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4 Steps For Improving Ecommerce Usability
By Will Devlin
4/4/2012 1:40:00 PM
Ecommerce sites have a unique challenge – they must be usable while also pushing visitors to buy something. Getting traffic to the site is only half the battle; once users arrive, you have just seconds to make a good impression and keep their interest. Usability is defined as:

UsabilityThe extent to which a product can be used by specific users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use. (International Organization for Standardization)

The web has been called “the great equalizer”, meaning that any size business can compete side-by-side with the giants of retail. A local sporting goods store can have better search rankings than Dick’s Sporting Goods or The Sports Authority. The office supply company on Main St. can be listed on comparison shopping engines right next to Staples and Office Max. A small clothing boutique can build a website that makes it look as grand in scale as Macy’s or Neiman Marcus.

By the same token, a well-established online retailer can alienate visitors and hurt their brand by having a poorly designed website. Bad design and clunkiness on the front end, to a user, can mean that the brand is unorganized and careless behind the scenes. In the end, that user is not likely to trust you with their personal information and will shop elsewhere.

So how can you ensure that your visitors trust in you and are willing to give you their hard-earned money?

1. Be consistent.

A good ecommerce site should be consistent not only with itself but with the web in general. Don’t reinvent the wheel! There are thousands of online stores out there, and they all typically follow the same structure:

- A homepage with featured content and call-outs

- A list of categories or departments along the top or down the left side

- A header containing the company logo, search box, account and shopping cart, and possibly a few other customer service links

- A footer with other important links to aid in the shopping process or to provide more information about the company

- Search results and product categories with sorting and filtering options

- Product pages with product details, specs, user reviews and alternate images 

There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t mimic what the majority of other retailers are doing online. You want the visitor thinking about what products or services they’re going to purchase, not trying to learn how to move around your site.

Also be sure that the site itself is delivering a consistent experience. A user shouldn’t feel like they’re on a different website when they’re in site search results or the checkout process. Keep a consistent look and feel no matter how a visitor interacts.


Office Depot Canada provides users with a similar experience whether they're using the navigation or the search box to browse their site.


2. Eliminate distractions.

This seems self-explanatory, but busy businesses sometimes forget that the primary goal of an ecommerce site is to sell stuff! Great content, low prices and beautiful graphics are meaningless if the site doesn’t work towards pushing the visitor to convert. Eliminate things that may distract visitors from the purchasing process. Reduce clutter and unnecessary links to keep the user focused on the task at hand.

A place often overlooked for reducing clutter is the checkout process. Once a user has added items to cart and clicked “Checkout”, they are mere seconds away from making a purchase. However, many retailers get in their own way during the checkout screens and inadvertently prevent people from completing the transaction. For starters, always give the user the option to checkout as a guest up front, as Beehive Style does:

Also, once in checkout, eliminate any unnecessary links that don’t aid in the checkout process. Remove the navigation and search box; after all, the user’s already shopped around and found items they’d like to purchase. Don’t give them a reason to leave checkout as they may not come back and complete the purchase later.

Amazon completely removes its traditional header and footer, locking the user in the checkout process until they've completed the purchase.

3. Establish trust and confidence.

Alternate pay methods and security logos go a long way in establishing trust and confidence, especially for companies who aren’t as well known as the major retailers.  Giving users the option to checkout via PayPal or Checkout by Amazon puts their mind at ease and lets them focus on your products and services. Adding any security logos that are applicable to your site, especially in the cart and checkout areas, let potential customers know they can trust you with their personal information.

Loehmann's displays security logos from Verisign and others right up front, on their homepage. 

4. Provide clear calls to action.

It’s dangerous to assume that users can “figure things out” without direction. As a business owner and a web marketer, you have a certain familiarity with your site and how it functions, which is something most visitors don’t have. Plainly state what you’d like for your users to do, whether it’s through section headers, buttons, or link text.

If you present refinement options on the left of search or browse results, add a “Refine your search” or “Narrow your search” heading at the top. Add buttons or arrows to banners directing a user to click, like Bambeco does:

By simply focusing on these four areas, you can greatly improve the user experience on your site and turn more of your visitors into customers.



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