Commerce has become both digital and global: Online sales are expected to exceed $1.6 trillion dollars by 2020. As a customer preferred way of doing business, ecommerce offers increased selection, value, and convenience. Online shopping also offers merchants increased access to customer data and opportunities to capitalize on that information.
If your business isn’t keeping pace with best practices in ecommerce UX—not to mention leveraging mobile to capture even more opportunities—you’ll miss out on the continuously growing percentage of consumer online spending. In 2016, for instance, shoppers made 51 percent of their purchases online (compared to 48 percent in 2015 and 47 percent in 2014). Regardless of the path of innovation you choose in the ecommerce space, your online presence should be optimized for user experience. This article explores the top features and UX best practices that are at the heart of a compelling ecommerce experience. While it complicates the evolution of the buyer’s journey, multichannel commerce offers new opportunities for conversions as well. Whether your shoppers flock to phones or desktops when they view your site, the key features emphasized here apply to all platforms. Let’s start with some of the important moments in a shopper’s journey, and then take a deep-dive into optimal UX in each.
There are four critical areas where your ecommerce presence should demonstrate great UX: navigation, product pages, checkout, and optimization. Each of these areas has corresponding UX best practices, which we explore in-depth.
Invest in an intuitive IA
Don’t organize your products based solely on how you think about them. Your users have their own intuitive ways of thinking about and grouping your products, and it’s possible, using research methodologies such as card sorting, to cater to that. Card sorting is an exercise in a lab setting that helps develop your site taxonomy by collecting patterns in the way customers sort your products. Research participants are typically given representative sets of items, and asked to group and name them intuitively into their own categories. Across multiple users, patterns emerge that help guide the creation of intuitive navigation categories and product groupings.
Have a content governance strategy
A search bar is crucial. And if you’re going to offer a product search, you should have a strong approach to content governance. This is fundamental for two reasons: You need to make your ecommerce platform fully accessible using search and filtering, and as your goods and services evolve they need to be accessible just as consistently as the products indexed before them. Strong content governance equates to quality metadata on a per-product basis. You will have addressed the following questions in developing your strategy: What search terms should be associated with my product(s)? What filtering facets do I make available to my customers during the browsing process? In the absence of specific user input, how should content in search results and elsewhere be ranked, sorted, and organized by default?
Avoid dead-end search results
Nothing is more disheartening to shoppers than entering a search term and pulling up a “0 results” page. If your site has the capability to perform a fuzzy search (thanks to good tagging and content governance), provide these products on the results list in place of a dead end. Consider implementing an autocomplete feature within your site search. This way, shoppers are exposed to new combinations of search terms, which may yield more results than they think of on their own.
This easily-overlooked navigational element helps shoppers locate themselves on your site and in time, get a feel for how your products are organized. As best practice, breadcrumbs are expected to appear on category-level and detail pages shortly after header and navigation content. Usually breadcrumbs appear as an unobtrusive line of text, which maps to the customer’s location and depth in a site.
Offer high-quality, informative imagery
Customers are evaluating the smallest of details when comparing your product to competitors. Make the decision clear for them with images sized to highlight details such as stitching, seams, colors, and functionality. Many shoppers enjoy 360-degree views and even videos of products in action. Sweeten the deal by including carousels and large hero banners on category and homepages, which rotate through quality images of featured products.
Help customers browse efficiently with quick views
When shoppers view your goods—whether in a category page or on search result page—they’ve likely invested a fair amount of effort navigating to that specific page. This is where quick view comes in handy. A properly implemented quick view allows shoppers to evaluate the most salient points of a product without being led away from the list of products they created. A good quick-view feature will provide shadow-box preview, creating a temporary content container above the page body. This will showcase a summary of key details and larger product views. Well-implemented quick views have a prominent entry point, for instance hover states above item thumbnails displaying “Preview.” Without quick views, users are often resentful and hesitant to peruse large numbers of product detail pages individually. This is because they generally won’t have confidence in their ability to return to the original product list. Additionally, page-loading delays can add up to a significant speed bump in the shopping journey.
Leverage user-generated content
The smaller your brand name relative to your competitors, the more shoppers will be skeptical of the quality of your products and services. Customers on most ecommerce sites take each other’s reviews to heart and write their own. There is no excuse for not allowing this capability. If you don’t permit user content, you’re not helping your shoppers become comfortable with your products, and they will leave your storefront and convert to a competitor providing this functionality.
Clarify pricing and discounts
It is imperative that pricing for each product is not only displayed prominently and clearly, but also broken down in relation to discounts or applicable sales. Based on a survey of American shoppers, 71 percent had abandoned a retailer at some point because of pricing concerns; they further reported finding better deals online. Your only differentiator, in the eyes of many potential customers, may be a seasonal sale or the discounts available by combining certain goods. For every item in grid, list, and detail views, the best ecommerce storefronts clearly delineate applicable discounts.
Provide a prominent path to assistance
Customers prefer immediate resolution to their questions and issues. Providing a live chat feature as well as clearly visible contact information throughout your site can go a long way in turning shoppers into buyers. Most shoppers are accustomed to finding help and support information in two areas: in the top right part of the navigation, adjacent to login functionality, and in the site footer.
Always provide a guest checkout option
When customers embark on the checkout process, speed bumps such as mandatory account creation can be costly to your business. Guest checkouts empower customers to quickly place an order if they value the product more than membership. If you insist on guiding shoppers toward site membership, do so after an order has been placed with an invitation to create an account.
Map out the checkout
Customers appreciate seeing their progression across checkout phases. Provide graphical feedback of the movement between forms for shipping information, billing information, and order completion. Be sure to indicate which step the user is currently on. This helps customers gauge how quickly they can move through the process. In addition, providing this feedback bolsters confidence that changes can easily be made if a shopper decides to revisit one of the checkout stages.
Prioritize security awareness
With information breeches increasingly common, shoppers are more security conscious. They look toward the presence of specific iconography on your site—locks, checkmarks, and the like—to determine if their transaction will be secure. It’s better still if the graphics correspond to recognized brands in security, such as Verisign and McAfee. You need to make sure that these cues appear during the checkout process, where the need for trust is greatest.
Optimize for quick load times
Internet access speeds vary significantly based on your customer’s browsing platform and available bandwidth. Because there’s a good chance your shoppers are on a mobile device, it’s more important than ever to ensure your content loads before your customer calls it quits. Depending on the type of storefront you run, don’t forget to assess the extent to which API calls and scripts affect and compound overall load times.
Design with high scannability in mind
You want to do everything possible to facilitate the shopping process. To do this, you can’t ignore the scannability and prominence of important information on your site. Generous use of white space, minimal use of large text blocks, and easily distinguishable hyperlink styles are all examples of ways to improve your site’s scannability. When customers are able to process the information on your site more swiftly, it’s more likely they’ll complete a purchase and bring repeat business.
Providing a frictionless shopping experience should be the goal of your ecommerce presence. As improved UX takes center stage in your organization, your customers will have more memorable and positive experiences as your business grows. By prioritizing an intuitive navigation, rich and intelligible product details, and a no-nonsense checkout process, you can greatly increase the odds that your shoppers will become buyers.