Recently one of our largest ecommerce clients decided it was time for a brand new cart because his client base was pushing the physical limits of both the server it was hosted on and the shopping cart’s database. Faced with a hefty programming bill to redesign, reconfigure and migrate the site, he wanted to make sure that the new cart was going to meet both his current needs, and foreseeable future needs as well. In an effort to do just that, it occurred to us that there are certain features every ecommerce website design should contain. This article discusses elements that are essential – at least in 2011 – for every type of ecommerce website. The building blocks for any successful ecommerce site include these “must-haves”:
- A unique domain that you own
- A secure merchant account and payment gateway for accepting debit and/or credit card payments
- Clear shipping and return policies
- An online shopping cart loaded with your products and their descriptions
- A contact page
- An FAQ page
- An About our Company page that provides your contact information, a history of your business, your associations, awards and partners, possibly information about your employees, customer testimonials, organizations you are a part of, and your company policies or motto.
The main reason most of these elements are “must-haves” is that they inspire trust by showing your credentials and history. As you begin adding the elements for your unique store, you will want to first consider your customer’s incentive to buy from an online store. There are several factors in the buying decision that are universal. These include
- Price – customers want to get the best deal
- Photos – 3D or photos from all sides, all colors, etc can be a huge buying influence
- Video – whenever possible include a video of the product in use to ensure customers can visualize what they will get
- Quality – customers want to make sure the product is of good quality or guaranteed
- Convenience – products should be easy to find, compare, and purchase
- Selection – a wide range of products should be searchable and categorized so they can be compared
- Information – customers should have everything necessary to make the buying decision
- Security – customers should feel they are conducting a safe transaction
- Payment – the cart should provide several methods of payment
- Shipping – customers want a guarantee that the product will arrive on-time and in good condition
- Returns – customers want a clear return policy in an easy to find location.
- Reviews – customers want to see honest, customer-input reviews and comments whenever possible
All these factors need to be eye-popping and obvious for an ecommerce website to be successful. In the past, we created an ecommerce checklist to address the questions that need to be answered before beginning an ecommerce website or redesigning one. On the assumption that you are ready to begin design, this article addresses the essential elements, especially those that have changed due to mobile technology and social media.
The shopping cart template is the framework of your cart, and gives a uniform look to all the pages of your site. The template includes the branding on your top header, the navigation, and the footer of your web pages. It is important that every page on your site has a unique title and description, customizable URL, and is easily read by search engines.
The header should contain your logo, your branding, buttons and information for your cart, an area for returning customers or wholesalers to login, and your contact number at the least. Your navigation should be easy to use, with organized categories that expand to show sub categories if necessary. Your footer should contain links to all the major pages on your site, your copyright, your address, and a sitemap.
There should actually be two sitemaps on your cart, an XML sitemap for easy communication with Google, Bing and other search engines, and an auto-generated sitemap that displays links to all pages and products. It is also nice to have a popular search terms page or glossary, which is helpful not only for your customers, but for search engines indexing your pages.
The home page of your site should show off your products and promotions. It should contain call to actions that are clear and easy to follow. For instance your “Add to Cart” button should be very obvious.
The 404 Error page should be customized to show people how to get back to the place they want to be in your site if there is a broken link, and they landed on a page that no longer exists. Here you can add a little humor and provide a sitemap to get the customer back on track to purchase your products.
Product descriptions are perhaps the most important element of your cart. There are several things that might encourage a customer to purchase online, and since they cannot physically touch the product, you have to provide enough information to persuade them to purchase. Your cart should allow for the following information about products:
- Comprehensive descriptions – each description should be uniquely written by you, and should include:
- Benefits and uses
- Dimensions and weight
- Availability (at least if the product is in stock)
- Color, options and suggested accessories
- Manufacturer instructions or assembly information
- Ratings and customer reviews
- Related products and suggested products
- Upsells and cross-sells
- Add to a wish list or email a friend options
- Shipping calculator
- Pictures or videos – there should be multiple images for each product and the ability to zoom in for a better view.
Mobile Version – since mobile phones and other devices are growing exponentially, retailers need to provide the best shopping experience to customers browsing their carts from a mobile device. Your cart should automatically show the mobile version of your cart to these visitors. A nice feature to add is the QR Code (short for Quick Response) which contains the specific matrix barcode for your website URL that can be read by QR barcode readers and camera phones.
Search function and product browsing features such as:
- Ability to search for and filter products in categories like a price range and size
- Category landing pages
- Auto-suggested search terms
- Show recently viewed products
An easy checkout process is also essential. There should be two ways for customers to checkout. They should be able to checkout as a guest without saving their information into a database for faster shopping, or create an account that they can access the next time they shop on your site. Customers who create accounts should have the ability to save items to a wish list and share with others and edit their contact information and shipping addresses. They should be allowed to ship their purchases to multiple addresses and add gift messages. Once logged in, customer should be able to see their order status and history, be able to re-order, and be able to view recently ordered items.
The shopping cart should allow for many types of promotions including:
- Flexible Coupons for promotions like:
- Percent Discount
- Fixed Amount Discount
- Free Shipping
- Buy x, get y free or other product bundles.
The order management and fulfillment features of your cart are also very important. You will need the ability to search for and view orders, create invoices, receipts, shipping labels, and refunds for customers.
It is also very important that your cart have an interface to your backend inventory management and book keeping programs.
Reporting is crucial to selling online. Your cart should be connected to your analytics program so that you can see how visitors were using your site. You should also be able to log into the cart to download and view your sales, new orders, taxes, viewed and purchased products, abandoned carts, inventory, and customers.
Finally, but not least, the newsletter subscription is an important element for every shopping cart site. Newsletters can be used to notify subscribers about specials, discounts, re-orders, and items of interest. It is very important for store owners to use newsletters to grow relationships with their customers.
The process we use is to write all these features on strips of post-it-note type paper, then move them around on a whiteboard until we are satisfied that we have achieved a user-friendly layout. At this point we can take a picture of the whiteboard for future reference. We use this reference point to craft our PSD files which the programmers use to create the website template and CSS code.