If you want to learn more about user experience for your online store, then look no further. This guide gives you the basics of website user experience, the unique opportunities ecommerce websites have and how you can create your store's best user experience yet.
Website user experience, also known as website UX, is often mistakenly simplified to mean "how easy it is to use a website." However, that definition describes only one of its many facets. Instead, UX is more accurately described as what it sounds like: an experience. And as an experience, it encompasses every single part of a website and how a user interacts with it. Great UX results in a website that is polished, detailed, highly satisfying for its users and, when it comes to ecommerce sites, as profitable as possible.
Ecommerce UX has a lot in common with general website UX, but ecommerce UX has many unique aspects as well, like product pages and checkout pages. And it's these unique ecommerce UX elements that can make all the difference between a good online store and an incredible one.
But how do you bridge that gap between good and great? And what do you need to know about UX to get there?
This guide is here to answer those questions, give you a basic understanding of UX and focus on the aspects specific to ecommerce to help you improve your store.
After reading this guide, you’ll know the answers to the following:
- What is UX?
- Why is UX important?
- How can I determine the quality of the UX of my site?
- What are some ways I can improve my online store's UX?
Sound good? Then let's dive in.
What is UX?
UX is a constantly developing field, and as such, many definitions have cropped up and are still cropping up to try and explain it. To cut down on the abundance of material trying to define what UX is, we'll look at two of the most encompassing and relevant definitions specific to ecommerce.
First, let's look at Usability Body of Knowledge's definition of UX, which reads:
Every aspect of the user's interaction with a product, service or company that make up the user's perceptions of the whole. User experience design as a discipline is concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound and interaction. UX works to coordinate these elements to allow for the best possible interaction by users.
That's a lot to digest, so let's break this definition down into its parts and see how it applies to your ecommerce website.
Starting with the first sentence, we can define ecommerce UX as "every aspect of the user's interaction with an ecommerce website, which together make up the user's perceptions of the business as a whole." So when judging the quality of your store's UX, you'll be looking at anything your customers can see or click, and study how they react to it.
But saying we should look at anything a customer can see is casting an incredibly wide net. Using the definition's second sentence, let's organize your store's interface into the smaller, more specific groups that the definition lists: layout, visual design, text, brand, sound and interaction.
- The layout of your website is how things are presented or laid out. This means anything from where your navigation menu is, to whether you present your products in a grid or list format, and even how you list the information in your footer.
- Visual design refers to the images and colors used on your website. If you're using an ecommerce template, the template makes up the majority of your visual design. However, design details like making a call-to-action button a bright color or changing the font of your headline are also included in this group.
- Text is just another word for your written copy. Not only does this refer to big blocks of copy (like the ones you'd find in your About Us page), but the names of your products and even the labels of the buttons in your navigation menu.
- Brand refers to your overall brand persona, vision, values and how they come across in your online store. It also refers to how consistent your brand is from page to page and medium to medium.
- Sound is exactly what it sounds like, and this audio component doesn’t readily apply to most ecommerce websites. However, aspects like volume control and sound quality would be things to consider if you stream or sell music in your online business.
- Interaction is when your customers come into contact with your website, what actions they take once there and how your website responds to said actions Everything from clicking on a button to navigating your website to filling out a form falls under this category.
UX then, according to this definition, is a combination of these six areas that a customer sees, uses and reacts to.
If you’re inclined to more abstract ways of thinking, we have a second definition of UX for you. According to Frank Guo, a well-respected UX strategist and architect, there are four major elements of UX: usability, value, adoptability and desirability. They're distinct but cooperating entities that are all needed to have the best UX possible.
Let's briefly look a little closer at each component, and how it relates to your ecommerce site:
Usability is how easily a user can complete a task on your website.
- Examples: Making it very simple to purchase products, putting your contact info in an obvious location and making sure your content is easy to read.
Value is how well your ecommerce site satisfies your customers' needs.
- Example: If your customer is a beginner fisherman and your store includes not only basic rods, but other accessories as well as helpful guides for those just starting to fish, then the value of your store would be through the roof.
Adoptability is how easy it is to access your ecommerce site, and how well it can adapt to different mediums.
