Online Shop Design: A Buyer's Guide to Ecommerce
Approved Index provides a fast and free way to compare leading online shop design companies based in the UK.
Get Free Quotes for Ecommerce Website Design
According to imrg, the UK is the largest ecommerce market in Europe and racked up £68.2billion of online sales in 2011. That’s a 16% year on year growth in e-retail sales figures – making the high-street numbers look positively anaemic. No wonder then that so many businesses are opening their metaphorical doors to the internet consumer through online shop design.
But what steps does the business which is new to ecommerce need to take in order to maximise the sales potential of their online store? We know that the online consumer demands convenience, isn’t afraid to shop around and is cautious over security. When setting up a web store it’s of vital importance that you find a web design company which takes these factors into account.
This Buyers’ Guide will introduce the online shop impresario to the ecommerce web design basics. We’ll also provide a checklist for choosing the right web design company to help you start making your mark in the fastest growing retail channel around.
The Basics of Online Shop Design
Very simply, an ecommerce website is one where users can browse and buy products or services entirely online and where payments are processed via an internet payment gateway. An ecommerce site might sell one product, a range of hundreds of products or an ongoing service for which customers pay a subscription.
An online shop typically incorporates the following elements:
- A product catalogue where each item has its own page with a description, pictures, delivery options etc.
- A shopping cart where customers can save items they wish to purchase until the end of their visit
- A search facility to help shoppers find what they’re looking for
- A checkout where delivery details are taken and which incorporates an internet payment gateway for processing credit card payments
- A back-end system where the shop owner can manage available items, set prices, monitor transactions and process shipping.
A website design company tasked with building an online shop will create the overall look of the site and put in place the necessary features which allow the site owner to manage the site. They might also be able to assist with domain name purchase and hosting.
Online Shop Features
Due to the various elements that have to be considered, online shop building can be a complex decision making process. On one hand you want to include all the features that are going to make it easy not only for your customers to make purchases but also to return and make further purchases. On the other hand you don’t want to create a cluttered, complicated site that is a visual turn off and more likely to generate errors.
You should work closely with your website designers to get the balance among the following features just right to suit your product range and brand image:
The quality of the visual images and layout of your site will largely determine whether a person who clicks on a link to your shop will stay around for a proper look and, perhaps, make a purchase. You’ll obviously want the site to feature your logo and colour scheme to reinforce your brand image – if you don’t have these a designer can help you create them. But don’t go overboard - the modern trend is towards simple, uncluttered, minimalist sites with a focus on functionality over flashy graphics. Notice how most of the leading ecommerce sites (eBay, Amazon, asos etc) use plain white backgrounds and very little styling, leaving the products as the main focus.
Shopping Cart Software
The software which enables your visitors to search for products, save items in a shopping cart and which allows you, the shop owner, to manage your inventory, prices, voucher codes, delivery options etc normally comes as part of the same package. The more reliable and flexible the software platform the better as this will allow you to make changes and perform redesigns without a complete overhaul. Discuss the options carefully with your web designers to ensure you’re getting a solution which will last. This is the skeleton of your site around which everything else hinges, so don’t look here to make savings – poor software which leads to errors and incorrectly displayed pages will turn customers off for good.
The most common and popular payment gateway for ecommerce sites is PayPal. This is because PayPal makes it incredibly easy to set up an account and doesn’t charge you for doing so. However, per transaction costs with PayPal are considerably higher than with banks or dedicated merchant account providers. Take into account your expected sales volumes and discuss with your web designer whether the initial expense of setting up a dedicated payment gateway is worth it. In order to fully gain the trust of your customers you should use a payment gateway that offers 3D Secure authorisation (e.g. Verified by Visa).
Customer Relationship Management Software
Key to the success of marketing an ecommerce site is maintaining a good relationship with your customers and building a large email list. This way you can keep in touch with your users about new products and special offers, slowly becoming a brand that they trust when looking to purchase related products. An ecommerce solution with a built-in CRM system will allow your users to register so that when they visit your site again they don’t have to input all their details from scratch. It will also allow you to send out regular emails to all or part of your customer database.
Many ecommerce websites now include a buyer feedback mechanism whereby customers can leave reviews of products. This can be great for building up trust among your users – seeing that other people have made satisfactory purchases reinforces their own decision to buy – but can backfire if there is low participation. So take care over the decision to incorporate feedback – is the kind of product you’re selling one which people are likely to want to review?
Social Bookmarking and Blogs
Another marketing feature allowing your customers to share your product pages with their social networks via Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc. We’ve mentioned the word trust many times in this guide already and nothing builds trust of a website like a recommendation from a friend. This is relatively simple to set up but can lead to a cluttered page so don’t go crazy. In the same category are blogs – including a blog on your site can help you gain higher positions in search engines if used correctly but they do require a time investment as an abandoned blog can make it look like the site is no longer operational.
Choosing a Designer to Build an Online Shop
The following factors should all be taken into consideration when choosing a company to build your online shop:
A good ecommerce web design company shouldn’t be shy about their previous work. They should include links to the sites they’ve built on their own website. Don’t just glance over these to assess the visual competency of the designers – fully investigate their work by taking the sites for a test drive. Take a purchase right up to the final stage before aborting to make sure the software functions as it should.
- Account Manager:
Is the same person within the company who’s selling you the product the person who’s designing the site? You don’t necessarily want them to be – after all, few of us speak a web designers language and can benefit from informed mediation – but make sure you feel confident when speaking to the company that your instructions will be interpreted correctly.
It should come as no surprise that a quality ecommerce site will be a significant investment. However, it’s an investment that should pay for itself fairly quickly when done right. Don’t convince yourself that you’ll get away with a rock bottom budget – poor websites don’t attract customers.
The choice of website design company to work with is probably the single most important factor in determining the success of your ecommerce website. It’s therefore vital that you take time over the decision and consider as many options as you can – it’s better to face a difficult choice between two excellent companies than to give yourself a blind choice of the first, or cheapest, company you find.
Approved Index has put together a directory of established and accomplished ecommerce web designers. You can use our free, no-obligation service to compare quotes from up to 4 UK based companies by filling out one simple form.
Get Free Quotes for Online Shop Design