Secure eBusiness Solutions

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

What Successful Online Stores Do Right

Success in online selling is a combination of factors that create the optimal buying environment.

There are four key elements and each is important to be successful. The most attractive design, on its own, will not make a successful store.
  • User-experience, interaction and design
  • Trust and security
  • Marketing, sales and the unique selling proposition
  • Customer service and support

So you need to apply equal consideration and effort to each of the four pillars supporting your store. In this Success Tip we are going to look at User Experience, Interaction and Design.

Turning browsers into buyers:

Many online merchants believe that the price in eCommerce is the most important thing for a purchasing decision. You also need to establish your “unique selling proposition” but that is a whole other discussion. Studies show that the price is indeed important, but user-friendliness and ease of use of the store is a decisive factor in success. Turning visitors into customers is the purpose of your online store and you only have a few seconds to make that critical connection. You should make it as simple and pleasant as possible for your customers to get information in your store and to find and order products.
It is true that lots of online stores look the same and new online business owners often want their store to be different. But be careful as visitors to your online store do expect to be able to find their way around easily and sometimes “funky” can translate to “confusing”.

Your home page is like your shop window in the “bricks and mortar” world. So you need to be able to show off some of your best products or services. Home pages that are full of text might be helpful to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) but you have to balance keyword rich content and good user experience. If you look at a few successful online stores you are likely to see some similarities in structure. Here is some idea of how the typical online store might be organised:

Attractive and sales-promoting design

Basically, the same rules that apply to a conventional store apply to the design of a virtual store: The goods offered should be attractive and induce shoppers to buy. But the product presentation and the store design should not distract from the actual purpose, selling. Via design and layout it is important to impart a pleasant and secure shopping feeling and induce the visitor to buy. It is essential during implementation to take into account some internet-specific peculiarities:
  • Unlike selling in a brick and mortar store, your customer cannot test or try out the product or check the material. For this reason, you should make his buying decision easier with meaningful, but not overly long, product descriptions and high-quality and free-form product images. Detailed images of the product or individual product attributes facilitate the choice and buying decision of the potential customer. Providing photos of the product from multiple angles and showing the product in use can help the buyer make a decision.
  • The customer should be guided from the product presentation/information quickly and with as few detours as possible to the actual purchase. Do not distract the customer from shopping with meaningless design elements or information not related to buying. Give him the opportunity of placing the selected product directly into his basket and then getting to the basket without having to take a roundabout route.
  • Broadband is indeed on the advance, but some visitors will still have slower connections and especially in rural or regional areas. Unnecessary gimmicks and large-size images lead to longer page loading times and test the patience of your customers. The graphical elements should not result in an extreme slowdown for images being displayed. Because prolonged waiting increases the readiness of the user to leave the web site. Be careful with the use of Flash introductions or movies as they can have longer loading times and can also be annoying for an online shopper.

How does it look?

A common mistake made by new online store owners is to forget that not everyone has a computer screen just like theirs, or uses the same browser or operating system. The size and shape of the website needs to appear on every computer in a similar way. If you make the website very wide then some visitors may need to scroll left and right. Not good experience. If it is too narrow then you may not be able to layout the website very well.
Website graphics are generally measured in pixels (px) and if you aim for a width of 900px – 1000px you can expect it to be viewable correctly by the majority of visitors while making best use of available content space.
There are also different operating systems and web browsers like:
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (multiple versions)
  • FireFox (multiple versions)
  • Chrome
  • Safari
Generally it is the web software or solution that you chose that will enable all these different browsers to work correctly but you need to check. If your website has been custom developed then make it a requirement that it will work in each of the key environments.

Colours and Fonts

Another area that is important when you are building your online store is to use matching colours and standard fonts. There are some fonts that work better online than others for example, Arial, Tahoma and Verdana. Generally these will be consistent across different browser types. Select the colour and font set that you are using for the various elements on the store and be consistent in their use. That means keep the same font, size and colour in different areas and sytles for example the header tags (H1, H2, H3 etc); your web software should allow you to pre-define these for consistency. Creating a professional look is not difficult if you establish some standards and stick to them. In the web colours are referenced in a number of different ways for example RBG (Red, Blue, Green index) or colour number like #FF0000 (common red). Good content management systems will provide tools to help you select colours and matching colours for back grounds, banners, fonts etc. You can see an example below of the colour selector and matching tools in ePages V6.

Images – sizes and shapes

Images on your web shop are very important to allow your visitors to see the products that you are selling. Visitors browsing your store relate poor quality images to poor quality products. So try to start with a good quality digital photograph that is in a large web format so that it can display in a computer screen without resizing or scrolling. You can expect these images to be 200kb – 300kb in size. A common mistake is to have an image of 1MB or more in size and resize it using the HTML code. The image although fitting in a small space is still 1 mb and so may download slowly. Try to make individual images fit for the correct usage. Good content management systems (CMS) often contain tools to automatically resize images as they are uploaded. See the example below from ePages V6 which automatically creates four different sized product images from a single uploaded image:

Of course if you start with the wrong shape image it may never look professional. In general square images with white backgrounds are easier to make look professional. If you have a long image that is rectangular it may be as simple as “cropping” it into a square using an image management tool like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Picture Manager. But if you don’t have those you can even use the picture tools in Microsoft Word (example below) or PowerPoint, then just copy and paste the new image and save it.


What we have covered are some simple ideas that can make your online look and feel more professional. It is not always the very best looking websites that make the most money. You need, of course, also to have products that your customers want to buy. But a professional look and feel can really help you create and maintain good customers. If you can use a web designer or agency to professionally design your website it is great. If you cannot afford that then just follow some simple steps; keep to a standard layout, use good images, stick to standard and matching colours and; use common fonts, colours and sizes for H1, H2, H3 and content.
Ask your friends to take a look at your website and give you their feedback about look and feel as well as how easy it is to navigate. Remember that your website has to work for your customers first so accept any feedback positively.

ePages Version 6 is the latest release of the very popular ePages eCommerce Software. It has many advanced features to help create great online stores. You can try it for free for 30 days at


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