Secure eBusiness Solutions

Monday, 27 July 2009

Design vs Function -- the Web Dilemma

What is more important “Look and Feel” or “Functionality and Performance”?

Businesses large and small approach the establishment of their web presence from different aspects. Some businesses believe that the design is all important and without the right design the website will fail. Although this is not correct it is sometimes very difficult to convince the customer to have an open mind to the design possibilities.

Design is all about personal preference and not about capability. Almost all good web content and ecommerce applications treat design as a function of the application and not the centre point.

If you are representing a business with a budget then the first thing that you should look for is a functionally rich solution. It should be flexible to meet both feature and design requirements, it should be able to grow with your business and you should be able to manage it yourself. It should have the capability to easily change or incorporate new designs on the fly without expensive web designers or developers doing the work.

At the end of the day every website exists to sell something.

Ever visited a website that has been built using lots of flash that runs an intro movie before you enter and does all sorts of stuff as you move the cursor around? 

Was it a pleasing experience?

Mostly the answer we get is no…

This type of Flash based website may look great but in general after you see it for the first time your over it. Some of these websites will not even load inside many companies secured networks. If you are on a slower broadband connection it may be slow and clunky.

I am not against Flash in web development as long as it is not overdone and used for a reason.

Unfortunately there are web designers out there that will not think about the long term requirements and functionality when building a website design. A good designer will think about function first and try to determine user requirements. When undertaking a new web project design should be part of the requirements and not visa versa.

If you want to think about your business from a business perspective then think of your web presence as another vehicle or sales channel to move your products.

When you go buy a delivery van for your business you do not buy it from the sign-writer because they have a nice design idea. You buy the vehicle based on your business needs and its cost effectiveness, functionality and performance. After you get the right tool for the job then you send it along to the painter to add your companies design scheme.

All too often we are asked to add functionality to an existing website that has been created around a design idea and not based on functional needs. Although this can be done it is never the best solution and will long term cost more money to maintain. Very often it is more cost effective to start from scratch.

Form follows Function - Bauhaus

In the 1920 the Bauhaus school, initially based in Weimar and Dessau Germany, launched the Modern movement in both design and architecture. Principles of modern design promote the concept that “form follows function” basically means that any object (building , chair, cup or shoe) needs to be fit for the purpose for which it was built to have a truly brilliant design. You can build a remarkable looking building but if it cannot be occupied and the space used efficiently then it is a bad design. It is true also with your website.

When thinking about your website or webshop then consider what it will be used for and what is the main reason that people will visit. All too often website owners want websites created around their personal preferences and not those of the potential visitor. Generally the website owner understand their business and product very well whereas a visitors (and buyer) will be searching for the product and may not be an expert or understand the product at all. So the perspective of the website has to be slanted towards the visitor.
One good idea is to ask some potential customers what they like and don’t like. Websites need to be clean and efficient and not difficult to use and navigate. Remember the usefulness of a good design is in the ability to use the functionality.

If you are building a web shop to sell your products then there will be some essential functionality that you will need. These capabilities or features need to be easily found on the website for it to be effective and successful.

Some Required Functionality

Product focussed home page – meaning that you can find products to buy on the home page.

  • Product search and advanced search
  • Category navigation and product browse 
  • Product detail page(s) 
  • Cross sell and up-sell 
  • Customer login and My Account 
  • Shopping cart and check out 
  • Newsletters (marketing capabilities) 
  • Important information (T&Cs, privacy, copyright etc) 
  • Contact form and contact us

Embodied within the website and design there needs to search engine optimised (SEO) and friendly content. Website built entirely in Flash are not always search engine friendly and often search engines cannot see into the content. The same is true of websites that are built using frames.

Websites with lots of imagery and no text content, similarly, may not be very search engine friendly. Search engines look for content that contains keywords as well as Meta tags and other content tags to work out what your website is all about. Think also of the visually impaired who cannot see the images and rely on a screen reader.

How do visitors browse?

When a potential buyer gets to your website you have just a few seconds to engage them or they will browse away. Visitors will scan top left to right and down much the same way as when reading page. This does change based on international language and format; some people read from right to left. But if you’re setting up a web shop to sell in Australia then the bulk of visitors will think left to right.

So it is important that the visitors experience is not hampered by lots of stuff happening on the website. The visitor expects immediate gratification and in most circumstances will not scroll down the page so the important sales message needs to appear above the “fold” or where the visible part of the website stops on the screen.

The visitor to your web shop, if engaged, will look further but you have only a few seconds to get that engagement.

When you are selling online every product page is important. A good web shop will be built so that every product, category and content page can be separately crawled and found by search engines. Product and content pages appearing inside frames may not be crawled. So if your potential buyer is looking for a Blue Widget and you sell a Blue Widget you want them to be taken directly to the Blue Widget page from the search engine. Once there they need to see enough information to understand your unique selling proposition. 

