U-C WEBS' founder Nardo KuitertBy Nardo Kuitert, U-C WEBS
[Published in The Wellington Advertiser, October 2012 for the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce]

I recently reviewed two e-commerce websites for usability improvements, and thought you might be interested in some tips on how to improve the results of your webshop as well. With e-commerce websites I mean websites that allow you to buy something online, using your credit card or PayPal account.

Good usability is important because it will help to improve website conversions. Usability guidelines for e-commerce websites are very similar to those of regular websites, but there are a few specific recommendations because of the unique functionality of a webshop.

A very common problem with e-commerce sites is the lack of information. People cannot touch, smell or taste the product so the site owner should create a virtual experience on the website that will make people want the product. This means: enough information in the descriptions, enough photos (of sufficient size), possibly complemented with videos and customer reviews. Having readable text with paragraphs, sub-headers, bulleted lists and no spelling mistakes may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised how many websites are missing the boat in this department.

Many e-commerce websites are very large. So make sure that people can find what they are looking for, fast. Use breadcrumb trails so people can easily move up one or more levels in the site’s hierarchy. It also gives visitors a quick glimpse at the site’s structure, which makes them feel in control over their own experience. A solid onsite search engine can do wonders for your success, and having clear error messages can also make or break a sale. Not knowing why you are doing something wrong is a sure way to frustrate a visitor and driving him or her away.

Providing a first class first impression to first-time customers is key, as research has shown that once people like a certain store they will come back again – and spend more money than they would for a store that they found in the search engines.

It is recommended to build a relationship with these new contacts by sending out helpful newsletters, possibly with tips and coupons. Aggressive attempts to get people to sign up for a site will probably backfire, though. If you do manage to entice them to sign up, let them use their email address as their login name – as it will be easier to remember for most people.

Finally: use proper contact information. Make it easy for website visitors to call (mention time zones!) or email you. Don’t hide behind forms! Use a virtual address if you don’t want to use your home address on your site; the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce for instance offers a virtual mailbox service so you can use their street address.

Nardo Kuitert is an Internet Consultant with Fergus Website Development and Optimization firm U-C WEBS (www.u-cwebs.com). U-C WEBS also offers Internet advertising opportunities on www.ferguspages.com. (link opens in a new window). Nardo has written this column on behalf of the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce since 2006.

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