An article by Lorna Timbah | 13 January 2007 | https://webgrrrl.net | Republishing of this article on other web site is permitted, as long as this reference to this web site remains intact.
As much as the saying “content is king” rings true, form and function needs to be balanced in order to create an effective web site. This balance is even more critical when it comes to creating an effective e-commerce web site for your business. Based on a survey of U.S. online shoppers done by interactive marketing solutions firm Questus (http://questus.com), web design plays a key role in determining whether or not they decide to shop on your online store. Listed below are five main web design factors that can make or break your online selling efforts:
1) Visual design
Visual design encompasses the arrangement of content, as well as the use and consistency of colors and images in your web site. Colors and images can be used to emphasize your company’s online image, giving customers the impression that your company is professional, reliable and trustworthy. Arranging the images and information in a clean and consistent fashion throughout your web pages can very well improve the odds of converting your web site visitors into online customers. Therefore, use components such as Flash animations, sound clips, and other bandwidth-consuming forms of multimedia ever so sparingly. If using these fancy components do not add to improved web site usability or improved understanding of your product, then please, avoid using them at all cost.
2) Site navigation
Make sure that your product navigation links are the first thing your online users can focus on when they visit your site. Site navigation needs to be obvious and user-friendly, that is, requiring less clicks and links to follow in order for your customers to locate products or other information. Other than that, online users feel that it is hard to find the information they need when there are too many links in your site navigation. If you feel that you require more than seven links in your site navigation, consider grouping the links into different navigation groups. This will help un-clutter your navigation sections, thus creating “zones” to help your customers focus better when they browse your site. For instance, links pointing to your company information, contact page, press releases and site map can be grouped together, while product categories can be in an entirely different navigation group from your promotions and special offer links.
3) Check-out process
The check-out process starts as soon as your customer selects a product into his or her shopping cart and selects the “Check Out Now” or “Buy Now”. Your customer then needs to review the order, enter shipping and billing addresses, provide payment information, and confirm the sale. Experts recommend that you make these tasks into simple steps of three or less. Even the placement of the Check Out/Buy Now button should be conveniently placed in each product page. In addition, you may include user registration to allow quicker check-outs for customers who frequently purchases from your e-commerce site so that they do not have to re-enter their details. However, do not make a habit of making registration compulsory to all buyers, since one in every five online shoppers prefer not to register and give out too much personal information.
4) Product description
Product description has to do with more than just pasting on a snapshot of your product and adding a few lines of words on it. It also has to do with helping your customer understand your product to the point where your customer can visualize the dimensions or usefulness of your product, even “taste” it. You can use your product description as a place for your online customer to experience your product enough to want to buy it. One of the drawbacks to shopping online is that we are unable to use all our five senses, and have to rely on only our sense of sight and sound. Hence, this section is one place in your e-commerce web site where multimedia can play a big role in enhancing your online customer’s experience. Instead of just putting up the product specifications such as size, weight and color, some media-enhancing examples would be by providing:
– A large-scale image of your painting or hand-painted item (photographer, painter)
– 3-D view of a sculpture or doll (artist, toy maker)
– Color tweaking abilities whereby your product changes color based on your customer’s selection (t-shirt retailer, textile manufacturer)
– Product samples and user comments or testimonials (record store, book seller, infotailers)
5) Online catalog
Though closely tied in with the check-out process and product description, the online catalog factor has more to do with the ease to search and browse for products. A well-designed online catalog should not only contain helpful product description, but also have a product search engine and organized product groupings. This allows your customer to locate your product quickly, and gives your online customer a sense of control over what he or she is trying to look for. Step it up a notch by providing features such as:
– Flexible search on product specification, like brand or color
– Recommending similar product that suits your customer’s current product of choice, such as a tie that would match the shirt selected
– Product specification comparison, which is especially useful for electronics and travel packages
Keep in mind that your e-commerce site design must support your value proposition and objectives, but most importantly your customer’s needs. Based on the web design factors above and by understanding your customers, you can design your e-commerce web site so that your customers will have a pleasurable and hassle-free visit to your online store.
Lorna, a business graduate from the University of Alabama, is highly passionate in IT and the Internet, and her passion was what helped her land her first job as a Webmaster (and later as a Web Unit Manager), with the role to manage websites for a state-wide network known as Sabah.Net. She now blogs and makes money online. Lorna is also a part-time tutor with Open University Malaysia, teaching IT and e-commerce subjects to diploma- and degree-level students.
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