How the Standard E-Commerce UX Has Changed Over the Years
The world of user experience (UX) is filled with predictions, from thoughts on the race to great customer experiences to a deeper integration of digital and physical experiences. These predictions come in rather handy when thinking about e-commerce, considering a look into the future could mean the difference between an online business making money or not.
However, a glimpse into the past provides the realization that predictions don’t always come true and that the past is often filled with more truths than the seemingly foreseen future.
Today, you’ll generally look for a solid e-commerce platform with UX tools for marketing, social media buttons, blogging and smooth shopping carts. However, there was once a point where these types of packaged solutions didn’t exist, and it’s a good idea to understand the evolution of e-commerce websites to see where the future is heading.
Therefore, it’s prudent as a web designer or e-commerce professional to view what has happened in the past in order to prepare for the future. That brings up a few questions, like what happened with e-commerce UX in the 90s and 2000s?
Early E-Commerce UX (1990s)
Let’s get started in the early 90s, when most websites were created with text. An online store didn’t come along until around 1994, yet it was more of a sales website with individual columns filled with text. In short, the UX looked like a simple Word document, with the most advanced feature being the text on a screen leading people to make a quick transaction.
As the 90s progressed, we started to see tables in use, meaning that multiple columns were possible. Retailers like eBay and Amazon.com were just getting started, and GIF images were becoming extremely popular. Think of this era as the annoying animation stage.
Security also became a priority, seeing as how the first secure transaction was made online around this time. It happened in the U.K.
The late 90s saw tremendous growth for some of the larger e-commerce companies we know today. However, the rise of Flash came on hard. Basically, every web designer tried to use Flash animation regardless of how distracting it was or how much it would slow down a website.
A/B testing wasn't even close to being created, so few people could take a deeper look and discover that these types of Flash animations weren't exactly what users wanted.
E-Commerce UX Design of the Early 2000s
Once 2000 rolled around, the market starting seeing the use of CSS in full effect. This was particularly useful for e-commerce sites because it allowed designers a chance to maintain the look and feel of the design throughout a considerable number of pages. This separation of website content and design is still in effect today, and most developers couldn’t imagine their lives without it.
It’s also worth mentioning that CSS was the beginning of web design decreasing in cost, since it expedited the UX design process and helped e-commerce professionals keep costs low.
E-Commerce UX Design of the Late 2000s
Therefore, the navigational menu was moved towards the top of the site for customers to access it quickly, and we began to see drop-down menus (which was the ultimate precursor to the mega menu we all know and love).
Web applications and interactive content was introduced into the e-commerce world during the late 2000s. What we mean by this is that customers were able to go on these e-commerce websites and actually complete other tasks besides buying items. For example, a person would have been able to print out a coupon, save a bookmark, share a blog post they enjoyed and even place multiple items in a wish list, all in the same sitting.
Today’s E-Commerce UX
The biggest change since the late 2000s has been the growth in mobile devices. At first, consumers had no interest in purchasing items through tablets and phones, but this quickly changed. This poses a huge problem for web designers, considering the entire infrastructure of the e-commerce UX has to be adapted for the mobile device.
Not only that, but the UX eventually had to become responsive so that people could see a mobile interface while on a smaller device, along with a regular interface while on a desktop computer. Not to mention, the smaller interfaces had to be simpler, since the connections were bound to be slower.
What’s interesting is that the first solution was the mobile site, which gave companies two separate sites to maintain, and some confusing options for consumers. This quickly went to the wayside, as most e-commerce templates are being built with completely responsive tools in mind.
Moving on, the market took a shift that was basically saying that effects like Flash were not preferred. We’re talking about flat design, which so many e-commerce stores have adopted with its simple, sleek interface and minimal approach overall. The good part about flat design is that it combines well with responsive designs, seeing as how even though devices are becoming more sophisticated, consumers still want the most basic of solutions.
We’ve also seen an influx of new payment processors like Square, PayPal and even Amazon, all of which attempt to constantly figure out ways to make the payment process more efficient.
What Can You Expect for the Future of E-Commerce UX?
The future of e-commerce is hard to predict, since so many of these trends have gone by the wayside in the past. However, all signs point to things like hidden menus, rich animations, storytelling and extremely large backgrounds.
Some of these have already been introduced, but we’re expecting to see more as consumers make their preferences clear and companies respond to what they want. What do you think the future of e-commerce is going to look like?
Ellie Martin is a freelance writer that regularly writes about business, technology and startups for a variety of publications.