- Example: Your website is easily accessible on the web, and has a well-structured mobile version that's equally as pleasant to use.
Desirability is how appealing, engaging and pleasant your ecommerce site is to customers.
- Example: Your online store has a well-done and relevant template, and uses a brand voice that makes your customers smile.
UX is a multi-faceted, ever-evolving field, especially since it's so closely tied to the advancement of technology. But with these two definitions on our side, we can better understand UX, and what it means to improve it in your ecommerce website.
Now that we have this knowledge under our belts, let's look at why UX is important to your online store, and what it can do for you.
Why is UX important?
It's nice to learn about UX and all its pieces and parts, but this is where we get to the good stuff. We all know competition is stiff on the web. And with tons of new ecommerce websites springing up every single day, it's only getting more intense. Today's online consumer is well-aware of their multitude of choices, which makes them very likely to shop around before deciding where to put their money. So to grab customers' attention, you're going to need more than just stellar design or good products. You're going to need to create an online shopping experience that is second to none. And how does your online business do that? You guessed it. By improving your UX. Because when your business focuses on creating a specific shopping experience for your customers, then your entire approach to your business will have that big-picture, holistic perspective that will put it miles ahead of the others.
Outside of helping your business lead its industry, UX has a host of other benefits that help both your store and your customers. Specifically, when your store's UX is as good as it gets, your business could see boosts in customer satisfaction and loyalty, efficiency and ROI and conversion.
Let's delve a little further into each of these benefits to understand how:
Customer satisfaction & loyalty
Believe or not, you can actually make your customers happy just by having a user-friendly website. Online shopping is becoming an increasingly popular stress-reliever, and when you're able to deliver exactly what your customer wants in a fun and engaging way, they'll make their purchase and walk away with a smile, instead of staring at their screen and frowning in frustration.
By the nature of what it is, your ecommerce website has been bestowed all the advantages of the internet, like speed, efficiency and convenience. Incidentally, those are all things customers look for in their shopping experiences. Thus, good UX is critical because of this: by making your site intuitive to use, you’re reducing obstacles that deter the purchasing process and helping boost positive associations with your ecommerce site. And as an added plus, when a customer is satisfied with their experience, it builds customer loyalty to your brand, giving you a ton more revenue and saving you another ton on acquiring new customers.
Key takeaway: When your customers don't have to ponder over what’s going on with your ecommerce site, they're going to be a heck of a lot happier with you and will be much more likely to come back.
Efficiency and productivity
In a world where time is money, the more efficient your ecommerce website, the better, and good UX helps your business be more agile. When your online store is easy to use, your customers can do everything faster, including browsing and buying products. And that means they can get in and out as quickly as possible.
Think of it this way: The faster a task is, the less time it takes, and the less time it takes, the more you can get done. Likewise, when you make it easy and fast to buy products, you're opening up the opportunity for more purchases to happen in a day.
Key takeaway: The less time customers have to spend navigating your website, the more time they can devote to buying from you.
Conversion rates and return on investment
Good UX pays off. Literally. And that's largely because an ecommerce website with good UX makes it easy for shoppers to search, access and purchase its products. When users can easily find and buy products, your online store is better equipped to turn browsers into buyers.
Furthermore, as stated earlier, when customers become loyal to your brand, they'll often return to buy more of your wares, which means an even greater profit for your business.
And of course, you're going to want to make enhancements to your ecommerce store at some point. Whether you invest in a custom design or search engine optimization, poor UX could work against, or even negate, these improvements. In order to get your money's worth, you need your site's UX to be at its best so it won't distract from these investments.
Key takeaway: When you make it easy for customers to buy your products, they'll buy more, and your conversion rate and ROI will climb.
After understanding UX's benefits, you'll probably want to start optimizing your own website's UX as soon as possible. But before you do, let's first identify your store's UX strengths and weaknesses with a variety of helpful tools.
Assessing your current UX
In order to make improvements to your ecommerce site's UX, you have to find out how your online store is currently performing. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to determine what your UX strong points are, and which areas could use some work.
