5 Fundamental Guidelines for eCommerce Usability Design

by Jerry Low

Last updated on February 14th, 2018

Brick and mortar storefronts are still a great way for businesses to earn clientele—but to make it in retail in today’s market, the brick and mortar shop is an option; an online presence is a must.

Building an e-commerce storefront can be as involved or as simple as you like—but for it to take off, keep in mind that there are a few guiding principles that you should follow.

For starters, it must be both search engine and user friendly, intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and functional. But there’s much more to it than that. You need to focus on ecommerce usability as well.

Start your e-commerce venture off on the right foot by following the below five fundamental guidelines for a successful e-commerce design.

ecommerce usability - placeit
Source: Placeit.net

1. Keep navigation simple and functional

This one’s an easy one. Think about your own user experience when you visit a website: Are you more likely to purchase if you can easily find what you’re looking for or if you have to click through 50 options?

Complexity hurts conversions. Excess clicks and menus or unrelenting categorization are annoying to shoppers. Make your menus and navigation options simple and intuitive.

To that end, do not over-simplify. You do need a menu. But try to limit it to somewhere between three and seven headers and three or fewer sub-tiers within the initial headers.

Beyond the quantity of navigation options, be sure to make your options clear. Use simple one- or two-word labels that are very direct and transparent about where they will lead. Trendy and fun wording can be appropriate, but only if it does not take away from the ease of use.

For example, if you are running an e-commerce site focused on apparel, it may seem like a fun idea to label your navigation categories with names like “Threads” and “Kicks.” But in doing so, you may lose some of your audience. Nine times out of 10, you’ll retain more potential clients by just being straightforward.

Simple (Banking): There are only 3 options in Simple's top navigation: Features, Testimonial, and Sign In. Wells Fargo, on the other hand, comes with more than 80 links at top navigation.

Additionally, people like familiarity. They know that a left arrow means they will go back and that a pointing finger means they can click on a link.

Stick to known symbols within your e-commerce site to make shopping with you more intuitive and user friendly. (Share this on Twitter.)

Last, but not least, make sure that your navigation options work. I can’t tell you how many times I have visited a website and navigated through their intricate tiered navigation sections, only to finally find what it is that I was looking for—but it not be accessible because they had a 404 or other inconvenient Web error.

I can’t say enough for thorough website testing: Just do it!

sweatvac - nagigation sample

2. Use a linear checkout process

Have you ever purchased from one of those sites where you go to check out and then redirect to suggestions or your cart? Yeah, me neither. That’s because a checkout process should be simple: either go back or forward. That’s it. No redirects, no landing back in a cart or shopping page.

Simple and transparent does the trick.

Crazy Egg's landing/check out page - with nothing but two text box and one button to click.

3. Use clear error indications at check out

Make error notifications easy for users to understand. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to make a purchase and not being able to figure out why. If this happens, your potential customer may give you a second shot and try again—but it’s unlikely they’ll try more than three times.

That said, make your error messages clear. Relay to your customer in clear, direct language what it is they need to do. Make those messages easy to see by using red, highlighted yellow, or even blinking text to increase the error text’s visibility.

Also, place the error message directly above or next to the specific item(s) that requires correction. There’s nothing worse than a blanket error message at the top of the page that leaves someone guessing.

4. Make sure your load time is fast

Patience is a virtue - not so according to recent website usability studies.

Did you know that 25 percent of Web users abandon a Web page if it takes more than four seconds to load? It’s true—talk about impatience!

Mobile users are slightly more patient (what does that say about mobile carrier performance?). But just barely: They will give a page up to 10 seconds to load. And there are no second chances: three of five people won’t return to a site they abandon due to slow load times.

Adding further insult to injury, an increase of just one second in your site’s page load time can cause a nearly seven percent decline in your conversion rates.

Time is money and consumers are not a patient breed. All it takes is mere seconds to lose a sale. So make sure you’re working with a good, reliable hosting company; your success depends on their performance.

5. Automate your search

Finally—and this one should go without saying—make sure to include a search feature on your site. Some people will come to you knowing exactly what that they want and, if they can’t find it within seconds, are likely to abandon your site.

Upgrade your search feature to have auto-complete functionality. This is the functionality Google uses, for example, to finish your sentence before you have typed it. Not only does it make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for, but it also gives you horizontal sales potential by suggesting things within the arena in which they are already searching.

