Usability for e-commerce websites

22 Jul

For an e-commerce website to work well, it must be functional, search engine friendly and user friendly. That is the case for all websites, you might say. Is there anything special when it comes to e-commerce sites?

For one, because the revenue of your business depends directly on how well your site works, the stakes are higher. Also, there are particular aspects that you need to take care of and that will impact your conversion rate.

Navigation should be simple

Think of an e-commerce website as a store. In the real world when a customer enters a store there are signs that helps him/her get to the product they are looking for. A website’s navigation needs to do just that, easily point the user to where the desired product is. And if the user gets lost the navigation should help them get back on track. This means that the categorization of your products should be simple and intuitive and the navigation should be simple as well. One or two -word labels that are direct and descriptive about where they will lead are the best option. Technical words and playful wording might be tempting for the person who writes the copy and knows the business, but this practice usually hurts conversion rates. At the speed users scan webpages the best approach is to use simple straightforward words.

Accommodate all user types

Just like in a brick and mortar store some users are just out browsing and some are out to buy. To meet the needs of both user types you need great search functionality, navigation and intuitive categorization. These help customers track down the required item when they know exactly what they are looking for. For the more undecided visitor, a compare product functionality, recommended product sections, sections that display discounted items are all useful.

Use multiple large product images

In real world store customers look and handle products to decide whether to purchase or not. In an online store you need multiple, good quality, large products images the offer visitors the same amount of information. Products need to be photographed from multiple angles and need to show detail. Users collect product details from images, including details that are not covered in the product description.

Use a linear checkout process

Offer users a visual way of knowing how many steps are involved in making the purchase and a constant visual marker of where they are right now. Keep the process short and simple, do not attempt to sell customers anything else during checkout. The navigation in the checkout should only go back or forward, without other complications.

Make error messages easy to understand. Wanting to buy something and not being able to figure out why you can’t is frustrating. It can make the user leave the site.

Include a reviews section

User reviews, both good and bad, increase conversion rates. This occurs because reviews help users understand more about the quality of the product. Reviews answer questions, address concerns that possible customers might have. And because they are written from the perspective of people who actually used the product they add a new level of credibility. Even bad product reviews are useful. They allow users to see that the product ratings are real and that the product is indeed real with flaws.  

Discounts should be easy to apply

If a discount is advertised on the site it should be automatically applied to customers that qualify for it. If coupon codes are available make it easy for the user to apply them. The codes should be applied early in the checkout process, long before payment. Advertising discounts and then making it difficult for users to access them only creates distrust and is a bad strategy in the long run.

Provide a helpful customer area

After making a purchase customers might encounter problems. You need to offer assistance if they are to trust you. In the customer area of your site you need to provide a telephone number, email address, a privacy policy, return policy, shipping policy, and anything else that could be useful. By taking care of your site’s customer area you are sending users an important signal. It’s not just the checkout, the part where you take their money, that is important, but also the help you can give them after they have made their purchase.

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