Here are a few ways to determine the quality of UX your store is offering:
Research & take stock
When evaluating your UX, the first thing you'll want to do is better understand UX by compiling the right Resources and information. (This guide is a good start!) In other words, it's difficult to know your score if you don't know the rules of the game. That's why you want to give yourself a good basis of knowledge to most accurately assess your website. For extra reading on UX in general, feel free to check out the resources section at the end of this guide.
Keep in mind that you don't want to limit your research to purely bookish endeavors. You'll also want to do some knowledge-gathering that’s specific to your business. For example: What are your objectives? Who is your target audience? What is your brand persona? The idea here is for you to distill the basics of your business into a document that you can reference when making improvements to your ecommerce website.
Some questions you should ask:
- Who am I to my customers?
- What can I do for them?
- Why are my products/services valuable?
Also be sure to take a peek at your competitors and see what they're doing. Go through a task on your ecommerce website, and do the same task on theirs and see who has the easier workflow. Take note of what they do differently and determine whether it's something you'd like to follow, or if you prefer your own method.
Overall, you'll want to get a good grasp of what UX is, how it'll help you and some general best practices, as well as know your own brand and business inside and out. That way, when you approach your website, you can make the right judgments and know exactly what you're looking at.
Website testing is a great way to ascertain whether your online store is on the right track, or if you'd benefit from a refresh. There a number of things you can test, but here are some of the most common ones:
CTAs can easily be one of your most effective tools when trying to attract customers' attention to what you're offering. So you'll want to do a few tests to make sure that your major CTAs are as potent as possible.
From a design standpoint, try experimenting with button color and button size. Although your current CTA button color may match the design of your website better, you may want to try a color that clashes with your theme so your button stands out more. And when it comes to size, try going a little larger and see if that draws any extra eyes. In general, larger buttons are better, but there's a limit to that rule, so you should always test it.
Another aspect of CTAs that you should test is the copy. Minor changes in the wording of a CTA can yield very different results. Try testing more specific language, like "Buy Now" vs "Add To Cart" on a product page, or more casual language, like "Order Information" vs "Get More Info."
Believe it or not, pricing is another aspect that needs to be tested. Some might assume a lower-priced item would automatically do better, but that's not necessarily the case. Higher-priced items can sometimes outsell lower priced products. Furthermore, customers chasing lower prices often don't have much brand loyalty, while customers who buy despite higher prices have put more thought into their purchase, and are more likely to stick around for longer.
You'll also want to look at how prices are displayed. You could end up seeing a big difference between $4.99 versus $5.00 versus $4.50.
Discounts and promotions
How you state your discount or promotion can affect how attractive they'll appear to your customers. First step: Think about how your discount will be presented visually. Do you want to use mostly numerals (i.e.: “2 for 1 deal”), or is it a more text-based promotion (i.e.: “Now at half the price”)? You'll also want to decide whether to take a more specific angle with your campaign by including words like “semi-annual,” "spring cleaning" and "once in a lifetime."
Another aspect of your discount or promotion is where you'll be promoting it on your site. Will it be on the front page within your slideshow? Will it replace the slideshow completely? How about putting it in the header, or within a nav menu? Either way, you'll want to test these different locations and see which ones are most the effective with your customers.
Layout of website
How your ecommerce website is laid out can make a big difference as to whether you find success or otherwise. Try testing out where your navigation menus go, or switching up the order of the bullets in your menus and submenus.
For any one thing you'd like to say, there are hundreds of different ways to say it. And because some words reach your audience better than others, you'll want to test your content before deciding on which version makes the final cut. Take a look at some of your big headlines, product descriptions, category descriptions and any other important blocks of content on your site, and think about giving them a refresh.
If you're at a loss at where to start rewriting your content, try the Three Versions Exercise: Write one version that's as plain as possible, another version that's crazy and off-the-wall, and then a third version that strikes a happy medium between the two. From here, there's a good chance one of them will be close to what you're looking for, and by making some minor edits, you'll have copy that’s more likely to convert.
Although it's often thought to be a best practice to add your security badges and seals everywhere you can, you'll want to test this out as well. Your customers want your protection while shopping online, but in certain industries, they may not like being constantly reminded of it. In fact, some stores have actually seen conversion rates increase after removing their security seals.
