Having worked for a leading eCommerce-driven skincare company for the last two years and during my tenure with the Irish Times, I have noticed a few things about this ever-evolving platform that we have all become reliant upon
Why do we shop online?
First of all, why do we shop online? Why go online and not to a shopping centre or a local shop. For me, its several factors: Novelty: the first time for many is a great experience, and it’s just fun!
- Exclusivity: sometimes, the only way to buy is online because the vendor doesn’t sell in bricks-and-mortar shops
- Price: An apparent and almost certainly the number one reason why; is to save money. If you can sell at a discount, then you are
- Ease: Why go to the supermarket, walk up and down selecting your week’s food when the shop can do it for you. It saves you time; you might even get a discount. The only downside? You still have to put everything away.
- Loyalty: More often enough, brands will have a loyalty program to entice you to keep shopping. Plus, more and more shoppers are becoming brand loyal; they like the brand.
- Availability: More often than not
A process that is Ubiquist
My first online purchase many years ago was a book on typography called ‘The Elements of Typographic Style’. A colleague suggested it to me and also buy from amazon.com. In those days, its shopping tentacles hadn’t reached my European shores. The whole experience had a profound effect on me. All those emails arrived telling me that I had indeed ordered, the next one saying it was on its way, and finally, the manilla-wrapped book arrived on the desk. The whole process hasn’t changed. I built my first eCommerce shop using OSCommerce, and it followed the same process.
- Display a product catalogue
- make it easy to build a basket/cart
- go to checkout
- pay securely
- And the order is then fulfilled.
Having used OpenCart, Magento, a custom-built platform and WooCommerce, they all follow the same pattern.
What makes a good eCommerce experience?
The following doesn’t cover all the bases of eCommerce but represents what I have observed and learnt over the last three or four years. Some observations are born out of shopping online, and some are as an eCommerce manager. In this article, the first series, I will focus on more holistic approaches you can employ. I will write a blog post focusing on UX and UI improvements that can be implemented to improve an eCommerce site.
If you start selling online, these will guide you onto a successful pathway.
An eCommerce platform is an absolute must if you are a retailer or have a product you want to sell. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the number of businesses that started to sell online rose dramatically. Those already online became much more aggressive and became the mainstay of how customers shopped. Even in a post-pandemic society keeping that eCommerce momentum is as equally important. That said, you need to maintain your bricks and mortar customers and ensure that the traditional shopping experience is still available.
The customer is number one.
Another obvious point but often missed. The big difference between walking into a shop and eCommerce is a lack of physical interaction. With the former, you can ask questions, hold the product in question and be part of the experience. In the absence of that relationship, you have and must be willing to engage with them quickly and efficiently. If you follow up with a query, you won’t lose that potential custom. Critically, you must take on board any suggestions or observations. Ignoring something like your payment gateway doesn’t work, or I don’t understand your shipping will have a negative impact, and you will lose custom.
Take home message: Listen to your customers and look after and respond to them.
If there was ever a saying that holds water, it’s a picture that says a thousand words. Good, no excellent product photography is critical. How you portray the product photo is crucial for a customer looking to buy that tangible item like a shirt, a vase or something that has form over function. If you sell office supplies online, then a ream paper is well a ream of paper and is probably less vain. Taking this into account, taking consistently good photos is so important. You need to ensure that products are shot the same way when it comes to lighting, backgrounds and how it is staged. The images must be cropped, sized and named to make them stand out entirely. The devil will be in the detail, so ensure you have closeups of essential aspects of your products. At the same time, it’s relatively impossible to take every step to ensure that colours are as accurate as possible.
Social media and email
You can have the world’s best design and fastest online shop with outstanding value for money, but unless your customers know it exists, it doesn’t matter. Once a customer arrives on your site, options are a must to sign up for a newsletter, and social media follow buttons. If there was ever a time to embrace social media entirely, it’s now. Facebook and soon, Instagram will provide online shopping via your platform. It takes very little work to enable this in WooCommerce and Shopify, but the rewards are limitless. Now is the time to build your database of email addresses (legally!) so have a vector to engage with customers and drive them back so they can see new products, special offers and news about your services.
Looking after the planet is very important, and everyone should try their best. Ecommerce is no exception, so what can you do? Of course, it’s highly dependent on what you sell, but the packaging is a standout. Are the materials you use 100% recyclable? Can you remove plastic or foams? Is there a packaging-free option? These are just some options available, and while it’s not going to save the planet outright, it goes a long way to show your customers that you care. Shipping is another way by removing bubble wrap and foam inserts and switching to a cardboard and paper alternative.
Branding might sound obvious but can be often overlooked. On a customer journey, there are so many points to consider, from going from a social media post to the product page and finally the cart and checkout. Your site must reflect the brand in terms of logos, typography and colours. Recently shopping online, I arrived at a checkout page and the company’s logo wasn’t visible, the typography and colours were substandard, and I was confused. Was I still in the checkout process? Subsequent order emails should also all be on point with branding. It shows you are trustworthy. It’s not over yet. Your packaging is a perfect springboard for your company; have your logo and brand wisdom printed on the box or bag used for dispatch. It completes the loop for your customer.
Take home message: Stay on brand at every stage of the customer journey, from arrival on the site to the order being delivered.
Fulfilment Once you click that ‘Place my order‘ button, a customer goes away happy with their purchase, and the vendor is grateful for the order. What happens next? You, as a customer, will get an order confirmation email. It’s essential that branding is on point and the order information is clear. There is potential to engage further with links to your social media and links back to the site. The vendor will receive an order received an email and, depending on the eCommerce platform integrated with the supply chain, will need to be actioned upon. Same-day fulfilment is ideal, and with a shipping partner that you can depend upon. Pestle & Mortar used DHL. If a customer got their order in before 2:00 pm, then delivery was confident in two days, if not the very next. Customers like this!
Take away message: If you can provide fast, trackable and reliable shipping, then a distinct advantage could be had.
With Pestle & Mortar, product navigation was pretty easy. They had less than 20 products in two distinct categories; body and hands. Finding the product was straightforward. On the other hand, somebody like Chain Reaction Cycles has a massive catalogue spread over tens of categories. Finding a product can be daunting, but it is easy to locate that required item because they understand how a cyclist thinks. Easy-to-understand navigation is critical to eCommerce and can be divided into search, categorisation and the User Interface (UI). If your potential customer finds your products hard to locate, frustration builds and possibly moves on. An extensive catalogue needs careful categorisation and one that makes sense and accurately reflects the product. This, in turn, will drive the UI. How a customer navigates by either following a menu system or jump-points on pages requires
Take away message: Don’t make it hard for your customers to find products. Search is functional, but efficient navigation will return dividends.
Mobile-first approach When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007, I wonder if he realised how much that product would change the internet forever? Knowing him, he probably did! Of all the points, ensuring that your online shop works and responds on a smartphone is undoubtedly the most important. By taking the so-called mobile-first approach, you ensure that all aspects of the site work on a device that is used by everyone who shops online, from couch surfers to those commuting to work. They all want to buy online, and you can’t afford to put any obstacles in place, and the pages are not optimised for a small touch-enabled screen.
Take home message: I can’t stress this enough; your shop has to perform on a smartphone.
Data, data and more data
how can i help?
With 20 years of experience, I can offer you a full range of services from complete web design, brand development and management to social media. Need to start selling online; that’s no problem. Do you need an email marketing strategy, I can help with that.