Bonus: A/B Testing

When it comes to making your e-commerce site a success, the best path forward is to never assume.

Don’t assume that high conversion rates are due to your stellar inventory alone. Or that your high bounce rates are because of your homepage design.

What works for one company may not work for another—and beyond that, what worked for you a year ago may no longer work today. Test everything.

One of the best and most proven ways to test is through something called A/B testing.

A/B testing is a way of testing two different concepts simultaneously with randomized testing samples. So two versions of a Web page (or other type of copy) are pitted against one another in order to determine which works best.

For example, if you are planning to send a marketing email promotion and are interested in evolving your strategy, you might send the same email with two different subject lines; in doing so, you can measure the success of the two different emails to determine what type of subject line secures more opens, click-throughs, and completes.

By paying attention to the differences in your approach, you can better tailor your future efforts.

But A/B testing goes far beyond marketing emails. You can use it for everything from testing an email subject line to testing your homepage or even entire website.

There are numerous solutions out there. Crazy Egg, for instance, is one the industry’s most notable and effective options. And in case, you were looking for more, here are another three tools to look into.

1 – Google Analytics Content Experiment

This solution allows you to test up to five versions of something simultaneously—all within the Google platform. This solution uses a random sample of your visitors, but allows you to define what percentage of your overall visitors are included in the testing.

This comes in particularly handy if you are worried about potential losses should there be a negative reaction to one of your test items. Instead of approaching your entire client base, minimize the exposure by releasing it to just a small segment.

Additionally, you can define which aspects of your site/pages you want to test and you will even get emails updating you about your results and performance.

Since it is part of the Google family, it interfaces right alongside your Analytics account—and best yet, it’s free.

2 – Unbounce

Unbounce is a great option for testing pages and sites without needing to involve your IT team. Even Google’s solution requires one segment of code—minimal by industry standards, but none the less.

Unbounce specializes in landing page testing, meaning that you can easily test from email campaigns, unique URL directs, and more, but that you will be testing single pages (not an entire site).

This tool offers a series of collaboration tools and also does interface with Google Analytics. It offers a convenient landing page builder, so you can create your page from directly within the platform and push it out live with the push of the button.

This option is extremely user friendly and a great way for beginners to get into A/B testing. It does, however, come with a price—though it is quite manageable. Pricing for entrepreneurs and new businesses starts at just $49 per month while pricing for marketing teams and agencies lands at $199/month. Features and functionality vary by cost.

3 – Optimizely

Upon entering the Optimizely site, you will have the opportunity to enter your own e-commerce site’s URL and receive a complimentary tour/example of what the platform can do for you (a nice perk, even if you don’t use their service in the end).

Optimizely is easy to use and requires minimal assistance from your programming team. In fact, it generates a single line of code which your tech team will need to enter into your site’s code (much the same way as they do to integrate Google Analytics).

The platform tracks numerous variants, including engagement, clicks, conversions, sign-ups, and any other metrics you define. You can schedule your testing so it takes an automated approach, freeing you up to wait for the results rather than manually manage every component, including kick-off and test wrap-up.

You can even target your testing to key visitor segments. Optimizely integrates with numerous analytics tools and also works with a graphic user interface so designing test pages is intuitive and doable for non-tech folks.

Again, pricing scales based on the quantity of monthly visitors and features, but it begins at $17 per month and reaches $359 per month for the “Gold” package (which includes 200,000 monthly visitors, unlimited user accounts, phone support, visitor segmentation, and a slew of other features).

All three are great options and which is right for you will depend on  your level of tech prowess, need, and budget. Happy testing!

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Jerry Low.



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Jerry Low

Jerry Low is the a professional blogger who is passionate about SEO and web development. He writes helpful web development guide, Internet marketing tips and web hosting reviews at Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Connect and get more from him on Google+.


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  1. Anonymous says:
    April 6, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Many thanks! It is definitely an wonderful web page.

  2. Nirav Sheth says:
    December 4, 2015 at 7:33 am

    Provided guidelines are really helpful! The UX enhancement is, certainly, inevitable for increasing user involvement on websites. A smooth website navigation with effective web page directions is a must. A checkout process is actually that what needs to be smooth and less time-consuming!

  3. Infigic says:
    September 4, 2015 at 3:32 am

    Hello Jerry!

