When you’re building a website—regardless of what ecommerce platform you’re building it on—it’s easy to get so caught up in the details (the color of your CTA buttons; which images to use on your product pages; how exactly to phrase your value proposition) that you forget the bigger picture. Granted, these details are critical! But the fact of the matter is that, once your site is up and running, there will be real humans with real money looking to solve real problems when they land on your website. And you want to optimize the entire website experience around their expectations, psychology, and buyers’ journeys.
What will the majority of them be looking for? What assistance will they need in discovering it? How do you make that journey as intuitive as possible? What information will they need; and how do you set up your site architecture to give it to them in as few clicks as possible? What will they be expecting to see—in the main menu, for example, or in your footer? What microinteractions should you offer to show that your site is registering their actions? And so on.
As you begin to answer these questions for yourself, it’s worth remembering that, as user advocate Jakob Nielsen says, “Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.” Nielsen’s reminder means at least two things for you. First, site visitors will expect you to yield to convention when it comes to most elements of your online shop: placing the cart icon in the upper right-hand corner and the live chat icon in the bottom right, for example; or ensuring that when users click on your company logo your site will return them to the homepage. Your commerce platform should have many of these conventions already built-in; but keep checking your website’s front-end to ensure those elements are located where users have come to expect them.
Second, visitors’ expectations of your site—in terms of usability and experience—are based on their experiences of some of the biggest and best websites they use. You know: the ones that offer unmatched selections, low prices, free shipping, speedy delivery… and have their own in-house designers and UX experts tending to the backend. In other words, you’re competing against the Amazons of the world on more than one front. So how do you compete?
Well, it begins with the quality of your website. And when we say “quality” in terms of UX, we mean that every element on every page of your ecommerce site needs to support every visitor in reaching their goal… without them even having to think about what they’re doing. (Yeah; that’s a lot of considerations. But really: The best UX is virtually imperceptible.)
You already know what your prospects want and what they’re looking for. Now it’s just a matter of offering a website that logically gets them there. And when you can do that? Visitors will be both more likely to trust you and more likely to convert.
The Benefits of Good UX
In many ways, UX may seem like an abstract concept. In other ways, it’s exactly what it sounds like: the experience users have of your website from the moment they land on a page (whichever page they land on) until the moment they see the confirmation page—which, if your UX is good, they will. How easy is it for first-time visitors to navigate your store and learn about your business? How quickly can returning customers find and purchase precisely the product they’re looking for? Is your product categorization intuitive? How fast is your page loading speed? How easy is your checkout form? And of course, there’s an aesthetic element, too: How attractive is the website as it’s helping them achieve their goals? Function over form, sure… but form still matters.
All of these things will directly influence your profitability. Great UX means fewer customer service calls and reduced support costs, reduced customer acquisition costs (related, in part, to more word-of-mouth referrals), and increased customer loyalty… which means repeat purchases, which means more conversions.
Over time, your own personal UX strategies will be based on data. (We’ll have more to say about data below.) In the meantime, what we offer in the following pages are best practices. We’ll dive into your homepage and product pages, your shopping cart and checkout pages, and your on-site customer service and live chat. And then we’ll watch all these site elements come together when we look at some examples of great ecommerce UX.
Before You Begin Your UX Efforts
If you’ve been following along on our ecommerce journey, you’ve already set up the foundation of your ecommerce site, including your payment gateways, integrations, analytics, and website policies. You’ve taken some stellar product photographs, edited and optimized them; and you’ve written some strong, SEO-friendly copy for your product and category pages. In other words, you’re on a roll. But much of what you’ve concerned yourself with so far have been discrete elements of your ecommerce site. Now it’s time to consider the entire trajectory of your visitors’ experience.
And you can’t do that unless you know who those visitors will be. So if you haven’t already, take some time to clarify your target audience. Knowing their demographics—age, gender, education, social class, and so on—is invaluable for helping you know what tone to take and how playful to be in your copy, what forms of social proof to use, and what your value proposition is. But from a UX perspective, you’ll also want to consider things like their technical literacy, how trusting they are of online shopping in general, when and under what conditions they’ll be on your website, and more.
