5 must-have features for your ecommerce website

Aidan Bryant | February 24, 2014
Woman shopping online from home

I'm no stranger to shopping. Years of Christmases, birthdays, graduations, and other events have taught me one thing: online shopping is the single greatest invention of the 20th century (antibiotics were a close second). As a UX researcher, I've gotten to see hundreds (maybe thousands) of people do their own online shopping too, and I've learned the secret to what your customers really want. No, it's not an iPad or a remote-controlled flying shark… it's knowledge Specifically, product information, and lots of it.

To help all you online retailers include the information customers want so desperately, here is UserTesting's gotta-have-it wishlist for your ecommerce website!

1. Reviews and star ratings (negative and positive!)

This is probably the number-one request that I see from users, and the most important information that they'll base their purchase on (besides price). Part of the reason that Amazon is so successful is its rich, crowdsourced, in-depth information. Users also want to see negative AND positive reviews - too many positive reviews don't give balanced feedback, and make customers suspicious that the reviews could be phony.

amazon mixed reviews

Amazon allows you to view positive and negative reviews, and even pulls out some choice quotes.

I used to not think of a lack of reviews as a usability issue, because hey, what can you do if people don't want to give feedback? Well, there's actually plenty you can do, so if your products are sparse on reviews, pull out the big guns! If you're not getting reviews on your site directly, try linking to reviews from other site that sell your product, like Amazon, or include a Consumer Reports testimonial.

2. Size and dimensions

I recently bought a single-serve espresso pot online. I love it, but it's a lot smaller than I expected! I'd never bought an espresso pot before, and I really wish the product images had shown someone using it, or had shown it next to another object for scale.

unicorn bouquet

Great use of a model-for-scale! Don’t skimp on those unicorn bouquets, now.

By the way, numbered dimensions aren't much help on their own, unless you're selling computers, furniture, or TVs. Telling customers that a purse has an 11-inch strap is much less powerful than showing a picture of a model wearing it. This is not to say that measurements are a bad thing! However, I can attest that redundancy is king, so why not throw some pictures in next to your 8x6.5x18 dimensions?

apple scale image

Apple displays all of its laptops side by side so you can easily compare the difference between different screen sizes.

Speaking of pictures....

3. Pictures

Pictures are the best! A picture is worth a thousand sales, after all. Isn’t that how the saying goes? In any case, the more pictures the better. Show all sizes and colors! Show it with a model! If you really want bonus points, provide a 360-degree view - rotating is great, but users will appreciate static images of all sides too. If the item has multiple parts or pieces, show them all! If the item is something that involves a process or interaction (for example, an electric razor or a parka with warming technology), users also like to see videos of how it works and the various features.

nordstrom product images

If this site didn’t have multiple images, I wouldn’t have realized this shoe had a snakeskin detail on the back.

I hear a lot of users complaining that there aren't enough pictures. I've NEVER heard a user complain about having too many.

4. Living with the product

Online shopping often takes the place of physical shopping – customers could run down to the Apple store and fight the mall crowds, or they could snuggle up on the couch and purchase an iPad in their pajamas. However, this means that online shoppers miss out on a big part of making a purchase: holding the product, touching it, and seeing how it will work for them. Try to help them understand the weight, feel, and use of the products (this is where photos and videos really come in handy!) This is particularly relevant in the case of major purchases and electronics.

"Life with product" doesn't just cover its physical feel - it also includes details that will be important in the day-to-day. For example, how often should you empty your Roomba? How close does that razor shave? How long does the smartphone battery last (under normal usage, please)? User reviews (see #1) can help here, but a lot of this information can be provided by the retailer.

dyson life instructions

This description paints a clear, everyday picture of why Dyson’s bin is superior to other vacuums.

5. Practical language

Now, I understand that you just released your new SuperBlitz Sensotronic Buzz feature. I'm sure it's awesome. But I have no idea what it is, or does, or why it makes your product better than your competitors’. Having new features and forward-thinking branding is great—at best, it sets you apart from the competition and can even set new industry standards for product features and image.

However, when users are trying to pick a product—especially one they're unfamiliar with—tossing out brand terms and technical jargon is often unnecessary and confusing. When people don't understand something, they don't typically sit around and try to figure it out - they'll go look at something else!

So throw around the Buzzes and the Supersonics and the Ultracools all you want! Just be sure that the features and their immediate benefits are also explained upfront in clear, nonbranded language. For example, instead of writing, "Now with Suntec battery life!" consider something like, "Includes Suntec batteries for 50% faster charging than traditional batteries."

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.11.47 PM

You might not have already known what an A7 chip does, but now you do!

Explaining features also hooks less-experienced buyers. For example, let’s say I’m buying my child a digital piano. Guitar Center says their pianos have “hammer-action.” If I already know about pianos, I know this is definitely something I want. However, if I’m new to the item, I might pass by and think it’s not important or relevant to me. On the other hand, if the description says, “Hammer-action provides highly realistic keyboard feel and performance,” well, that sounds great! Sign me up! Plus, now I’ve learned something about a product I was inexperienced with.

guitar center description

Guitar Center provides a lot of great product detail, but it would be even better if some of the more technical terms were explained.

Make your customers' lives easy

The most important thing for online retailers to remember is that customers want as much information as you can give them, with as little effort on their part as possible. If you make it difficult for customers to find the product details they need, they will take their business elsewhere.

Talk to your customers and find out what's going on in their heads so you can provide them with exactly the information they need.

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About this author:

Aidan Bryant is a former senior UX researcher at UserTesting. Her specialties are quantitative methods, video game usability, and defending her title as Trivia World Champion [citation needed]. You can find her other musings on usability at www.aidanbryant.com