Any product or service that can be sold can be sold through an ecommerce site, either exclusively or on top of a real, physical shop. This is why so many businesses are going online.
Shopping over the internet is one of the ways the IT revolution has transformed our daily lives. Searching, browsing and buying has never been so easy. Money is power and the experience of spending online is a powerful one but it can also be frustrating if the site you are buying from is not well designed.
There are many prerequisites for a good ecommerce site, so much so that looking at each one in depth would be beyond the scope of this article. However, the essentials of a well-designed web shop are teased out below.
Many online shoppers want to make their purchases as swiftly and easily as possible. In this sense they are not unlike real shoppers, especially supermarket shoppers, who have a list of what they want and, after shopping for these items as quickly as possible, choose the shortest queue to pay for them. For this reason a good navigation system should be in place. This will provide a browsing experience that is smooth and intuitive so that the potential buyer will find the product or service they are looking for easily. Investing in the information architecture (shape, arrangement and layout) of your site will make a substantial difference to the success of your business.
A professional looking website that tries hard to win the visitor’s custom will engender admiration and confidence in the user. It is also important to include full contact information so that the customer knows that there is a real, physical presence behind the site. Trust marks are also important. They take the form of small icons that are usually placed in the footer of the site. Some popular ones are Pay Pal, Verisign and McAfee. Another way to win the visitor’s trust is multiple payment options. Offering more than one way to pay shows flexibility and enhances credibility. Payment icons usually are in place for Pay Pal and all the major credit cards. These icons add professionalism to your ecommerce site.
The Shopping Cart
Probably the most important functional part of an ecommerce site is the shopping cart. Its main purpose is to show the user which items they have chosen to buy. It can also give important information about these products such as product name, description, price, quantity and a thumbnail image.
Another important functional part of a web shop is a search box. Along with a good intuitive navigation system, the search box will help the user to find the product or service they are looking for swiftly. Search boxes should be highly visible: most are placed in the header of the site.
Another important element of your site that will contribute to its success is content marketing. If you want to ensure that you are getting lots of new visitors each day, marketing will make the difference. A popular way to market content is through Google Adwords or SEO (search engine optimisation) which will get you on the first page of Google’s listings in a matter of hours. You can also market offline with flyers, physical advertising, newspaper adverts, event sponsorship, trade shows, advertisements in trade magazines etc.
The visual aspect of shopping is huge. Good, clear images with the option to enlarge are an essential. Increasingly, web shops are using videos to highlight their product or service. This can return some of the human element to shopping. Special featured products are displayed on the front page of the site. These can be new arrivals or deals and sales. Many sites use an image slide show to highlight these products and make it easy for the prospective customer to scan through images quickly.
CMS - Content Management System
Content is the key to selling your product or service online. This is why a good content management system is essential. Content can take the form of text, images and videos but text is the most important as far as selling your wares goes. The text is the salesman of the web shop. Ecommerce sites are probably the most changeable ones – they are constantly adding special offers, new products etc. A good, easy to use CMS will make the editing and refreshing of content that this requires in a small amount of time. Stale content won’t entice any new potential customers and will make you lose existing ones, as it gives the impression that you don’t value them.
These are some of the essentials of a good website shop. However, it is important not to overlook the common sense aspects of running an online business. Like any physical shop or business place, a welcome, friendly 'reception' is necessary as well as the careful treatment of customers throughout the buying process. It should be keen to win your custom and bring you back for more business in the future.