eCommerce User Experience: What You Need to Know

Having a user-friendly site is more important to running a successful eCommerce business than ever.  More and more, customers are turning to online shopping: On Cyber Monday of 2018, shoppers spent a record $7.8 billion, an increase of 19.7% over the previous year.  Of those sales, $2 billion came from smartphones.

With so many different online shopping options, it can be more difficult to retain customers’ attention.  Additionally, it can be difficult to  convert site visits to sales.  Studies have found that on average, eCommerce sites lose 75% of sales to customers abandoning their carts midway through shopping.  Customers have an increasing variety of options for places to conduct their online shopping.  Their experiences on other sites can raise their expectations for what the average eCommerce site should offer.

This growth, combined with increasing demand from customers for user-friendly websites, means that it is critical to optimize your eCommerce site for user experience.  Here, we catalog some of the most important insights from cutting-edge research on what users want.  We also supply the information on how to improve user experience for eCommerce sites.

Changes in User Expectations

Image via Flickr by Rawpixel Ltd

Before reviewing how to maximize user experience, it is important to understand how user expectations have changed in recent years.  According to a 2018 study, user expectations have changed dramatically.  Here are the key takeaways:

  • Convenience: Users expect to be able to do their shopping on their terms regardless of  device, time or location.  Customers increasingly expect the experience of shopping online and in person to blend in a seamless way.  They want the ability to buy online, pick up in store and easy in-person returns readily available.  Shoppers may want to pick up their item in person so they do not have to wait for it to ship. However, they may also want to avoid needless trips to the store.  Additionally, voice-activated devices like iPhone’s Siri and Amazon Alexa are transforming the ways that customers use the internet, making access more convenient than ever.  This is likely to have a dramatic effect in the eCommerce world.
  • Speed: Increasing convenience of use across the internet has made users crave speed more than ever.  Online shopping used to entail waiting up to a week or more for a product to ship.  Now, instant shipping offered by many of the largest eCommerce companies, in addition to available pickup locations, have led to an expectation of immediacy from many clients.  Sites that load faster and are easily navigable, making browsing and checkout faster, are more likely to increase their revenue.  A fast, seamless experience is now the norm. Therefore, sites that fall below this threshold are likely to suffer in terms of their sales.
  • Security: With all of the news about cybersecurity, data breaches, and online privacy, customers are now more concerned than ever about data safety.  Shoppers want assurance that an eCommerce site has security measures in place to protect their data.  They are less likely to return to a site that lacks these types of assurances.
  • Flexibility: Online shoppers increasingly expect flexibility in their experience with a product.  Flexible return policies are now the norm rather than the exception.  Major eCommerce businesses offer a huge variety of payment methods, as well as options for shipping and recurring orders.  Additionally, customers now expect not just quick, helpful, and friendly customer service options. They are also looking for a variety of ways to connect with customer service, from online chats to click-to-call.

Now that we have reviewed customer expectations, we turn to how to improve user experience.

Optimize for Mobile Use

As the sales data from Cyber Monday 2018 suggests, mobile sales make up an increasing proportion of total online sales.  Mobile eCommerce is poised to grow even larger over the next few years.  Yet many eCommerce businesses are finding it harder to drive sales on mobile sites.  Customers quickly grow frustrated with mobile sites that are slow to load or difficult to navigate. This results in more abandoned carts.  Optimizing for mobile is, therefore, an important way to improve user experience.

A mobile-friendly site should display accurately on mobile devices as well as desktop and laptop computers.  Resized and compressed images, an easily accessible menu, and larger navigation buttons are key to building a more responsive mobile site design.  Placing calls-to-action (CTAs) at the top of the screen helps to maximize visibility on mobile devices.

The eCommerce platform Magento offers a number of extensions that can help optimize your site for mobile devices, from extensions that reduce and compress images to extensions that automatically make an eCommerce site OS compatible.

Offer a Variety of Customer Service Options

Customers want access to personalized customer service 24 hours a day through a variety of options.  Poor customer service, from a slow response time to an unfriendly demeanor, can drive away new and returning customers alike.  Customer service should be available for every step of the sales process, from browsing to checkout and follow-up.

Customers are more likely to return to a brand that is able to efficiently resolve issues in a friendly manner.  They are also more likely to recommend that brand.  Effective customer service, therefore, drives immediate sales while also building brand reputation.  It also helps in developing a loyal customer base who will return again and again.

Customers’ expectation of flexibility also means that they expect to be able to get quick access to customer support in a variety of ways.  For example, customers might want to use a chatbot to get quick answers to simple questions. However, they may prefer to speak to a customer support representative by phone for a more complex issue.

Magento offers a number of customer support extensions, including chatbots, email support, phone support, and more,  This allows your eCommerce site to offer many options for accessing hassle-free customer support.

