Today The Official Merchant Services Blog is going to address an e-commerce issue that perhaps gets overlooked by a lot of merchants — effective design of your online shopping experience. Previously we offered a 2-part series on free, open source online shopping carts that are available. But just having the basic elements there for functionality is only part of the process. Your site should integrate e-commerce into its experience seamlessly so that visitors effortlessly make the transition from stopping by to actually purchasing.
Design plays a huge role in making this happen.
What is E-Commerce?
E-Commerce refers to the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks. The term may also refer to the entire online process of developing, marketing, selling, delivering, servicing and paying for products and services. You can review a detailed explanation of E-Commerce in the Host Merchant Services Article Archive at this link here.
Why is E-Commerce Important?
E-Commerce is important because of how commonplace it has become in the daily lives of consumers. Shopping online has blossomed and grown in the past decade, and sales figures show that it is a standard. Merchants need to offer online shopping alternatives and can make quite a lot of profit by offering good online shopping solutions.
To assist merchants in making their e-commerce venture robust, well designed and profitable, we’re going to offer up a series of tips focused on improving e-commerce through strong design elements. Here’s our list of tips:
Navigation is probably one of the most basic, and yet most often mangled aspect of strong e-commerce design. All online shopping sites have to allow their customers to navigate through the products to find the stuff the customer wants to buy. But so many sites out there have difficult or clunky navigation. Make sure your site offers a smooth, easy to navigate experience and you’ll get your customers clicking “purchase” much more frequently.
A Detailed Product Catalog
Tied right into navigation, is the single most important element merchants need to consider — the product catalog. This is what you are selling and it needs to be seamlessly incorporated into your website. Your product catalog needs to have detailed information about the products you are selling.
Database Search Capability
This is an extension of the previous element. If you have a large product catalog, then you need to offer your customers the ability to search through that catalog. Essentially you need to give your customers a database searching tool that will help them drilldown through your catalog to quickly find what products they are interested in.
Your catalog needs to contain clean, easily readable images of the products. You should consider offering images from multiple angles — this is of course product dependent — so that your customers can feel safe that they are getting the most information possible about what they buy. One of the long-standing concerns about buying online is that customers feel like they’re being conned because they can’t view the product right there in front of them. Offering multiple angles can assuage some of those fears. Also you must balance the issue of image file size versus resolution and quality of image. You want to keep images small enough that they don’t distract from your catalog, but detailed enough that they give the customer a good look at what they’re buying. One solution that a lot of sites use these days is a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
Your E-Commerce solution needs to contain an easy to use, and easy to find, contact information area. Many sites make finding contact information a bit of a treasure hunt — sometimes requiring using the site map just like a treasure map. Keeping contact information visible and easy to use helps you with long-term customer service goals. And your contact information can also assist you in making sales. If a customer has special needs or requests involving a product they want to buy, they may need to contact your business directly. Making them hunt around for the ability to contact your business could cost you a sale.
Integrating your online shopping cart into your site is extremely important. It was the primary reason we ran through our two-part series on open source shopping carts. Those 10 carts were advertised because of their cost efficiency (free) and because of their online support. Having a strong support community from an open source shopping cart gives you a safety net for things like your checkout process. Your checkout process needs to be smooth. It needs to be just a series of clicks and a small form (usually credit card information). Your customers want to click to purchase, click to confirm and get the shopping done. That’s the biggest draw of an online shopping cart — the internet makes it easy and convenient. So your checkout process needs to play on that, and get your customers through the checkout fields as easily as possible.
Building off of the checkout process, a good online shopping cart needs to present the various payment options to its customers in a clear, concise and easy to read manner. You want to offer your customers a variety of payment options. This includes all forms of credit and debit transactions, including gift card — even EBT where applicable. You want to make sure coupon codes and gift certificates are also shown clearly and have easy to use forms for completion. Merchant Services Providers, like Host Merchant Services, make it easy for merchants to offer any and all forms of payment for their online shopping cart. So it’s really just a matter of contacting your merchant services provider to make sure your e-commerce is customized to offer the maximum amount of payment options.
This is an E-Commerce enhancement that helps improve your shopping experience. You an see this in a variety of forms. It can be something as simple as a list of products that fall under the same “category” your customer was searching, or as over the top as what Amazon does with its Customers Also Bought These Items lists that you get when shopping there. No matter what your approach, though, you should consider offering some type of related products feature in your online shopping cart. This helps establish return business in a very meaningful way as it gives customers targeted advertising to products they may also be interested in purchasing.
Shipping Rates Calculator
This should be standard on any and all e-commerce sites. Letting the customer control and maximize their shipping options directly will lead to more sales. Shipping costs have always been one of the biggest obstacles E-Commerce has faced, so making it transparent and giving customers the ability to reduce their costs manually helps keep them hooked on the potential sale of your product.
And last, but not least, try to make any and all relevant store policies displayed prominently on the site during the perusal and during the purchase portion of the experience. This includes things like return policies and refund policies. Be as up front about what it is you can and unfortunately can not do for your customers and your E-Commerce site will avoid some serious customer service headaches.
That’s just the basics of what The Official Merchant Services Blog suggests merchants do to make their E-Commerce and online shopping experience powerful and persuasive for their customers.