In the past 2 years of creating websites as an official freelancer, and becoming a website snob (visit my recent article on Blacksburg Belle to find out just how snobby I am), I've learned to look for elements of an eCommerce website that make it good. At least good in my eyes.
The following 5 things make sites user-friendly, effective sales tools, and they make for a happy designer/developer. Check it.
1. Strong - but not annoying - use of 'calls to action.'
Shop now! Sign up! Tweet!
Those are calls to action. They prompt a user to - you guessed it - act. They initiate involvement, and end in results, whether it be sharing, capturing information, or making a sell.
Good use of these calls will have the desired effect: you get what you are asking for. Bad use of calls will get you nothing but the lonesome sound of crickets. No one likes to be chased around a store by a salesperson. The same goes for your website.
The line between good and bad is a fine one indeed. Are you holding their hand in friendly guidance, or pushing them over the edge? This is where testing comes in. Try different uses. Maybe for 3 weeks you test out one scheme on your homepage for promoting your newsletter. If it doesn't work, move it to your blog. Try things out to see what works best for reaching out to and encouraging your audience.
2. Make your contact information crystal clear.
Nothing makes me want to pull my hair out more, or at least shop somewhere else, if a site does not have very specifically outlined modes of communication. Customer service inquiry? Call here! General comments? Email here!
Not big enough to have multiple points of contact? Not a problem! Just be up front about how your customers need to contact you if they have a question or comment.
And don't forget about the gloriousness of contact forms. They greatly improve the user experience, and that, my friends, is a very good thing.
3. Have shop policies, and stick to your guns.
Oh, me. Seeing a wonderful eCommerce site with an absence of policies makes me want to call them up and give them an "oh, honey..." speech.
Shop policies offer mutual protection between owner and customer. Very important. (Click to tweet this.) They make your customer trust you and they save you from getting screwed over. Very important.
Your shop policies should at least include your policies on shipping, returns (refunds/exchanges), and privacy. If you offer gift cards, clearly post policies for use and expiration. This should be the bare minimum; please feel free to protect yourself and your customers further if needed.
And it just makes you look legit, which you are, but no one knows unless you put it out there.
4. Have smashing product photography.
This is kind of a given, but still isn't taken seriously enough. So, let me reiterate.
Have. Smashing. Product. Photography.
If you don't have the money to hire a photographer, then take the time to learn some awesome skills yourself. (Or just save up and hire a photographer.) Your product photography should never be put on the back burner, it should be front and center, and totally freaking awesome. (Click to tweet this.)
5. If you have restrictive payment options, state so before customers are ready to checkout.
If you only take Google Checkout (or some other obscure payment processor), state that you do elsewhere on your site, like the footer. Few things annoy me more than filling my cart just to find out that I can't pay right away because I'm not a member of Goodness-Knows-What Payment Processor Online 2000. I will never finish that purchase.
Granted, this is less and less of an issue, as most folks are seeing the light and sticking with either credit card processing or Paypal, both of which are more used than dollar bills these days. However, if you do use an odd processor, let us know ASAP. Better yet, switch to a more common processor.
Being a web snob - yup, I'm making that an official compound word - has taught me a good many do's and don't's of good website design. It makes me a better designer, and it ensures that the websites that I design will hold up to my high standards at least. Well, I hope. And I can share this information with you, so put it into practice!
Disagree with me? Feel free to grapple! Thinking I'm missing one (or more)? Let me know!