In Part One of IDEA’s "eCommerce Best Practices" series, we explore several best practices for creating a seamless and intuitive customer experience through your eCommerce site.
Consumer online purchasing is on the rise now more than ever before, and distributors in multiple industries are turning to eCommerce in response. They realize that having an effective eCommerce site is no longer an optional luxury – it is necessary to remain competitive and viable in the 21st century. Brick-and-mortar businesses seek to distinguish themselves from competitors through impeccable customer service and a quality store experience, a mentality that needs to be translated to the online environment. Instead of a friendly staff member directing a customer to the correct aisle, however, companies must rely on the design and navigation of their site to shape the customer experience.
A website has a mere 15 seconds to catch the attention of a web page viewer before they move on.1 This means that the content in your eCommerce storefront must not only instantly attract your potential customer; it must then allow them to quickly find what they are looking for so they stay on your site.
Below are four key components, as identified by industry experts2, which your eCommerce site will need to foster a positive customer experience:
1. Good Visual Design
Just as design and appealing visual elements are critical for marketing pieces like a billboard or a brochure, your site design must also reflect the quality of your company and your product. To accomplish this, your marketing team must be involved in development from day one. They will help to ensure that all of the information you are trying to convey is not only in alignment with your brand as a whole, but that it is also communicated clearly and is attracting the type of buyer you want to target.
The new norm in web design is quality; any website that looks sloppy or amateur will be immediately dismissed, and a viewer will move on to the next site. If you only have 15 seconds to capture and hold a potential buyer’s attention, you will need to have a modern, professional-looking site.
Confused customers will quickly give up if they cannot easily find what they are looking for on your site. To prevent customers from leaving to visit a competitor’s site, each page within your web store must have the same look-and-feel and functionality.
For example, provide the same cues in the same location of each web page to guide navigation through your online store. Include ordering information in a uniform location on each product page. Display each product in a regular fashion and provide similar types of information for each product.
Consistency is key.
3. Intuitive Organization
Is the structure of your site intuitive? Will a customer be able to quickly return to the home page? Can a customer easily find the shopping cart, or figure out how to move from one product category to another?
When developing your site structure, you must assume that anyone visiting your site is unfamiliar with your company or product. You cannot assume that they are familiar with the way your company has decided to categorize items or label products. Within the world of eCommerce, breadcrumbs are commonly used to help guide visitors through a website. Breadcrumbs, which often appear towards the top of the screen, show a customer which subcategory they are currently in, where that subcategory fits into the overall product hierarchy, and how to easily find their way back to where they started.
Additionally, there should be multiple ways for a customer to find the same product. Not every person will think to search for what they need in the same way: some may look for a certain brand while others may look for a particular wattage. You want to make sure a customer’s search will lead to a product you are trying to sell, no matter which attribute they use in their search.
4. Customized Experience
In addition to a site that is easy to use and navigate, customers want to have personalized shopping experiences. Shopping in a tailored environment will keep customers engaged and willing to make return visits. To create a more personalized experience for your customer, consider adding the following features: customer login, custom subsets, and recommended products.
A customer login sets the stage for all user-specific interactions and will enable visitors to keep items in their shopping cart beyond the length of their initial visit to your website. It will also allow you to maintain a history of the types of products that customer has purchased in the past, helping you to recommend items that they might be consider in the future.
Defining custom subsets of products for your customers, based on their interests and history, will increase their searching and purchasing efficiency by eliminating irrelevant options.
Lastly, recommended products, based on either customer history or general popular items sold in conjunction with the product the customer is currently viewing, will expose the customer to more of your product offerings and may even encourage additional purchases.
Brand management and the experience your company provides to your online customers are essential to increasing or maintaining the integrity of the products you sell. However, a great customer experience alone does not ensure a successful web store. Your website platform and web content must also work in conjunction with the design and customer experience. In Part Two of our "eCommerce Best Practices" series, we will take a look at what is essential to a functional and efficient web engine or platform.
 In writing this article, IDEA product managers and representatives from Unilog Content Solutions were consulted. The opinions and knowledge shared in this article are for educational purposes and do not seek to present any bias.