Design for eCommerce

Broadly speaking, design for the eCommerce site isn't just a question of design. Any project to create an eCommerce site that focuses first on the looks and functionality of the site with the intent of later dealing with optimization, conversion and marketing is doomed to failure... or at least doomed to an expensive series of rewrites and changes as clients try to make their 'web site' into a more competitive 'eCommerce site'.

Design for eCommerce involves several considerations that have to be integrated into the very foundation -- the very concept -- of the design itself. Anybody who begins the design of an eCommerce site thinking about the looks is already on the wrong track. Western Massachusetts designer, Rasa Design Studio suggests a workflow for the design of an eCommerce site that puts a lot of emphasis on hard questions that the client has to answer before work commences.

The eCommerce Design Method

Start with the purchase

At the heart of e-commerce is the 'check out' process by which a person pays for the products. It is the single most critical part of the e-commerce site and, though it is at the very end of a users experience, it should be at the very beginning of the discussion between designer and client. Most designers begin their design with the first and second pages. The logic is that visitors will never get to the checkout section of a site unless they can be impressed enough to look at the products.

Designing the check out section of a web site, first, though spells the difference between a lot of visitors and a lot of buyers. At the very least, a designer should be sketching out the process with the client: How is the product going to be shipped? How will it be paid for? Is there any point in the check out process that 'up sales' (additional sales after a purchase decision has been made) can be suggested? Are there ways that additional and future contact between merchant and customer can be made? Newsletters? e-Mails? Opt-In features? Follow-up telephone calls that a customer can give permission for?

How many steps are there to the checkout process? Is there a place in the design that shows a customer how close to the end of this tedious process they are? A progress bar?

The Four Click Rule simply states that the entire process from a decision to buy and the checkout success page should not be more than four clicks of the mouse long. The moment that a visitor clicks on the "add to cart" button, they should have the ability to hand the merchant money in the least amount of time and pages possible. Great losses in business occur only because there are five pages instead of four pages in the checkout process.

SEO Design

A design that is optimized for search engines is said to be a Search Engine Optimized (SEO) Design. Consider that the average successful store receives 80% of its traffic from a search engine results page (or an ad on a search engine results page) and you'll understand why eCommerce sites and Search Engines are so inextricably entwined.

At the last measure, Google represented 50% of all search engine searches and 90% of sites that are visited from a search engine results page show up in the top 20 listings.

In short, if your site is not designed at the outset to show up in a Google Search Results Page for target keywords at the top 10 of all listings, the site will receive less than 1/10th of the business it could be receiving... if any.


Your eCommerce design must, then, integrate the obscure 'rules' of Google, provide text content along with pictures of products, and make sure that almost the entire page is centered around the idea of Google being able (and willing) to index it for your target key words. Trying to add these features to your site 'after the fact' is expensive and time consuming... and usually cannot be done properly.

Visuality, Usability, Aesthetics

Consider the last time you ever bought a product on the Internet. A book at the very successful A John Deere Riding lawnmower at the equally successful eBay?

Neither site will ever be nominated for Best Looking Site of the Year Awards... and they are not designed to. They are designed to sell, to draw visitors, to be remembered. They contain almost no special effects, no Macromedia Flash, no flying things. They allow easy access to vast numbers of products and allow easy purchase of the products when the desired product is found. In essence, they do the job and get out of the way to allow the customer do do their job, which is to buy.

Knowing all of this, Designers and Clients almost always spend 90% of their time, effort and money on aesthetics and often hurt their chances of success on the web when aesthetics clash with the needs, both, of the search engines and the customer.

"Pretty Site! Looks Great! Good-bye!"

Keep it simple. Provide the logo of the business, provide the easiest navigation you can develop, provide the products you are trying to sell. Figure out how to get the all important, keyword rich content on all of your critical pages, then get out of the way. Each graphic you add after this point should have a very specific and focussed purpose: To draw attention to a special, to add to the composition, to give the eye a break from clutter, to draw the eye across the page in a particular way, to create a point of visual interest.

In all ways, for an e-commerce site, 'less is more.'

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