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UX design for eCommerce: strategy and best practices

Qualtrics  |  October 07, 2021

Your website often meets your prospects before you do. As such, their experience using your site to shop online is critical to converting them from casual browsers into loyal buyers. So, making sure your eCommerce website design is top-notch is vital for success.

But how does designing for an eCommerce site differ from other types of online stores? How do you go about it? And once it’s up and running, how do you make sure it’s still meeting your target audience’s needs? 

Read on to find out the best practices and design tips for creating and maintaining a successful eCommerce website.

What is eCommerce site design?

Unlike websites that are purely informational, eCommerce websites are both informational and transactional. In other words, they help potential buyers find what they’re looking for and provide them with the means to purchase what they need.

The ultimate goal for your eCommerce website is, therefore, to drive potential customers to your products and services, and eventually through to a sale. 

This means you need to invest in user experience research and design to ensure your customers are getting the experience they’re looking for. It’s worth it. Forrester found that for every $1 spent on UX, $100 was made in return, offering a return on investment of 9,900%.

What role does UX play in eCommerce website design?

User experience (UX) in this instance describes the relationship that’s formed between your online shoppers and your eCommerce website. UX design is a human-first approach to creating web content, with the design informed by what a target audience wants to see and is keen to experience.

When you’re evaluating your eCommerce web design through a UX lens, you need to ask:

  • What: What does the user want from this website or web page? What are they hoping to accomplish?
  • Why: Why is the user engaging with this page?
  • How: How will the page’s features and functions help the user to achieve their goal for the interaction? How will you make the site accessible to the user, as well as appealing?

Beyond the what, why, and how, the core concepts of UX in eCommerce web design can be condensed into five components: visual design, information design, interaction design, user needs, and navigation design. We’ve written about optimizing your UX before, but for eCommerce, the key things to remember are:

  • Visual design: Does the look and feel of your eCommerce website design reflect and amplify your products or services? Have you considered the colors and shapes, and the sound and image quality provided?
  • Information design: How is the information about your products and services presented, and is it conducive to customer understanding? Is the hierarchical structure of the website clear so that your customers can find exactly what they need?
  • Interaction design: Does your website make sense when considered as an interactive journey? How well does your eCommerce web design support your customers’ goal completion, such as a purchase?
  • User needs: What expectations do your customers have when shopping on your website, and does it fulfill them?
  • Navigation design: How does your site navigation work, and does it support your customers’ journey from initial contact to sale?

How do you start designing your site for your eCommerce business?

Though it might seem pretty simple to set up a webshop for your products and services, your web design needs to be planned out carefully before you get started. 

Here are a few things to do in advance:

1. User research

User research is key for developing an eCommerce website design that fulfills your potential customers’ needs, rather than what you think they might require. There are several user experience research methods and tools you can use to help you narrow down how your customers want to be able to complete tasks and interact with your website. 

2. Competitor analysis

Analyzing the product and service pages of your competitors will help you to understand what your target audience is looking for in online stores. If they’re providing more information or a clearer experience to customers, you won’t have a competitive advantage. Make sure that it’s easy to compare your web design and theirs, and that prospects choose yours because it's easy to use and your products are superior.

3. Put together a team that can fulfill all your UX needs

Your team needs to cover all the different aspects of your eCommerce web design: user experience design, copy creation, user interface design, interaction design, and service design. Make sure you have the skills you need to make an eCommerce site that will help your products fly off the digital shelves.

Best practices for eCommerce designing

1. Be clear and concise

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, eCommerce web design must be clear and concise for the best results. If you’re listing your products and services, it’s worth bearing the following in mind:

  • Use a descriptive product or service name
  • Provide clear and concise product descriptions
  • Utilize recognizable images from your brand
  • Offer a larger version of your images for accessibility
  • Show your target audience how many products are available in a clear way
  • Make adding products to your cart simple and obvious
  • Make sure your prices are clear and any extra charges are easy to find and understand 

Related reading: How to create effective mobile product pages that convert

2. Get direct feedback

Your target audience is the best source of inspiration for your eCommerce web design. Asking questions and getting to know your audience will help to guide you in optimizing your design precisely for their needs. This is direct feedback.

To get their feedback, you’ll need to not only use customer experience metrics such as customer effort scores, but open text response questions to allow you to get the voice of the customer in their own words.

You can also use a website satisfaction survey to help gather feedback from users on their specific web experience. Surveys can be delivered via email marketing after a customer has interacted with the site, or through chat boxes right on the page so you can get an immediate response to your design.

