You’ll be hard pressed to find a brick-and-mortar retailer nowadays who doesn’t also have a website, even if it’s just a brochure site designed to bring footfall to their business. However, it’s the ecommerce store that’s king – thanks to the Internet, local businesses are discovering they can attract customers from all over the world, and those who could never afford to ‘set up shop’ on the high street  are now finding it more than affordable to launch a successful store online.

If you’re new to the e-commerce world, check out my guide below for the 3 most basic elements your store must have if you want to convert those visitors into paying customers.

ecommerce monopoly board

Image via Daniel Broche

1.       Good Search and Navigation

There are two types of customers – those who browse, and those who search. If you only cater to the one type, you’re missing out on potentially half of your customers – actually, if you have bad navigation you’ll probably be losing almost all your custom, as far more people browse for products than search for them.

Start with the navigation – work out some broad top categories and then split them down into more specific sub categories. Try to get into your customer’s mindset and think about what they would click on to find a particular product, then make it as easy as possible (i.e. as few steps as possible – even skip those sub-categories if your product portfolio isn’t huge) for them to find it. Then ensure the navigation menu is displayed clearly not only on your homepage but on every page of the site, such as across the header bar under your logo.

Unlike navigation where simple is best, when it comes to search you want to give customers as many options as possible. Allowing them type in a generic search term and then narrow it by a variety of features such as price, colour, size and so on will make it quick and simple for them to sort through all those products and pinpoint the one they want to buy. Again, think about the different synonyms (plurals and spelling mistakes too) that customers will use to find a product, and then test your search to ensure it appears for every one of those terms.

2.       Clear Product Details

I’ve lost count of the number of otherwise highly-professional websites I’ve been on that have fallen short when it came to displaying the details of the products they were selling. Just the other day I was on one website trying to sell a £5000 grill that didn’t even have a description!

In store, customers can see and touch the products they are thinking of buying. Girls can feel the fabric of clothes (or check the label) and guys can read the product specifications on the boxes of games and gadgets. Just because your store is online, this should not be any different – write a great description that persuades the customer to buy, then show details such as size, weight, fabric and anything else that is relevant in a clear, easy-to-read format – a simple table always works best. If people don’t know what they’re looking it, they certainly won’t be paying for it.


Image via Creative Tools

3.       Easy Checkout Process

The visitor has found a product they like, put it in their basket and now they’re going to pay, right? As anyone who has used Google Analytics or other software to monitor basket drop-outs, a significant percentage of people put items in their basket only to change their mind and leave the site. You don’t find piles of abandoned shopping trolleys littering the aisles of your local supermarket, so why does this happen so often to e-commerce sites?

The Internet allows you to present your product range to a huge number of people. Unfortunately, it also allows those same people to compare products from a huge number of websites. To avoid losing a customer to one of your competitors it’s vital to make the checkout process as quick and easy as possible to encourage those ‘impulse buys’.

The key rule to remember is that the fewer pages there are between the product page and the order confirmation page, the higher your conversions are going to be. A single-page checkout is by far the best option if possible. Many people also find it frustrating having to create yet another account and remember yet another login, so whilst offering a ‘create an account’ option is always good (you’ll keep hold of their precious customer details after all) it’s wise to also offer a checkout option that doesn’t require registering an account.

There are plenty of other things you’ll need to work on to make your ecommerce site a success, from web design to marketing, but these three pointers make for a very solid starting base!