What do Australian shoppers really want from an online retail experience? We look at the proven essentials in retail website design.
If you are setting up an e-commerce website, it’s tempting to have customised graphics, special effects and animations. However, a flashy site can work against you in unexpected ways. Not only can it blow your budget, it can confuse potential customers and may even make them think that your product prices are loaded to pay for all those bells and whistles.
The e-commerce site design basics
Before online shopping was possible, a business website was an online brochure, only able to tell readers about the brand and its products. When online shopping became available, many existing sites kept their home page the same and “tacked on” the shopping functionality, meaning that shoppers have to click through to another page to purchase products. If you are launching an online retail business today, Slattery says: “A physical store has windows so people can see the products; the online equivalent to a buyer is products and pricing on the home page,” explains Slattery. “Don’t make them ask ‘can I buy from here?’.”
If you have an existing “brochure-style” website and want to test the online retail waters before changing your site, try adding a Paypal “Buy now” button to your bestsellers and see what response you get.
Site search, navigation and images
In order to help shoppers find the product they are looking for, offer a simple text search of product name and product description on the home page. If you have a large product inventory, offer a product navigator in a left or right-hand panel that appears on every page and sets out the categories of products.
“Good-quality product images, full, accurate product names and ‘verbose’ product descriptions not only help buyers identify the product they are looking for and convince them that your site is the best place to buy it, but they’re also great for search engines, so buyers are more likely to find your site,” says Slattery.
He also recommends a simple add-to-cart and checkout process that all happens on your website, rather than redirecting buyers to a hosted payment page with different branding. “Once you have a customer buying a product, don’t lose them by confusing them. Shoppers who are less familiar with online retail will back out of the sale if they feel uncertain about the security of the transaction.”
Common e-commerce site design mistakes
Hard-to-find products, a badly explained shipping policy, limited payment options and requiring login or registration to shop can all
put off potential customers.
If your website is slow to load, buyers will also find it frustrating to
shop with you. “It is like when you go into the bank or into a store
to buy one item and see a long queue,” says Slattery. “You just
leave, because it’s too hard.” The resolution to this is to choose Australian-based hosting from a reputable
Another common mistake online retailers make is choosing complex site design and functionality, perhaps imitating an industry leader or a site they admire. “Most people are interested in buying a product the simplest way possible, not in how funky the site design is,” says Slattery. “I have heard of too many start-ups burning their start-up capital on website functionality, only to find out their products just don’t sell.”
Evolving your site’s design
Slattery advises business owners to start simple, with a website that offers basic functionality. As the website starts paying for itself, re-invest in the development of your online business. Owners can set up the website themselves, although if you don’t have website design experience, it may cost you a lot of time and frustration. If you outsource website construction, Slattery says that you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 up. “Be careful of locking yourself into a multi-year contract. Some smaller web builders charge less upfront but lock you in for three years.”
If you want to introduce one design element that delights viewers without costing the earth, consider a rotating or shifting home-page banner that profiles the latest products, with a hyperlink to a product or a product category. “Customers can just watch the banner and they will get what your e-commerce site is all about,” says Slattery.
Once your site is up and running, Slattery recommends setting aside half a day every week to add or update products and pricing, or write news articles. This could be as simple as mentioning the new products you have added to your store. Apart from keeping the content fresh for regular customers, weekly updates offer search engine optimisation (SEO) benefits.
“Search engines now also look for recent dates and times in addition to keywords, so that they can direct enquirers to the newest information,” explains Slattery. “Regular updates to your website content will train search engines to come back regularly to capture your latest update.”
Best practice in e-commerce site design
1. SecurePay’s Straightsell standard design website is an amalgam of 10-plus years of website design and functionality.
2. Slattery likes Havaianas and SqueakyTee for their simplicity, large product images and easy checkout processes. “Their buyers are a broader cross-section of the Australian public,” he says. “As a result, simplicity must rule.”
3. At the other end of the scale, Kings Comics offers complex functionality, although it still has easy access to products and a simple checkout process. “Their website complexity is driven by a younger, tech-savvy buyer, who wants to play with the website functionality,” says Slattery. “This complexity is also driven by the size of the online product catalogue: with 28,000-plus products online, you need different ways of accessing these products.”
Looking to develop your e-commerce offering?
There are no Australian Government grants specifically for developing e-commerce capabilities. However, the government-funded site Winning Business Online offers five free e-business short courses to help you maximise your online presence.
Useful tools and resources
- Australia Post’s SecurePay offers business owners a range of e-commerce payment services.
- My Shop in a Box allows you to set up your own e-commerce website.
- Expert source: Chris Slattery has more than 17 years’ experience advising businesses on how to maximise returns on software and technology investments.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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