How could that happen? Well, think about it this way: Would you feel safer shopping at a typical department store, or a store that required three security checks before entering? Although outwardly, the second store is doing more to keep you safe, it can be frightening for a customer, who might assume there have been some ugly security breaches in the past.
It's always good to get feedback from a third party, and user testing helps you do just that. Not only is it giving you insight into what your customers are thinking, but it provides the kind of feedback that you can't get from website testing, like what the user's intention was in visiting your , their feelings about your store design and what obstacles (if any) kept them from completing their desired tasks.
Before delving into user testing, here are some things you should think about:
- What is your goal? Try to make this statement as simple as possible.
- Are you sure the question you're trying to answer with user testing can't be resolved by other means? If you can get the answers from other tests or analytics, don't use valuable user testing time to try and get them to articulate their behavior.
- How many responses do you want? You don't need an exact number, but a rough estimate is helpful in deciding when to stop running the test.
- Who is your target audience for your tests? Completely new visitors? Your loyal customers? Or a mixture of both?
And when it comes to your own user testing, you have all the flexibility in the world. At their most basic, your test can be a simple compilation of questions emailed to a list, and on the more advanced side, there are several tools you can delve into. User testing is so flexible that they can even be done in person, like buying a friend lunch and asking them to go through a couple of tasks on your store. If you're looking for something a little more advanced though, there are a number of user testing tools you can use. Check the Resources section at the end of this guide to learn more.
When it comes to the exact questions you'll be asking, well, that depends on your goals. And if you're not quite settled on what you'll be looking at, here are a couple ideas:
- How easy is it for new customers to learn how to perform a task?
- Are customers able to complete their tasks?
- If not, what's stopping them?
- How quickly can a customer recover from making a mistake?
- How easy is it for a customer to remember how to do the task?
- Is your ecommerce site easy to read and understand?
- How difficult is it for a customer to find what they want?
- Is your site running fast enough for your customers?
Overall, user testing is an effective and flexible tool when it comes to getting user feedback on your UX, and should definitely be a part of your assessment arsenal.
Analytics are a fantastic support for crafting great UX, because they give you a screenshot of how customers are behaving in your store. Although on its own, analytics won't be able to describe exactly why your users do what they do, it can put you in a better position to find out by giving you their behavioral information.
If you haven't set up analytics on your ecommerce site, you'll want to get that started as soon as possible. It takes time for analytics to compile enough data so that its findings aren't skewed. With too small of a sample size, you risk greatly misreading your audience because of a couple of outliers. For those just starting out, Google Analytics is a good option, as it's free, easy to install and can be used on anything from a tiny boutique shop to a massive corporate store.
If you do have your analytics set up, then you're ready to dive into the data.
Here are a couple things to look at when checking your analytics, and why they're important:
Locate your most popular landing pages
It's hard to let these stars of the show shine brightly if you don't know who they are, so use your analytics to figure out which of your pages or products are getting the most views. With the amount of traffic they're getting, these pages are probably doing something right. If the page has a high bounce rate (meaning customers are landing on that page, reading what's on it and then leaving), the fact remains that's it's still being visited a bunch. Try to figure out how people keep ending up on this page, especially when it's not what they're looking for, or how you can rope them in to looking at other pages by adding internal links.
If the page has a low bounce rate and high traffic, on the other hand, then it's one of your top performers. Take a close look at what it's doing well, such as having well-written content, answering some very common questions or maybe just showcasing a very sought-after product. Either way, by looking at pages with the most views, you'll know what your big-ticket items are, and will be able to improve them accordingly.
List your most searched queries
Look into what your customers are most frequently searching for in your internal site search. This information is important, not only because it further highlights popular products, but because it can determine whether you'll want to make some user-friendly changes to your website. For example, if you see a topic that’s highly searched for, consider updating your FAQs so it includes the answer to that question.
As another example, say one of your most popular queries is "water bottle." You'd want to search for "water bottle" yourself and see what your results are. If your results aren't quite what they should be, consider optimizing your water bottles for that keyword, or looking into the way you organize your products and seeing whether there's room for improvement. Additionally, you’d want to decide whether to make water bottles a sub point in your navigation since they're so popular.
