Three steps in designing an e-commerce website to drive more sales

E-commerce consultant Chris Vincent shares his tips for building an effective e-commerce site

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Building a successful e-commerce website involves a lot more than making sure it looks good.

Chris Vincent, an e-commerce leader at consultancy Practicology, says websites need to get the balance right between being commercially focussed and showcasing the brand properly.

“It’s not about how it looks and feels, it’s really about how it functions,” he told the audience at a business breakfast supported by NAB as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Vincent, who has consulted to brands including Nike, Rebel Sport, Seafolly and Myer shared three tips for building a successful e-commerce website.

Step one – ask the right questions

Before any web designing or building gets underway, businesses need to answer a few questions to help them refine their online strategy.

The starting point is to consider who their digital audience is, because they might be different from the shoppers who buy their products at a bricks and mortar store. Vincent says don’t ignore customers who are buying online from overseas, because fashion is become increasingly international.

“How are they different from the consumers that we’re dealing with here today and what kind of design are they going to respond to, because it might not be the same kind of design and the same kind of aesthetic that we view as transactional or creative in this country,” he says.

“What do Chinese consumers want and what are they looking for when you’re designing a website and that experience might be dramatically different from the experience that you’re going to put forward for consumers who are going to buy your products here.”

Grant Pearce, editorial director at fashion publication GQ, says businesses need to think globally from the outset.

“One of the most important things about fashion today is that no longer can you think of yourself as a domestic brand,” he told the audience at the same event. “You are a global brand, no matter what you think you are, because someone somewhere in the world will see your product on Facebook, on Twitter, on Weibo, on Baidu.”

Practicology’s Vincent says businesses also need to consider when and where their customers do their online shopping – on the train on the way to work on a tablet, for instance, or at their desks at lunchtime?

Functionality is very important. Businesses should keep up with the latest online payment technologies and find web designers who are flexible enough to help them adopt new payment methods as they emerge.

Step two – get data

Vincent says all design decisions should be fact based.

Collecting data is easier for businesses which are already selling online.

Google analytics is a free tool from the search engine giant which provides a wealth of data about how consumers use a website. “For me this is your crystal ball. This is an area where you’re going to glean a lot of direction for your website on your brand.”

It can reveal, for instance, when consumers are looking at products but not buying them.

Vincent also suggests using heat mapping for websites, which provides a visual map of where users are and aren’t clicking with red for clicks and blue for no clicks. “If you have a ‘Buy Now’ button on your website and the heat map says it’s blue, then there’s some sort of friction or confusion on your website,” he says.

He recommends crazyegg for heat mapping.

Conversion rate optimisation, or CRO, is another useful technique. This involves dividing the website traffic into half and showing each half of the audience a different image. Then you measure which image generates the most interest and sales. “This can help you target the kind of content that your consumers are interested in,” says Vincent.

Startup businesses which don’t have any data about their own online sales can track down on benchmark data for the online performance of their industry and use that to start planning their site design.

Step three – be realistic

Websites can cost anywhere between $5,000 to $500,000 to design and build, and it’s not realistic to expect a cheap website to generate large sales.

“Make sure you’re realistic about your outcomes. If you’ve only got $20,000 to spend, you’re not going to get $2 million or $3 million out of the process,” Vincent says. “You can’t do it on the sniff of an oily rag.”

Vincent says he often comes across clients who won’t bat an eyelid when it comes to spending half a million or a million dollars on a store fitout, but won’t spend anything like that on their online store.

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