Ecommerce UX - A Practical Approach for Online Store Owners

Do you sell awesome products on your website, but fail to generate revenue? Are people making it to the first date by visiting your site, only to ditch you at the metaphorical internet coffee shop with the tab? Have you ever wondered why your ecommerce site (with-the-heart-of-gold) keeps getting friend-zoned? Boy, do I have the solution for you! It’s called UX and it’s going to change your website’s life.

Cheesy and infomercial-esque dating references aside (don’t worry; there will be more), building an excellent user experience, or UX, is absolutely essential to running a successful online store. And I don’t use the word “essential” lightly, the way some people might say, “guacamole is essential to a good cheese quesadilla” when what they really mean is, “I’d eat the quesadilla anyway. I just like guacamole.” I mean it’s nearly everything: It’s what will increase your conversions and drive your revenue. It’s what designers strive for. It’s what the field of SEO is evolving into. And most importantly, it’s what will set you apart when there are thousands of other hungry ecommerce fish in the sea.

UX has a simple definition – it’s the way in which a user navigates and absorbs your website – but executing it involves a complicated and perpetually-shifting set of variables ranging from design to website copy to mobile responsiveness and site load time.

The next time you make a purchase on a website, ask yourself:

  • Why that specific product from that specific website?
  • Did you read copy that told you what you wanted to know about the product and how you’d be using it in your own life?
  • Were you able to view photos that showed the product up close or from multiple angles, or maybe in a contextual setting, so you had an even better understanding of what you’d be getting?
  • How did you get to that product in the first place – was there a logical and streamlined path on the site that took you exactly where you needed to go?

And the next time you visit a website with the intent to buy but leave without purchasing a thing, take even more careful mental notes about what drove you away.

  • Did the website appear unprofessional or questionable?
  • Was the navigation menu so crowded and confusing that you couldn’t figure out what you were looking for?
  • Did the site load too slowly or take you to too many error pages, leaving you frustrated?
  • Did you need to see item specifications that didn’t exist?
  • Were the product images low quality?
  • Did you get all the way to the checkout page only to learn about a massive hidden shipping fee?

Your decision to leave may have even been more of a gut response: Maybe the website looked like it hadn’t been updated since 1996, and you knew that the only website that can get away with that is the Space Jam site. Maybe there were grammatical errors that made you lose your trust in the website’s professionalism. Maybe you just didn’t respond to the “voice” of the copy. Just like with people, there are plenty of logical and not-so-logical reasons why we fall in love with a website. And just like with people, the more you interact with a variety of websites, the better you’ll be able to understand what makes a good one. In a nutshell, if you take nothing else away from this post, here’s what you should do when you’re thinking about building an ecommerce store with great UX: study other websites you admire.

Most of that advice is about using your intuition, and I realize that’s a heavy task. To get you started with the ecommerce UX project for your website, let me give you some tangible rules by borrowing from the format of an online dating profile. Here are some pro tips from your resident Usability Expert and Mediocre Relationship-Advice-Giver to make sure that nobody “swipes left” when they visit your website:

The Profile Picture:

This is your chance to present your website’s “best self” in one second. First impressions are huge: Do you want to be the website equivalent of the guy who takes shirtless selfies in a mirror, or do want to be seen as sophisticated, stylish and fun-loving? There’s a time and a place for everything, I guess, but know what you want your website to be and reflect that. Your brief opportunity to wow is your website’s home page, and it will reflect the spirit of the site via the images you choose, the copy you write, the style of your design, the cleanliness of your layout and the availability of more information. When in doubt, keep it simple.

The “About Me” Section:

While someone may have said “yes” to your awesome design (you used the Volusion platform, didn’t you?) you’re not going to keep them there without substance. This is your marketing copy’s time to shine. Decide what your website’s “personality” will be: there’s a vast difference between business-like, information-rich copy and hip, humorous copy, and there’s no “best” way to go, but there should only be one voice for your website.

Once you’ve found your voice, describe to your audience what they’re getting and why they should want it in the most concise and compelling way you can. Tell a story and play to the best possible outcome of using the product. I can personally attest to purchasing a dress once because the web copy called it “Parisian,” and I instantly pictured myself strolling the streets of Paris while gnawing on a block of cheese. I liked that scenario and the dress that would take me there.

Pay attention to grammar and sentence flow, because your audience will, even if they don’t realize they’re doing it. Hire a writer if this isn’t your forte – it could just be the best investment you make.

The “Looking For” Section:

Who are you trying to attract in the first place? Do your market research, whether it’s on as large a scale as conducting surveys and looking at case studies or as small a scale as asking your friend, dad or teenage daughter, “Hey, would you buy this?” Many small business owners have a leg up in this department, because a lot of stores were inspired by the owner’s own personal needs and tastes. If you’re one of the lucky people for whom this is true, then think about what inspires you about the products you’re selling. There exists a market who will be similarly inspired, and you have the ability to find them wherever they’re hiding: on blogs, in Facebook groups, Googling specific search terms and reading industry websites.

The “More Information” Section:

I’m not sure if that’s actually a section on online dating profiles, but I need an excuse to talk about navigation. See the menu at the top of your website? Unless you’re working with a conversion optimization specialist, nobody can decide what goes there except you. Break what you’re selling into logical categories, and then subcategories if necessary. Try not to clutter your navigation with too many choices; the best navigation will guide the user to what they’re looking for by starting broad and getting more specific. Sometimes the user doesn’t even know the specific product they want until they click on a broader category first. Let them tailor their options to their needs and tastes, too, by offering features like a “filter by” toggle where they can specify variables like price and color.

The “Let’s Grab a Drink” Part:

So you’re ready to close the deal! Don’t make the user guess what they should do next. Offer a clear call-to-action, like “buy now” or “get a quote,” followed by a way to make that action as easy as possible to execute. Offer any purchasing incentives that are available, like free shipping or bulk discounts. Make sure you’ve been up front about fees or anything else that might turn people away at the last minute. And finally, ensure that your checkout process is seamless, secure and self-explanatory straight through to the “thank you” page.

Good luck! I know this isn’t easy, but by taking the right steps and making your ecommerce site a little UX-ier, you’ll be able to attract the audience you deserve. Just remember, the best relationships take time.