Identify peak activity times
Use your analytics to figure out when your ecommerce site is most active. As we all know, although normal businesses are open from 8 to 5, the internet never closes shop, so when your customers are most active may not be when you expect. For example, you may be based in the Pacific Northwest, but your store could be hugely popular in the Southeast, so you have to adjust for the time zone difference. This is especially pertinent if you have a large, international customer base.
There are several reasons why you'll want to know when your customers are most active, like when to launch a big discount, but most pertinently, it'll let you know when NOT make big UX changes.
Once you've done your research, conducted some user testing and reviewed your analytics, you now have all the information to start making strides toward improving your ecommerce website's UX. But what exactly are these strides going to be? Keep reading to see our ideas for effective ways to improve your store's UX.
Ways you can improve your UX
Once you've looked at your store's current UX in depth, you can start making big strides in improving it. Changing the UX of your entire ecommerce website is no small task. It will take a lot of thought and time, but thankfully, there are some features you can include and some best practices you can follow to help get some quick victories.
In the journey to better your ecommerce site's UX, there are a couple of shortcuts you can take. And by that, we mean features that you can leverage to greatly improve customers' shopping experiences. Here are some features that you'll want your ecommerce software to be capable of:
Soft add to cart
Soft add to cart is a feature that shows customers what's in their cart without making them go to a new page. With soft add to cart, a customer can add a product to their cart, and look at a dialog box that will show them their updated cart, or perhaps hover over a View Cart link and have the box pop up then. But in short, it gives them an update while letting them stay on the page they're on, which is a big plus in terms of convenience, and an extra big plus for your more forgetful customers.
Custom 404 page
404 pages aren't typically a great thing to run into, but a custom 404 page can turn a somewhat disappointing experience into an informative, and maybe even enjoyable, experience for your customer. When creating your custom 404 page, consider linking back to your homepage, or suggesting links that they may have been looking for. Plus, think about your customers and maybe add some on-brand humor.
Showing similar or related products
Related products help a customer find what she's looking for while being one of your best friends when it comes to conversion. From a UX standpoint, showing similar products is beneficial to the customer because it helps her find exactly what she's searching for. Say a shopper is searching for a pair of bright green shoes, and finds a pair in your store, but notices they're not the exact shape she would like. If you have similar products appear on the product page, then she'd be offered other green shoes, one of which could easily be her ideal shape.
Likewise, related products can make a shopping experience more pleasant by making it more efficient. If a customer has decided to buy a fountain from you, and they see a cleaning kit and a replacement filter show up in the related products, then they can decide to order the two additional products and save themselves the trouble of finding them later. And whatever can save the customer time makes for a great UX.
Online ordering and in-store pickup
Flexibility is one of ecommerce's strong points, and by allowing online ordering and in-store pickup, you make it even easier for your customers to get their products. However, keep in mind that this feature works better for online stores that are a little larger, and have a loyal following of local customers. Although it takes some logistic legwork to sync up store inventory and online inventory, if your business can manage it, it's a great feature to have for your customers.
One page checkout
Usability research has shown that one page checkout is significantly more pleasant for the customer than trying to jump through hoops and click on multiple pages. And it makes sense! After all, who would want to go through six different pages when trying to make a purchase? Again, you want to remove as many obstacles as possible when creating your store's ideal UX.
Order without an account
You have a customer interested in what you have to offer, and he's about to make his purchase, when a dialog box pops up asking him to make an account. His reaction? Probably not delighted about it, and that's not good news. There's no reason to add an extra step if you already have a customer trying to buy something from you. Although you may want to get that customer information, good UX is more about making things easier for your shoppers and getting you that sale.
Internal site search engine
As intuitive as your navigation may be, your customers aren’t going to instantly know their way around the second they land on your page. So when you have a customer who knows exactly what they want, facilitate their buying process by having a site search that can immediately pull up what they're asking for.
Live chat & email customer service
Whether they're in a brick-and-mortar or online store, nothing quite makes a customer's day like good customer service. Try to offer several forms of service, such as email and phone, and possibly live chat assistance. Being able to reach employees who are friendly and knowledgeable helps put a face and person to the products, and makes your store that much more enjoyable to shop at.