    You have a great post here. Building an eCommerce store isn’t easy task. You have to update your eCommerce store with new, smart and creative ideas which drive more conversations on your store. Here I want to suggest to choose great landing page. Landing page is one of the most affected factor in an eCommerce store.

    It’s really informative. Thanks Jerry!

  4. Ian says:
    May 20, 2014 at 5:50 am

    I totally agree keeping things simple is very important in e-commerce however I think the key to a great e-commerce site is understanding your customers. If you know your customers needs and likes you can really make a great e-commerce website.

    • neil says:
      May 20, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Ian, good point! Understanding what works and what doesn’t can go a long way 🙂

  5. Efusionworld says:
    May 20, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Very nice and useful article. Designing your eCommerce store is not only about making it look good, but also making sure that it generates sales. A well designed call to action button leads the customer where they need to go and where you want them to go. Make sure to enhance the most important actions, buy button, check out button, and shopping cart button. Thanks a lot!!

    • neil says:
      May 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading and we look forward to hearing more from you 🙂

  6. William V. says:
    May 9, 2014 at 4:51 am

    Online shoppers perfer simple and easy-to-use sites, but at them same time also demand richer and more engaging shopping experiences. The level of engagement is just as important as the ease of use. Personalized content (personalized product suggestions) and richer media (hi res images, videos etc..) create a more engaging shopping experineces and boosts conversions. A more engaging experience does not have to make a site more coplex or less easy to use if implemented correctly. However, richer and more intelligent site often have an impact on load time, due to more demanding content delivery requiremnets across the web… it takes more time to transfer larger media files and applications from the server to the end user.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      May 9, 2014 at 10:14 am

      All true, William. It takes a balanced approach. 🙂

    • neil says:
      May 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      William, great points! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. Ayesha Goyal says:
    May 7, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Ecommerce has become very powerful as most of the people prefer online shopping. So, it is very necessary to design a website that brings more number of users as it shows the image of your brand.

    Some fundamentals are explained in the content which are very helpful, but i would like to share my experience of building ecommerce website from kaos web designers Hong Kong. They basically focus on the things like:
    1) Website should be such that it is easily readable
    2) Colours should be appealing
    3) Information provided should be placed at correct place
    4) Content should be unique and sufficientEcommerce has become very powerful as most of the people prefer online shopping. So, it is very necessary to design a website that brings more number of users as it shows the image of your brand.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      May 7, 2014 at 9:33 am

      Good tips, Ayesha. Thanks for sharing.

    • neil says:
      May 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Ayesha, thanks for the sharing these tips. I am sure they will be helpful for all the readers 🙂

    • Jerry Low says:
      May 8, 2014 at 2:41 am

      Ayesha, absolutely! Thanks for sharing your experience in this.

  8. marvin says:
    May 6, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Chearzzz to your post. Really good clarity about e-commerce storefront.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      May 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

      Thanks, Marvin. Glad you liked it.

    • neil says:
      May 6, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Marvin, glad we could help 🙂

    • Jerry Low says:
      May 8, 2014 at 2:40 am

      Cool. Glad that you like the article.

  9. Mark Johnson says:
    May 6, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Great post Jerry. For me, e-commerce SEO is one of the most enjoyable areas simply because there is so much that you can do.

    I would also add, making product pages as information rich as possible. There are so many sites which only have one image per product and relatively short descriptions – or even worse, generic descriptions.

    I would suggest to any e-commerce business to at least try:

    Including at least 2 different images of every product (ideally one of the product in a real life setting, such as being used).
    Include a quick bullet list of the main features and benefits.
    Include a longer, more detailed description.

    If you have a lot of products this can take a lot of work, but the sites who put in the work are generally rewarded.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      May 6, 2014 at 10:13 am

      Nice additions, Mark. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Jerry Low says:
      May 8, 2014 at 2:39 am

      Thanks for your comment. I do not fully agree with your statement, however.

      From personal experience and many case studies I read, having ‘as much information as possible’ doesn’t equal to better conversions. In many cases, complexity hurts conversions.

      BUT then again, I believe this is a case-by-case scenario – what works for me doesn’t mean it will work with others. The best way to decide what’s best solution is to A/B test every important aspect on your UX or landing pages – which is why we have cool tool like Crazy Egg here, yeah? 🙂

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