That last thing we mentioned—the conditions under which users will be on your site—means recognizing that over half of your visitors will be looking at your site on their mobile phones. This is a data point that should underscore the importance of mobile UX. So while we don’t offer separate sections on mobile UX in the following pages, here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind as you work:
Ecommerce UX for Mobile
Elsewhere, we’ve written about the importance of optimizing your homepage for mobile users. There, we discussed the difference between responsive design, mobile-dedicated design, and adaptive design. If you’re building your online shop on Commerce Plus, your website will automatically be mobile-responsive. If you’re using another platform—or if you’re working with a developer to build your own site—consider reading through that section before you begin.
Because the reality is that “good ecommerce UX” for mobile is different than “good ecommerce UX” for desktop. And we’re not just talking about a difference in screen size—though that’s crucial to keep in mind. As you probably know from experience, mobile users have different intentions and exhibit different behaviors than desktop users do. They’re more impatient. They’re up against a different set of distractions. Many of them will browse your site on mobile but wait until they’re on their desktops to make a purchase. Mobile searches tend to be more location-based. And so on.
So you don’t just want to replicate what you offer in the desktop version of your site on mobile. With every change you make to your online shop, go through the user flow on your phone or tablet and ensure the UX is just as great there. Here are some things to keep in mind for mobile:
- Allow users to zoom in on your product images through the double-tap or pinch-to-zoom method. Remember, you’re dealing with a screen that’s a fraction of the size of a desktop screen… but prospects should still be able to see your products in great detail.
- Don’t force account creation! This is a best practice for desktop as well; but it’s doubly important for mobile. No user wants to be forced to key in a bunch of information with their big thumbs on a tiny keyboard before they’re allowed to buy from you. Always lead with guest checkout for first-time mobile users. (If they’re returning customers, remember them!)
- While we’re at it, choose the right keyboard. When users are entering their zip codes for shipping, for example, make sure the numeric keypad pops up rather than the traditional keyboard.
- Disable auto-correct. Again, this is best practice for desktop forms as well… but especially important on mobile. If users don’t particularly want to enter their last names in your forms the first time, they’re definitely not going to want to enter them a fourth
- Have a sticky navigation menu. Our thumbs are exhausted from all the life lived on our phones; we don’t want to scroll all the way back up to the top of the page to get to where we’re going next. Help us get there faster. 100% of us (no kidding) prefer sticky navigation.
- Give your shopping cart memory. Many users will discover your site on mobile but switch to desktop to complete their orders. Don’t force them to go through the search-and-add-to-cart process again when they do.
- Allow click-to-call. Mobile users literally already have their phones in their hands. Often, the fastest path to conversion is to let them click a button and find you in real-time. This is especially true when users are in the purchase phase of the buyer’s journey.
- Use popups sparingly… if at all. While you might use these on your desktop site, you also know from experience how much more obnoxious it is to experience popups on mobile. (They’re a lot more difficult to close, for one!) If the popup won’t help the user experience in that moment (a click-to-call at checkout, for example), ditch it.
Beyond these things—if your ecommerce platform allows it—consider offering a sparser version of your website on mobile. Your main goal should be to help users shorten the journey to whatever desired action they want to take.
Do User Research
User research is something that can happen over time, as well as when you first set up your website. Over time, you’ll be able to draw insights from analytics. Scrollmaps and heatmaps will alert you, respectively, to how far down any given page visitors are scrolling, and where they’re clicking. Session recordings will let you record visitors’ interactions with your site and observe where they get confused or frustrated. You can derive additional insights from data like bounce rates and time on page.
But you can also evaluate your UX the moment your website goes live. To do so, set up a user testing session in which you give participants a goal (“Find a shirt in your size under $50 and add it to your cart”), and observe them as they try to follow your instructions. You can ask a few friends or colleagues if they’d be willing to do this for you; or find users on sites like UserTesting.com. Ask participants to narrate their thoughts and describe their expectations and actions aloud. Are your calls to action clear? Where are your bottlenecks? Where would they give up and exit if you weren’t sitting there? Ask for radical honesty. Some things will be clear to you—like where on the site they get confused. Others—like how good they think your product images are—they’ll have to tell you.
Of course, first you need to set up your site, and you’ll want to start with some fundamental UX best practices. Ultimately, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of best practices for ecommerce UX. Perhaps you’ll get to them all in time. For now, in the following pages, we’ll discuss the ones you simply can’t do without if you want to see success early on.
In the next section, we turn to your online shop’s virtual storefront: your homepage. We’ll discuss how to think about UX when it comes to your product categories, your navigation menu, your images, your policies, your value proposition, and more.