially new ones, will view your website with suspicion. Reassure visitors that they’re in safe hands by prominently displaying security badges and trust symbols. Even the simple act of putting your contact number and physical location on your homepage can increase perceptions of credibility among shoppers.
Your homepage sets visitor expectations and their willingness to convert later on in the purchase journey. The goals of your homepage are neither to amaze visitors with visuals nor distract them with hundreds of promotions and discounts. The primary job of your homepage is to earn visitor trust and confidence, and provide helpful guidance so they can easily and quickly get to where they want to go within your website. Design your homepage according to these objectives and you’ll reap the reward of improved conversions in no time.
Tim Ash is the author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization, and CEO of SiteTuners. A computer scientist and cognitive scientist by education (his PhD studies were in Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence), Tim has developed an expertise in user-centered design, persuasion and understanding online behavior, and landing page testing. In the mid-1990s he became one of the early pioneers in the discipline of website conversion rate optimization. Over the past 15 years, Tim has helped a number of major US and international brands to develop successful web-based initiatives. Companies like Google, Expedia, Kodak, eHarmony, Facebook, American Express, Canon, Nestle, Symantec, Intuit, AutoDesk and many others have benefitted from Tim's deep understanding and innovative perspective.
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