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How to make your ecommerce site usable

How to make your ecommerce site usable

By Lorraine Paterson, usability consultant, User Vision

The economic pinch is encouraging more people to shop online, making website usability more important than ever.

Internet shopping comprises 17p in every £1 of retail spending this year, compared with 15p last year. Perhaps most surprisingly, the biggest gains are for clothing, lingerie and shoes, products which would normally require physical touching, fitting and inspection, at least more than traditional online shopping purchases such as books, CD’s, DVDs and electronics.

Good usability practices
Those ecommerce sites that follow good usability practices will inevitably have a competitive advantage. There are many things which a provider can do to make their site user friendly.

Reassure customers that your site is secure and that they can trust you. This is particularly important when customers decide to part with their money. As internet crime is more prevalent, customers are increasingly suspicious of sites that do not clearly show text or images indicating that the site is secure.

The rewards for doing this are often an increased conversion rate than those sites without security badges.

Make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for. While some customers like to browse, others will have an idea of what they are looking for. In both situations, a good categorisation system for your products as well as an effective search tool will help both types of customers find what they are looking for easily. has a conventional navigation system with a list of products down the left as well as a search tool across the top of the page.

This tool allows customers to search the entire site or merely a specific area, helping to narrow the search results.

Provide enough information to allow customers to make an informed choice. More and more websites are providing additional ways of viewing products to reproduce the same experience of a store.

This is particularly important when selling clothes or shoes. Being able to zoom in on a pair of shoes, rotate a dress 360o and change the colour and style of the dress are all effective. As Seen on Screen ( go a step further by providing a video clip of a model wearing the item down a catwalk. This is a good example where the website provides an abundance of information for their customers which can help to persuade them to buy without trying on.

Additional persuasive content includes such features as customer reviews. This provides transparency for customers and increase trust. Importantly trust is essential to building a good relationship between customer and company.

Ensure that the purchasing process is quick and straightforward to complete. If you ask customers, many will tell you that less is more when purchasing online. This is particularly important when asking customers for personal information. Good practices suggest that asking for detailed personal information that is not required to complete a purchase should be avoided because it is off-putting.

Similarly customers often avoid registration forms, and will even leave a website, if they deem the registration to be unnecessary or unwieldy. Those sites that have listened to customer complaints have made registration optional.

This strategy can often satisfy those customers who avoid providing personal information in order to minimise unwanted correspondence.

Provide clear calls to action when items have been added to the shopping cart. There are many different methods currently used by websites, some more effective than others.

In all cases, the following should be clear to customers:
A. That the item has been successfully added; and
B. What customers can do once they have added their item; whether that is to continue shopping or proceed to check-out.

In this situation, both options should be prominent enough on the page. has a reliable system on their site which takes customers to their basket each time a new item is added. They also provide two clear options to ‘Go to checkout’ or ‘Continue shopping’.

This is a simple and effective way of informing customers and as a result, avoids unnecessary or duplicate items being accidentally added.

With great choice comes great responsibility
Those ecommerce sites that strive to improve their site with emphasis on the user experience will inevitably gain financially. As the online market continues to grow in the current climate, there is a danger that complacency from a false sense of security could creep in. While the internet already provides great choice for customers, this choice will only continue to grow.

Consequently, it is the responsibility of retailers to ensure that their site provides a good user experience; otherwise customers will simply choose to shop online with a more customer-friendly competitor.

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