Make sure your request for feedback isn’t intrusive–you don’t want to derail your customer’s journey from landing on your site to the shopping cart.

Related reading: See how customer feedback transforms abandoned shopping carts into purchases

3. Gather indirect feedback

Your customers’ own words, collected via a prompt, are very useful for designing your site, but you can also use indirect feedback to shape your customers’ web experience.

This feedback is gathered from social media channel mentions and interactions, as well as emails sent to your company unsolicited. These may not be positive, as customers tend to reach out to relay negative feedback.

However, this can also be useful—if your customers are unhappy about aspects of your web design, you can make amendments to improve their opinion. 70% of customers who have a complaint resolved say they will return to purchase from the company again.

This indirect feedback will help you to design your eCommerce experience initially, but will also help you to continually improve it as you gather more information.

Related readingNot sure where to begin with user feedback? Check this out. 

4. Analyze O-data and X-data

Operational and experience data, when combined, can be a powerful tool for your eCommerce web design.

From an operational perspective, scroll depths, click hotspots, bounce rates, site conversion rates and more can help you to see exactly where your customers are having trouble engaging with your site. You can more easily discover where broken experiences lie, and fix them for a better customer journey.  

You don’t want your customers to halt their purchase process just because your credit card payment options aren’t working properly. For example, you can spot and fix your checkout process if you’re seeing lots of customers leave at this step when analyzing your O-data.

5. Take an outside-in approach

Take an outside-in approach to designing your eCommerce website. Rather than putting what you think is the best for your audience on your site, try designing your site to provide users with exactly what they want. 55% of consumers are happy to pay more for an improved customer experience—meaning it’s worth taking the time to invest in providing an experience they’ll remember.

As mentioned, you should gather initial ideas from your existing website or customer base, as well as doing your research on what your target audience prefers.

Then, as you gather direct and indirect feedback over time, you’ll begin to build a picture of how your customers want to see as they travel through your site, and what they want to see when they land on each page.

Related reading: ​​Empathy maps: a step-by-step guide for better digital experiences

6. Continually adjust your web design

Designing your eCommerce website design isn’t a one-time activity. Your design should constantly evolve and improve based on your ongoing feedback for the best online shopping experience.

eCommerce web design examples 

There are many great eCommerce websites out there. We’ve collected a few below and explained why they're a great inspiration for your site.

Asos

This eCommerce giant has perfected the art of clear web design, with UX at the forefront.

UX design for eCommerce: Asos

The design is clear, with navigation obvious to the user. The site uses images on its menus to help illustrate what customers are looking for, which helps with accessibility.

UX design for eCommerce: Asos filter system

The filter system shows you what’s available based on your selection, making it easy for the customer to know what to expect.

The menu and filtering options are also well-optimized for mobile devices. An eCommerce site needs to work well across all devices to make sure you’re not losing out on customers.

Chewy.com

This pet product company's eCommerce platform makes it clear from the landing page where customers can choose to go. Rather than hiding options for different pets or products in the menu, the home page makes it easy to get to the products you want with just a click. The bright colors help to catch the eye, and the use of high-quality images for product photos helps to illustrate the onward customer journey.

UX design for eCommerce: Chewy

Clearly signposting the route for a customer to take is a sign of great UX design. For your eCommerce site, you can use the data you gather on your customers to figure out which particular products need to be highlighted more than others.

Sears

This home goods business's eCommerce store lists its products with all the key information available to the customer, rather than limiting it to each of the product pages. There’s an image of the product, price, discount, delivery time, review score, and description, with the option of comparing it to other products.

UX design for eCommerce: Sears

This makes it very easy for customers to find the information they need at a glance, without it looking cluttered.

Condensing all the useful information a customer might need into one simple design for product listings is helpful, as it cuts down on the number of clicks and the effort spent by the customer. If you display customer reviews, it helps to build a sense of authenticity for the products you offer.

It’s all about your customers

Your eCommerce website design is ultimately all about your customer. Understanding how to make a great shopping experience is as simple as gathering insights from your customers and the data available to you, and designing accordingly—as well as adapting your approach as you learn more about what your customers want.

In today’s world, the key to success is getting meaningful insights as fast as possible and using them to transform experiences at every level. 

One of the most important tools in a designer’s toolbox is feedback. Design and website development teams make critiquing work and gathering input from colleagues and peers a regular part of their creative process.

And so should you. 

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About the author:

Qualtrics is the superior business operating system for Experience Management. With over 13,000 of the world's best brands using its advanced research platform to enhance user experience, market research, product research, and so much more.