Sunday, November 17, 2013

Features of a Good E-commerce Experience, Part One

E-commerce is the single largest contributor to retail sales growth and is expected to grow at about four times the rate of traditional retail sales. In addition to retail sales growth, e-retailers win customer loyalty engendered by the perceived value and convenience that customers attribute to purchasing online. It’s also an opportunity to capture and understand your customer behaviors and preferences. This is all good stuff that presents a great opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd if your e-commerce site has a positive user experience (UX).

This post is the first of two on this topic. In both posts, we’ll take a look at some components of an e-commerce site done well. Our discussion comes with a caveat, though. Following this guide and using other e-commerce heuristics will only get you so far. The best approach to designing a winning e-commerce site is to design it to honor your customers’ wants and needs- that’s the secret sauce for designing a good experience that fosters repeat visits. How to derive that information is another blog post, but here’s a hint: it’s not rocket science – it just takes a few steps. Those steps are as follows:

  1. Ask your customers about what they want and need.
  2. Include them early and often in the design process.
  3. Make changes based on your findings.
  4. Then repeat as needed.


Okay. Let’s focus. We’ll look at features of successful e-commerce sites and walk through examples of best practices. Each of the 19 features we will discuss in the two posts fall into one of these five categories below which I will discuss over two posts.

Discussed in this post: Simple Registration, Clear Navigation, Robust Search

Discussed in my next post: Easy Ordering, Friendly Post-Sales

In an attempt at brevity, I didn’t include images for all components, but I did include some for the more abstract topics.

Let us begin.

Simple Registration

According to 22 different studies, the average cart abandonment rate is 67.44% and the registration process is often cited as the main barrier.

  1. Guest purchases

    Provide your customers with a choice to either register/login or purchase as a guest. Some people are leery of providing their contact information on the web, so let them be anonymous if they’d prefer.

    If they do opt to purchase as a guest, give them the option to save their information at the end of the transaction. Tempt them with tracking their order status or the ease of placing future orders.

  2. Limit required fields

    Registration forms should only ask for information that is critical to create an account. Required fields that don’t have a business reason feel gratuitous and your customers will perceive them as barriers to the action.

    If you can’t help yourself, and you really want to ask for more information from your customers, then make it clear those extra fields are optional.

  3. Design around complexity

    In some cases it is necessary for registration to be more complex. Design mechanisms can be used to limit confusion and provide a coherent experience. For example, you can “chunk” like items into different steps, or call out how to handle the less straightforward steps using assistive content or inline validation.

Clear Navigation

  1. Varied navigation models

    Your customers should be able to find products quickly- with minimal cognitive effort- so it’s very important that your site is organized in a way that makes sense to your customer base (hint: this is where you should be talking to your customers not making assumptions or relying on best guesses).

    Your product categories should be discrete and meaningfully organized, and it helps to serve up more than one navigation model, which allows customers to choose their own path. For example, Blue Nile has global navigation and a secondary, less formal navigation on the home page.

  2. Related items

    Related items are comparable items that either cross-sell or act as another form of comparison or navigation. Please make sure that related items are actually related. Serving up weakly related items just feels insincere or random. The last thing you want your customers to think is, “What the…?”

  3. Recently viewed items

    Recently viewed items personalize the browsing experience and bypass the risk of your customers losing items of interest. It’s kind of like a temporary site concierge and is a very nice touch.

Robust Search

  1. Type-ahead search

    A pervasive, type-ahead search component makes your customers feel more efficient and they’ll trust the result list because they are confident in the search engine. It’s also a real boon for folks that aren’t regional spelling champions.

  2. Search by description

    A robust site-search should query all content, not just the product name or product detail page (PDP). Zappos and Nordstrom are good examples of robust site searches. I searched for “flattering” and the results returned products that had the word in the PDP and items that were in user-generated reviews.

  3. Faceted search

    Faceted search, also known as “guided search,” allows your visitors to start big and winnow down one metadata value at a time. Faceted search is prevalent on the web, but iPhoto does a nice job and is better than average- they uses checkboxes rather than links, so customers can choose multiple options at once. And they provide another search field so that the customer can search within the search. That’s guided!

So, that’s it for the first discussion around the components of an e-commerce site done well. Stay tuned for my second blog post to continue the discussion and focus on easy ordering and friendly post-sales.