Streamline the Checkout Process

An overly complicated checkout process is a major driver of abandoned carts.  Customers no longer have the time or patience for a multi-step checkout process.  This is especially true when they are using hand-held devices to shop.  Customers are also more likely to abandon their carts if they get confused or frustrated during the checkout process, which is far more likely when a site’s checkout process is complicated.

Streamlining the checkout process is, therefore, a relatively simple yet effective way to drive conversions.  Offering guest login options as well as sign-ins for returning customers makes the checkout process more user-friendly.  Website copy throughout the checkout process should be concise, clear, and straightforward.  Save the quirky language for your social media campaigns or email marketing.

The precise steps to make a purchase, from entering payment information to the final review, should be clearly numbered and outlined, ideally at the top of the page in a progress bar, so a customer knows precisely how many steps remain before the purchase is finalized.  Make sure that key buttons are large, eye-catching, and simple in terms of design to easily draw attention.

Offering a variety of payment options can also streamline the checkout process.  With a large variety of payment platforms available, from credit card payment to PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and more, customers increasingly expect to have the option to choose from a set of payment options.  Additionally, providing a final page with clearly stated costs, including taxes and shipping, for customers to review before placing their final order increases transparency.  This makes site visitors more comfortable.

Finally, reducing the number of pages or clicks that customers need to make will help speed them through the checkout process.  This will result in  converting more sales.  One-click ordering tools, auto-fill payment details, and similar features effectively streamline the checkout process.

Implement and Highlight Data Security Measures

With security breaches, hacking, and cybertheft in the headlines, customers have become increasingly concerned about data privacy. To meet customers’ expectations for online security and to help keep your business safe from cybercrime, layer your eCommerce security systems.  Your platform should have multiple, overlapping measures in place to protect login fields, search tools, and contact forms, as well as payment information and other customer data.

It is also important to conduct frequent PCI scans and updates to patch potential vulnerabilities and ward off new threats.  Ideally, your site should have automatic updates built in to prevent the opening of new sources of vulnerability to malware and viruses.

To protect user login information from hackers using algorithms to generate customer passwords, your site should have a built-in mechanism to require more complex passwords. Features like capitalization or a minimum number of special characters  prevent customers from creating passwords that are common words.

Don’t stop at adding features that protect customer data.  Customers want to know that you have layers of systems in place to protect them.  You can add measures throughout the browsing and checkout process to communicate your concern and commitment to  privacy to your customers.  For example, clearly explain  your site requires customers to create more complex passwords  as a measure to protect their personal information.

Perhaps most importantly, studies of online shopping behavior have found that simply placing a security icon in a prominent spot during the checkout process makes customers significantly more confident and more likely to make a purchase.

Maximize Functionality by Simplifying Navigation

The best-performing eCommerce sites combine functionality and design.  Having appealing images and other visual design elements is important.  However, design is ultimately superfluous if customers can’t navigate your site efficiently.  Increasing customer expectations around convenience and speed make having an intuitive navigation system more important than ever.  Customers who cannot quickly and easily find the content that they are looking for may get frustrated. This can result in them  turning to a competitor.

There are several steps you can take to simplify your eCommerce site’s navigation.  Offer flyout or dropdown menus that are also placed prominently at the top of the page or along the left-hand side (or the right-hand side for sites in languages that read from right to left).  The top level of the navigation menu should be made up of general category labels that are meaningful and easily understood. For example, a site that sells clothing could have “Men,” “Women,” and “Kids” as top-level categories.  These top-level categories should also be a link, in addition to the dropdown menu of sub-categories.

Make sure to include a search bar that draws visual attention and  is placed at the top of the page.  You might also place special sales or other promotional offers in the site’s global navigation.  Using a simple and easy-to-understand label like “Sale” or “Savings” that is available anywhere across the site, with a dropdown menu displaying offers, will make these promotions more easily accessible and will make it simpler for customers to navigate around the site.

Using an available design template is also a good idea.  While it may be tempting to develop a totally unique design, shoppers are used to using sites that follow similar designs and navigation conventions.  Customers will be better able to locate a search bar placed at the top of the page, or a hidden menu on the upper left-hand side of a mobile site because those are common placements across eCommerce sites.  You might also consider providing content, such as a blog or how-to section, that is located in the site’s global navigation.

Creating an Optimization Plan

Online shoppers have higher expectations these days for all aspects of their online shopping experience.  Optimizing your eCommerce site with user experience in mind will help to drive conversions.  It will also increase your loyal customer base, and build your brand.  Improving user experience helps to drive short-term sales while also growing your business over time.

Let IronPlane’s experts help you maximize your eCommerce site to improve user experience.  IronPlane is a US-based, Certified Magento full service agency, offering everything from custom modules and extensions to speed optimization on the Magento platform.  Schedule an appointment with IronPlane to get a free quote today.

Is your site as user friendly as it could be?  Make sure to check out these tips to be sure you are creating the best possible experience for your visitors.  #eCommerce #webdevelopment #webdev #business #marketing