A successful product page should contain:
  • Good quality image of the product with link to larger view 
  • Short and long descriptions with features and capabilities 
  • Any special attributes such as size and colour 
  • Price and any special offers 
  • Add to shopping basket link 
  • Accessories or up-sell productsLink for product handbook or detail information if necessary

Website Design Conundrum

After reading this I am sure that I will receive some hate mail from people who believe that they are web designers protecting their turf. Well all I can really say is that it is the website owner and operator that need protection. Websites that are built primarily with design in mind are very often difficult to maintain and may need always to be maintained by the designer. We have seen this time and again.

The principles that we think are important are:

  1. The web site (or shop) should be functional and accessible 
  2. That design should not constrain the use or functionality 
  3. The design should be search engine friendly 
  4. The website content should be manageable by the website owner
  5. The design should be easily managed and changed

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Is Selling Online Green?

More small to medium sized business people and entrepreneurs are thinking GREEN. What does that mean?

Simply put, it means they are thinking about how they can contribute to help make us all environmentally sustainable.

We have all heard about the Global Warming crisis and the effects of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Every day each of us contributes to the problem – and some of us are contributing to the solution.

There is an enormous body of knowledge that has been written about Global Warming so I am not intending to start this from basics. If you are looking for more information about Global Warming or the Carbon Problem then you might start at these website links:

So how does Information Technology fit with the general perception of GREEN?

Currently there is great pressure on service providers to ensure that infrastructure and processes have minimal carbon footprints. Underpinning the service providers’ systems there is a significant amount of infrastructure that uses large amounts of power and generates lots of heat, which means it needs lots of cooling, which means even more power consumption.
Service providers such as eCorner keep the infrastructure that runs your online stores in data centres, apart from your own infrastructure.

eCorner uses Macquarie Telecom as its service provider, an organisation which is part of The Green Grid -, and which has a stated process to lower its carbon footprint by using energy efficient equipment and processes. Similarly, eCorner has invested in new and more efficient hardware using suppliers who offer a recycling capability.

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is responsible for less than 2% of the worlds CO2 emissions. To put that in perspective, transport creates more than 12% and industrial processes nearly 10%. But ICT is still responsible for more than aviation or cement, two very dirty industries. 

More importantly, it has been conclusively shown that organisations can reduce their overall carbon footprint by over 80% by adopting better use of ICT – see

Is eCommerce a GREEN enabler?

Can eCommerce (selling online) Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Consumer (B2C) reduce carbon footprint by reducing CO2 emissions?

A 2009 Carnegie Mellon Study finds shopping online results in less environmental Impact.  

“'s eCommerce model demonstrates reduced Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Consumption compared to traditional retailing.”

You can read the full story at
Selling online minimises many activities that contribute to the carbon footprint problem.

Jump in Your Car

In the normal course of going shopping many of us will jump in the car and travel to the mall or local shopping centre. Over Christmas 2008 traffic jams and car park congestion at many malls around Australia was staggering. At Macquarie Centre near Sydney there was over a one hour wait to access the car park. Although this is a peak retail season it is a vivid example of retail driving CO2 emissions (no pun intended).

According to a European study by Beauvais Consultants, transport contributed 1.1 kg – 4.7 kg of CO2 for every 100€ worth of purchases – “Setting Up Superstores and Climate Change” source  Beauvais Consultants 2008 - These are European derived results however given Australia lower quality car and truck emission standards and longer travel distances we can summise that these results would not be lower in Australia.

So by simply searching and buying online we can reduce CO2 emissions as well as our stress levels. And many small to medium sized eCommerce businesses operate without an office. So the operators also benefit from not having to jump in the car to go to work.

Empty the Warehouse and Inventory

Traditional retailers will often handle goods many times before they are delivered to the consumer. Goods may be sent from the manufacturer to the wholesaler; from the wholesaler to the distribution centre; from the distribution centre to the warehouse; from warehouse to store; back to distribution and finally to the consumer ... maybe.

But not only do goods get moved around, they also get stored in very large purpose-built warehouses that consume space and energy and all contribute to CO2 emissions.

There are many different online retailing models, but if we look at some of the consumer electronics products providers you will find that the product bought online generally is shipped directly from the manufacturing facility to the consumer. A good example is Dell. So handling, packaging and shipping are greatly reduced, as is the carbon footprint.

But even small online businesses fare well in this area. Most will ship as directly as possible, utilising mass shipping services like Australia Post.
More and more we are seeing some products like music, video, books and games being delivered electronically without packaging, shipping or media. Not only does this reduce CO2 emissions but it also reduces cost to the online retailer. This is due to the need for no inventory, no physical shipping and no media to buy or leave on the shelf.