Multiple payment options
How many times have you been at a register to pay, handed the cashier your credit card and have it handed back because they don't take that kind of card? It's not a pleasant experience, is it? And to have the best UX possible, you want to avoid putting your customers in that same situation. Instead, offer varying forms of payment so your business can be accessible to as many customers as possible. A good recommendation would be to allow every major credit card, as well as an electronic check and possibly PayPal, depending on your customers.
In addition to these features, there are best practices you can follow that will make your store more user-friendly and help you reap all the benefits of a store with a good UX. Here are four best practices that can help you create an efficient, effective and enjoyable experience for your customers:
Have your contact info in an obvious place
If there's one thing you can count on, it's that your customers will have something they want to say to you, whether they're asking questions, making comments or otherwise. A "Contact Us" page is great, but you can do even better from a UX standpoint. So in addition to having your "Contact Us" page, put your contact information in the footer of your website. Really though, your contact information can be anywhere so long as it's out in the open and easy to find.
Use high quality product images
For the best UX possible, you'll want high quality product photos. High quality images will place your products in the best, most accurate light possible, which is a plus for both you and your customers. With high quality photos, you get to showcase the quality of product you're selling, and your customers will get a good idea of what they're buying. Low quality photos, however, are like a customer walking up to your store and seeing your products through a smudged and dirty display window. Although that pair of shades may be exactly what they've been searching for, there's no way they'll be able to tell by what they're looking at.
Here are some additional tips for product images:
- Have more than one product photo for every product
- Have product photos taken from different angles
- Have a product photo for each color or variation
- Enable zooming
- Be consistent in your photography style
Have product videos
Although your ecommerce site may not be able to reproduce your customer's experience of picking up a product and looking at it, it can come close by having well-made product videos embedded in your product pages. Product videos bring a product to life by both giving your customers information that they may not have gleaned from the product information and getting the customer to imagine what owning the product would be like.
And the benefits don't stop there. Product videos can also help you improve your SEO rankings, since Google and Bing include video snippets in their search results and searchers are often drawn to them.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to product videos:
- Don't let them drag on
- Make sure they're high quality
- If you're recording audio, use a professional-grade microphone
- Brand your videos
- Make your product the star
- Be consistent in your style
Make your navigation intuitive
No one likes feeling lost, even if it's just in an online store. By having intuitive navigation, you can get your customers as comfortable as possible.
If you're using a template for your store design, your first step will be to choose a template with navigation menus in obvious places. Look at the template's example, watch where your eyes fall and see if you had any difficulties when locating the navigation.
Once you're actually building your menu, make it as simple as possible. That means not having any more nav menus than what's necessary, and being very clear and concise in your selections. Additionally, you'll want to have the ability to display breadcrumbs, which help a user trace their shopping path, for an even better navigation experience.
Ecommerce websites can greatly benefit from paying attention to their UX, and making sure their layout, design, text, brand, sound and interaction are as user-friendly as possible. By being usable, valuable, adaptable and desirable, online stores and their customers reap a number of benefits that help both the business and the consumer.
Knowing that, it's a good idea to make an effort to improve the UX of your store. But before you can do that, you'll want to see where you currently stand by doing some research and using a number of tools. Then, once it comes to doing the legwork to improve the UX of your website, there are several features and best practices that can help give you a boost. From soft-add-to-cart to intuitive navigation, and product photos to contact info, these improvements can quickly add quality to your site's UX.
And when it comes to improving your store's UX, you don't have to go it alone. Here at Volusion, we offer an award-winning, all-in-one ecommerce solution that comes with tons of user-friendly features already built-in. From soft add to cart to one page checkout, our software was made with the customer's happiness in mind. We also offer services like free templates, custom design, SEO and more to make our stores' UX even better. But don't take our word for it. Start a free trial today and see what we can do.
We hope this guide has helped you better understand what UX is, why it matters in ecommerce and how you can use it to your advantage. Best of luck as you embark on your own UX journey!
-Gracelyn Tan, Volusion