Category: UX advice / Ecommerce guides

Introduction to Designing Ecommerce Websites


I’ve got a new edition of my Amazon-bestselling book Designing Ecommerce Websites out on 27 Feburary, with 66 guidelines for creating great online shops. This is an adapted version of the book’s introduction to explain why it exists and who can benefit from it...

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Ecommerce is massive. There are over 1.66bn online buyers worldwide—a number that is constantly growing. However in Q3 of 2018 the global conversion rate was at 2.42%, lower than it had been for the past year. It shows just how much room there still is to help users become customers. The easiest and most sustainable way to do it is not to slash prices or harass users with promotions but by improving the design to create a smoother shopping experience.

One ecommerce site that I worked on a few years ago illustrates how design is about more than polished graphics. Like most of my projects, before designing I first set up user testing to see what users thought of the site. Their products were great and the visual design and imagery were beautiful. Users were immediately impressed and said how excited they were.

However the search filters were fiddly, the product pages weren’t clearly laid out, and when it came to making a purchase, users got stuck. They weren't sure how products were priced or how to select different options. If they did work this out it then wasn't clear how to change things, so they'd have to start all over again. The initial great impression had totally worn off.

It didn't matter that they had the best-looking products in the world, with sharp type and colour combinations, as users were tripping up on the essential functions. Many times I've seen user experience (or UX) most defined by the frustration of things not working as people expect. Of course there's room to innovate and delight but doing so without the core functions performing only makes things worse.

If your site is a vehicle then this book is here to help you get the engine running smoothly before you move onto the paint job.

Who this book is for

This book has been designed to be accessible to a wide range of people who are involved in selling online. It is applicable to any site that follows the ecommerce funnel, regardless of the sector you work in (more on that funnel below).

This book isn’t just for designers as there are plenty of roles that influence the design process. I've tried to avoid any UX jargon and requiring too much prior knowledge, so the likes of marketers, developers, and startup founders can dip in and out. If there's anything you don't understand, I've put a glossary of the few technical terms at the back.

The advice here is device-agnostic and every guideline can apply to desktop, tablet, and mobile (other than in a couple of places, where it is flagged). With mobile users forming the bulk of ecommerce traffic, modern websites must work well on all sizes of screen.

Why listen to me?

I'm a UX designer with over 10 years experience, more than seven of which have been in the ecommerce space. I've worked with a range of companies selling a variety of products, including three and a half years at one rapid growth travel startup (onefinestay) and four years of freelance consulting.

I’ve taught this subject since 2013 too. I initially developed a lot of the advice in this book through teaching regular workshops at General Assembly in London where it proved to be robust and applicable to a wide variety of people. Over the years since I've written pretty solidly, with weekly blogs on UX design, including popular articles on the likes of the UX Collective, UX Planet and the InVision blog.

I’ve learned the advice here over the course of my career and they are the principles I apply when I’m hired as a UX consultant. I've designed ecommerce sites; I've researched many websites in this space; I've looked at a lot of analytics; I’ve analysed many user tests; and not to mention I've shopped on plenty myself.

Even as someone with experience, I think you should be wary of people offering 'best practice', as there will always be cases where it can be challenged. This is why I refer to this content as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules, but where possible I explain the data or experience that has lead to my conclusions.

How the book is structured

The five chapters in this book are organised to mirror the structure of the vast majority of ecommerce websites. This structure consists of types of page that exist not just due to convention: they exist because there are jobs that a user needs to do on every website. It's known as a funnel because there are always more people entering at the top, tapering off to the few that purchase at the bottom.

Ecommerce experience funnel

I’ve written in more detail about the role of each of the steps in a series of articles on the ecommerce experience funnel, which starts here.

Contents spread from Designing Ecommerce Websites

The book is designed so that you can easily find what you need, with a guideline per webpage element. Overall this book doesn’t aim to be a theoretical tome but a handbook that is easy to pick up and use, so it can answer your challenges as they arise.

Spreads from the ecommerce book

Within the chapters each guideline is presented on a double-page spread, and most of them come with an illustration to help clarify the meaning. These illustrations are in an outline, wireframe style to demonstrate the concept without extraneous detail. The illustration dimensions are similar to mobile screen sizes as most ecommerce traffic now comes from these devices. Some of the guidelines (on the grey pages) are framed as questions and they pose things to think about that may not apply to all sites.

The thing about good UX design advice is that when explained it sounds like common sense. Yet it’s amazing how often I still see sites that don’t do even the most obvious things. I hope you’re already following some of the guidelines here but chances are there are some that will be new.

About the second edition

This is the second edition of this book or, as I like to think of it, the ‘complete’ edition. Being someone who has spent most of their career working in the web, I saw this as a chance to iterate on the original to make a much more polished 2.0 release with more features, covering more topics. If you weren’t sure whether the book was worth buying before, it’s the most comprehensive it can be now and there’s no plans to update it anytime soon.

There are three main ways the book has been improved:

I hope this book will be useful as a beginner’s guide and as a jumping off point to learn in more depth about ecommerce UX design. Please do build on the advice as you learn more, and test the specifics with your own site and audience.

The full book will be available in digital form from this site, and in print from Amazon. If you want a bit more convincing, you can get the top 10 guidelines from the book in my free ebook by popping your email address in below.

Last updated on 19 February 2019

ux / web design / ecommerce / usability / evidence / book / funnel /

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