Increasing numbers of consumers and businesses are buying Green. In a recent survey by Online Marketing World, “How Green is eCommerce”, Two thirds (64%) of respondents said that their company was buying Green products.  

Other Issues

Retail activity causes many other contributors to the carbon footprint. These include packaging and printing, waste from retailers, retail store power consumption and transport for retail store staff.
Online retail still needs to manufacture and ship products, but this can be done much more efficiently than by traditional methods. There is still consumption and emissions of CO2 by the equipment used by the many millions of online merchants and their service providers. But the pendulum swings to the positive side for eCommerce compared to traditional retailing. 

We should all be constantly looking at better and greener ways to do business, and we should promote those as part of our unique sales proposition.
Following is a link to a couple of quick carbon footprint calculator - or

I would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution to this article by Graeme Philipson of Connection Research -, thank you Graeme.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Improving Shopping Cart Conversion

Selling online has many interesting challenges and opportunities. Often these can be compared to the real “bricks and mortar” world of retail selling. There is one area where there is a fundamental difference.

In the “bricks and mortar” store you can see and converse with your potential customers. Prospects step in off the foot path or on the mall and browse around. Immediately you can see age, gender, style, possible family or friend connections, areas of interest, maybe even gauge buying interest and ability to pay.

In most online stores none of this is true. You can track visitors in real time and look at browsing habits and trends but in reality you cannot see your customer over the web. This is true not just in online selling but also social networks or any web based social interaction.Web analytics are improving but there is still a gap called the internet between the visitor and you.

That 25 year old single girl just might be a 55 year old married male. Who really knows? We had a customer store selling lingerie which was getting very high visitor rates and Google Adword clicks late at night. But these rarely converted to sales, who do you think was visiting the store? The solution was to stop Google Adwords between 11PM and 6AM. Less visitors but much reduced abandonment rates, lower Adwords costs and increased sales.

The solution to the problem is not always obvious and you have to continually test your market.

Shopping Cart Abandonment

If you have been selling online for a while you will know that people will come to the store, browse products, add to the shopping cart, enter address details and get to the point of check out……and then leave. No transaction took place. 

It is frustrating for an online merchant as these are “the ones that got away”. In the “bricks and mortar” world it is like the consumer who takes the product up to the sales person (or check out) and asks about price (any discounts), delivery cost, gift wrapping….and says “no thanks”. The difference is that in the latter situation the sales person has a chance to convert the sale face to face.

Shopping cart abandonment has always been a problem for online retailers. 

What are some of the major reasons contributing to abandonment rates?

Consumers go online for many reasons and shopping cart abandonment may not mean you lost a sale. It may mean that you webstore lost the sale which is just like the sales rep in the "bricks and mortar" store. Some of the reasons sales may not complete are easy to see and some not.

  • Competitors checking your prices and offers 
  • Consumers seeking total price for comparison (includes shipping, taxes, gift wrapping etc) 
  • Real buyer but shipping is too expensive 
  • Real buyer but you ask for too much information 
  • Real buyer but you want the consumer to register to buy 
  • Real buyer but they do not trust the website 
  • Real buyer but confused by the basket or payment process 
  • Real buyer but cannot complete payment or credit card rejected 
  • People playing around on websites

What are some of the things that you can do to improve your shopping cart conversion rate?


People buying have to trust the website; information like Terms and Conditions, Returns Policy, Privacy Policy, Contact Details and Important Customer Information are necessary. You need to ensure that there is a valid SSL Certificate (URL needs to be consistent throughout the basket process and secure) and that there are valid business details like contact name, address and phone easily found. Do not use mobile or cell phones it is easy to get an 1800 or 1300 number that is directed to a mobile. You should also have email addresses that use the business URL and not use Hotmail or Gmail or any personal email address as a contact point. 

So TRUST is number 1.

You need to provide your contact details on the website and if you do not want to leave your home address (not recommended) then get a Post Office box and provide a postal address. If you have an ABN or ACN or any business registration number always provide it clearly with your contact details and full company or business name.

Safety is made up of a number of issues including look and feel here is a quick summary:

  1. Is there a valid address on the website 
  2. Is there a business name with ABN or ACN 
  3. Are there terms and conditions, refund policy etc 
  4. Privacy policy 
  5. Contact number – business and not personal 
  6. SSL certificate related to the business 
  7. Does it look safe or dodgy 
  8. What is the payment method – do I have to leave credit card details

Visitors do not want to leave to much information so if asked for unreasonable or personal information like date of birth or colour of eyes they will drop out.

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards) are the store owner’s obligation. Consumers are being taught not to buy from websites where it might not be safe regardless of the deal offered. Prominently display the logos for your payment provider like PayPal or eWAY and the credit cards that you accept. Explain the payment options in the shopping basket and offer a contact point for questions.


