How to design a great ecommerce store

A great looking Ecommerce store is what every retailer is striving to create. A shopfront that shows the brand in the best possible light and will drive legions of customers to their online offering. You want wonderful imagery, a high conversion rate and functionality and actions that inspire gasps of wonder from your audience as they effortlessly flow through your site.

So that’s the end point, but how do you get there?

Before you start designing your site you need to have completed a little bit of due diligence in the following areas to ensure your site will be the best it can possibly be for your user:

  • Personas
  • Analytics (industry wide or your site if it’s a rebuild)
  • Identify Key functionality
  • Wireframe (User Experience testing, UX)
  • Branding
  • Asset and content collation
  • Design
  • End user testing

If we look at each of these in turn as the flow goes from top to bottom.

Personas and Analytics

The reason for this is that a site that is great for one user could be awful for another. If you are doing a redesign you can use your Google Analytics to give you critical insights into the key information about your users. It will inform you of your user demographics such as age, gender and location. It will show you where your site is doing well and where it suffers (this can guide you on your content offerings and also which landing pages you need or what you should focus on for your homepage). You can dive into things like the conversion rate, abandonment funnel for where users drop off, prevalence of in site search use. All these things tell you about how your users use your site and what you need to focus on.

Alongside this you need to consult your key personas on the site. There is tons of content on identifying personas on the web but you need to know who your site is targeted at. If you don’t have personas then you need to create them.

Functionality Review

After you have identified who your site is aimed at you need to consider what they will need to do to accomplish their goals. This will make up the key functionality of the site.

Most basic ecommerce functionality is fairly generic; payment gateways, category filters, conversion friendly checkout, promotions engine, in site search. You may have specific requirements that need to be considered in addition to this. This could be a request a quote function or any of hundreds of advanced pieces of functionality like segmented marketing messages at category and product level. Either way you need to know what these are and then how your users expect to interact with them and eventually what they will look like.

User Experience

Once you know about your users, and have defined your functionality you need to focus on user experience of your site. User experience (UX) is vital for visitors to be able to use your site without needing prompts or guidance. A good site will be easy and obvious to use. Your visitors should find every action straightforward to accomplish with the result being that it will reduce frustration and limit users leaving the site.

Once you have created useable wireframes, or prototypes, and have had feedback from them either through small group testing or just internal feedback you can then make amends. I would recommend following Lean UX principles for your user experience process as this will help you get good feedback before you start designing.

The basic process being:

Concept > Prototype > Validate > Test > Learn > Iterate

Some good articles on lean UX are:

Branding and Assets

After you have wireframes based on great UX and all functions you can start thinking about design.

Key things to think about include:

  • Fonts – Web alternatives if your font isn’t suitable for online
  • Branding, logo and colours – What will be your primary and accent colours, how will this present online? Are your colour choices suitable for mobile devices (dark colours can be hard to see on certain devices depending on where they are used)
  • Use of assets – Do you have appropriate assets for the style of website you are wanting to build? There is no point using large images and rich video sections if you don’t have suitable and appropriate assets. So many websites get designed for the best case scenario and feature stock images that the client loves but when they apply their own assets the site can look terrible.

End user testing

You now have a design which has covered all these things so make sure to user test it with your target audience. You can do small group and individual tests, not just with the MD and marketing team. Make sure, if you have the resources, to do some video user tests based on your key demographics. This will provide very valuable feedback prior to launching the site. You can use a 3rd party to do this for you and they will pass the feedback onto you normally in the form of a video you can watch where the user is given specific instructions and challenges and they talk you though it while they try and accomplish those tasks.

If everything is great then stick with the design. Should the feedback be consistently poor you should consider going back to your user experience / wireframing process and re-design based on the feedback. There is no use producing a site that you think looks superb but your users either don’t like, understand or convert on.

Remember that you can always make a change. You can take more than one shot and iterate, so don’t be afraid to change

Once you have all this sorted all you have to do is get a fantastic and creative front end developer to add some nice interactions and ensure that it works on all browsers and devices used by your demographics.

Then find a superstar back end developer to create perfect and bug free functionality that is both well coded and performance focused.

After that make sure that you have implemented your robust launch strategy encompassing SEO, Inbound marketing and PPC (as a minimum) so that your site gets the tons of traffic it deserves.