7 ways to enhance your eCommerce site today

By Will Morris, Managing Partner at Alchemy Digital

Whether you’re entering the world of eCommerce for the first time or simply maturing your existing offering, you probably already know that it is a competitive market driven by user experience. Frictionless, seamless, multichannel user journeys are essential in eCommerce – whether you’re on a website or using a mobile site or app – but in a world where online shopping is still growing, these attributes are equally as important as content, engaging your audience, and personalisation.

The latest eCommerce figures from the Office of National Statistics report that online accounts for 15.6% of all retail spending, with the Online Centre for Retail Research expecting a 14.2% growth rate in 2017. If your site is to compete with everyone else in your market, the Amazons of this world, as well as stand out among the rapidly growing eCommerce industry as a whole, there are a number of important basics and trends to consider that could tip your brand over the edge into success.

Ditch the template

If you’re a startup or new e-trader, or simply testing the waters with eCommerce, fill your boots. Template websites and drag-and-drop eCommerce platforms such as Wix and Square Space are great for newbies and serve a specific purpose for those looking for an easy to use and effective piece of web estate. But if your goal is rapid growth and innovation – stop right there. Successful business growth in eCommerce and in fact, for any company deploying a digital presence, was never achieved with pre-configured protocols designed to be one-size-fits-all. Like any bargain – “buy cheap, buy twice”. You’ll soon find the website no longer suits your needs. Pip potential failure to the post by ensuring your site can scale and grow with you as well as become a platform for enablement in adopting new technologies to gain a competitive edge. And if you’re a new retailer, figure out the opportunity cost of getting to market faster with a template job versus investing in development of a bespoke digital strategy and custom professional eCommerce site.

Adopt a Smart Digital Strategy

As a digital expert, I see so many companies with eCommerce sites that aren’t following a coherent digital strategy and instead are pandering to the brand and are blind to its flaws. Instead, it is crucial to understand how the design is going to solve your business challenges first, before fussing about how beautiful it is. A Smart Digital Strategy starts with three things: understanding the customer or user, understanding what they want from your business, and finally understanding how best to sell your products to that customer. Understanding your user (and yes, it’s as simple as making sure you’ve done your research instead of jumping to the easy target market) can save you so much time and will justify any further steps. You must also know why people buy from you and why they trust your brand. Furthermore, you want to understand their behaviour with your company: what do they do on your site? Do they want to be enriched and entertained? Does this align with your vision for the user journey? Don’t block your users – make sure the experience is a valuable one and they reach their goals as much as you reach yours. Finally, (and this is the hard bit for a lot of eCommerce site owners), you must be brutal with your company and brand. Challenge your brand; strip it back and find your hidden assets. It could very well expose a valuable selling point you didn’t know you had.

Remember, great design begets beauty. I promise that once the right design is in place, that slick, forward-thinking, attention-grabbing, on-brand aesthetic will shine right through.

Make it mobile

It’s no secret that mobile devices are taking over eCommerce so much so they’re now purported to generate more than half of online retail sales (excluding food). If you feel that simply mobile optimising your regular site and only just making sure it fits various gadget screen sizes is enough, at least it’s something – but it won’t last you. If a user finds your mobile site too fiddly or non-intuitive to use, then you’ll soon be welcoming incomplete checkouts, abandoned baskets and frustrated customers. Today, mobile sites must be responsive and aligned ergonomically with the user. They must offer the same service as your full site, and not hide things in menus – but at the same time, remove the ‘busyness’ of a regular website. No mean feat, but achievable.

Oh, and by the way – ditch the app, too. The standard mobile app is expensive, clunky and dying a death. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are quickly becoming the MP3 to the App Store’s compact disc, reaping the benefits of native apps (such as accessing software and features of the phone, and a fast and responsive performance) and introducing a host of benefits perfect for those whose apps aren’t performing, or are wanting to enter the app world.

Don’t send the user on an egg hunt

“Egg-hunt navigation” is industry slang for websites with an endless stream of sub-navigation, often attributed to poor user interface design, leading to a pretty rubbish user experience. For eCommerce sites, it is a type of navigation frustrating to both those looking for something in particular, and those wanting to browse and be inspired. It’s important that your eCommerce site does not serve customers with too much information to take in, and instead limits it to what really matters to improve the user journey. Egg-hunt navigation is often a side effect of hiring a designer that designs based on beauty rather than a functional business-goal-smashing strategy. Content should effectively blend together, enabling users to jump between relevant sections of the site, and easily identify the next steps they can take – this will help improve conversion rates and reduce abandoned baskets.

Content is king

The role that content plays in your digital strategy is increasingly important. If you’re selling products online, the focus must be on a rich, multi-media approach with plenty of interesting and engaging copy relating to the item. One of the biggest issues with selling goods online is that unless you offer an incentive for customers to shop online instead of visiting a bricks and mortar store to physically see the item, customers will change their minds more often once the parcel’s dropped at the door. Returns are an on-going issue for eCommerce, but this can be reduced with good, relevant content. Content is also important if you do sell products in physical stores but don’t offer an eCommerce option – Alchemy Digital’s work with the soft drinks brand Zeo is a good example. Zeo doesn’t sell its drinks online but it does have an incredibly rich, experience-driven website full of recipes, lifestyle advice and articles and more engaging content, because it knows its market.

Today’s consumers are driving their own experiences and choosing their user journeys, make sure that you empower this behaviour with your eCommerce site.

Don’t fall into the Millennial trap

It’s so easy today to fall into the misguided ruse of only targeting so-called “Millennials” – my advice is just don’t do it. Unless you’ve progressed through the planning stages of a Smart Digital Strategy, and your target audience is exactly those people born between 1980 and 2000, you probably have a case. But “Millennials” as a group is badly designed; they’re not unique from previous younger generations, and many ways act just the same way their parents did and their parents before them. Today, we see people that simply buy what suits them and not what’s marketed to them. Don’t market to lackadaisical, pre-determined, roughly outlined customer segments, and instead understand your customer as part of a Smart Digital Strategy and respond to their nuances. Today’s consumers are driving their own experiences and choosing their user journeys, make sure that you empower this behaviour with your eCommerce site.

Remove checkout and fulfilment friction

The key to fewer abandoned baskets is more than just offering free delivery, it is about how easy it is for a customer/user to do business with you. Registering for an account, manually typing out billing and delivery address information, slow page load times, website crashes at checkout during sale periods and having to jump through multiple hoops (and forms) before actually completing a purchase all have the potential to frustrate and irritate the customer, and force them to go elsewhere. Small changes, such as fast and accurate address capture via the minimum of keystrokes, can go a long way into making the customer perceive a seamlessness to the checkout, and reduce the risk of failed deliveries. Offering customers choice of delivery, including Click and Collect options and convenient pick-up locations via parcel network partnerships is regularly expected by users.