Try to make the process as easy as possible to see and understand for example, explain the shipping process and costs maybe provide some example costs.

People often want to see the whole price before they buy so will put products in the cart and go through the checkout process to get shipping cost. This is where some small retailers come unstuck as they might have a $5 product with a $20 shipping cost. So shipping method and cost is a key drop out point. You need to look at;

  1. Delivery method 
  2. Delivery timeframe
  3. Delivery and Shipping information
If possible use a trusted source for shipping like for example Australia Post.


The more information that you ask for the higher the basket abandonment rate will be. The visual process through the basket is really important but asking for too much information is not good. If you are dealing with basic consumer goods allow an anonymous checkout as some people are reluctant to register on a website.

Simple and graphic progression steps in the shopping cart

There should be enough information so that buyers can understand the process but there should be an option to contact the retailer, a lot of small retailers often don’t have contact details for afterhours or use a mobile phone (bad idea). It is easy enough to create a mailto link in the shopping basket or a Contact Us link.

Asking visitors to register before buying is a dead end in most cases. Giving the visitor an option to register before or after the sale can lead to better results. Some buyers just want to be anonymous with minimal information left behind.


Offer human contact and service. Small businesses cannot always do that but basically people trust people more than websites especially if they have never visited before. Offer a free-call (1800) number very low cost for high returns. Stuff like live chat in the basket and call back numbers can persuade browsers to be buyers. After the sale provide fast and efficient delivery and service and they will be back more often.


Offer promotions like free shipping or discount these can be offered as part of the checkout process and also offer services like gift wrapping or gift cards, again free if possible.

Consider offers like “Free Shipping”, “Free Gifts”, “2 for 1”, discounts are not always the best way to a conversion.

What is the right conversion rate?

This really will vary greatly from business to business; and from product type to product type. Some large retailers might have conversion rates of less than 1% and be very happy. While some online only retailers would expect 25% or more.

First you need to measure, or assess, your current conversion rate and then set a target for improvement. It will depend a great deal on the number of visitors you get to your store and also how you promote the store.

You also need to access the rate at which visitors start shopping baskets vs the completion rate so you will in fact need to look at multiple metrics.
The next challenge is to improve the value in the shopping basket through cross-sell and up-sell but that is a whole new discussion.

The web analytics to track the visitor progress and conversions are very important and you can get free services like Google or pay for a service. But you need to have analytics and reporting in order to understand what is actually happening.

Without the right information I have seen website basket conversion rates increase but the actual value of sales decrease.

Most retailers can expect a 10%+ conversion rate but many have over 25% and some with over 50%. Why so high?  Because they are known brands and have large repeat customers who “TRUST” their service. Getting the service message across is hard work.

What more can you do?

Search, Browse and Find

This is the key to success. Categorisation of your products on the website is really important and you must consider having your products listed in multiple categories where appropriate. User could navigate to product using search or browse method therefore both of them should be given equal importance. Search is a simpler method to find the desired product therefore usage is high, one should be very careful about search result page.

Content is king

Always have enough content to engage the browser. The detail on product page should include key benefits, price, discount (if any), visual of product maybe users' rating and reviews. Provide what make sense in your context.
Always offer an alternative like “add to wish list” or “recommend this product”.  You should try to get an outcome from every visitor.

Up-sell and Cross-sell

Recommending related product helps in up-selling and increasing the total order value.You should always consider selling accessories and option both in the product detail page and in the basket. However be careful as cross-sell or up-sell in the basket can cause abandonment as the buyer may be confused or see a high cost associated with accessories. Remember the old saying "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".

Targeted Information

Targeted information is very important to get the first level of gratification because users do not read each and every line. Pages on websites are generally skimmed top to bottom and left to right. So place important sales information in viewable positions that do not need the browser to scroll. Every click made by browser is a step towards final conversion.

Keep language jargon free. Simple words make it easier to catch users' attention.

FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

It is very good to be able to offer answers to customers’ questions. One of the reasons that a visitor will exit without buying could simply be that they have a question. So give the visitors to your store the chance to answer that question for them by providing simple and easy to find FAQs. The key areas that questions arise will vary from store to store but here are some suggestions:

•    Shipping and delivery types and periods
•    Payment methods and questions
•    Sizes and colours
•    Returns and Refunds
•    Breakages and product faults
•    Non-delivery
•    How to use
•    Contents or ingredients
•    Environmental

User Stories and Testimonials

Visitors will often be persuaded to buy if they can get a reference of referral from another customer who has already bought. The easiest way to provide this is to add some customer testimonials to your website.

Ask real customers if they would mind you show their comments or stories on your website and to make it easy for them even suggest some works or ideas.