You've done your market research. You've indentified your niche. You've even tested the market. Now you're ready to take that next step and develop an e-commerce site. So what features should a good web store front have?
Aesthetics is a given, but appearance is nothing on a site that doesn’t work.
Form follows function.
To figure out what your site should do, you and your web developer should place yourselves in your customer and your e-commerce fulfillment provider's shoes.
What design features will move your customer to click that "Buy Now" button? What streamlines the purchase process? After all, time spent waiting on screens to load or refresh is time that can translate into buyer's remorse. You want the process to be quick, smooth and seamless.
For that, focus less on flashy animations and videos and more on simple, clean displays. Don't be afraid to use negative space ("white space"). You don't need to fill up every last screen inch with text and images— it's overwhelming and off-putting. And negative space can help to guide your customer's eye where you want it to go.
And on the backend of the order, what will help your fulfillment partner to process that order quickly and accurately? it's not enough to get the order. Your customer is counting on you to deliver.
Your site should easily be able to integrate new orders into your fulfillment provider's database. It should be compatible with your provider's shipment tracking and inventory tracking software. And a good design should be easy to scale or customize as new business opportunities or needs present themselves.
Navigability is really important.
The worst customer experiences often start with a struggle to find needed information.
So put your contact button in a highly visible spot right on your home page and make sure your designer includes several routes to customer service throughout your site. There's really nothing worse, from an e-commerce buyer's standpoint, as needing help during a purchase and being forced to leave an order to navigate all the way back to the home page.
To that end, make sure your web designer designs a way for customers to suspend transactions and save forms, so that if an interruption does occur, customer can pick up where they left off.
Live customer service is better than e-mail based customer service.
Most customers don't want to spend time typing out their issue, sending it off and waiting for a reply. Moreover, customers aren't always the best historians; some have difficulty communicating, over an e-mail, their exact difficulty. Having a live customer service option is invaluable and will help your e-business develop a reputation for reliability, caring and responsiveness.
Some third-party fulfillment companies can provide live customer service professional staffing as part of their B2B solution suites. And it’s well worth the investment. Your customers will love the ability to reach a live, knowledgeable person who can help them.
You and your fulfillment provider will love it too— it’s helpful to integrate direct customer contact with the shipping team, so that problems can be identified and addressed quickly. Time you would otherwise spend e-mailing or placing calls back and forth to your fulfillment team will instead be spent fixing the customer's issue and creating a win out of a potential loss.
Test, test, test!
Before your site goes live, be sure that you rigorously test every page, subpage, font, image, link and function. Your site needs to load fast and correctly. Images shouldn't lag behind text, waiting to load. There should be no broken links — either internally or externally. And your site shouldn't have any strange protocol or scripting errors that would prevent it from loading up on your customers' computers.
As your business picks up, you'll inevitably need to tweak, adjust, fix holes in, or customize your site. When you roll out patches or new sections, or when you swap out images and text content as products change, make sure you test them first. The slightest loading delay or misdirect can off a potential customer.
You'll also want to make sure to include plenty of cross-selling opportunities across your site. Like the gum and candy in the grocery checkout lane, including a few accessories or related products with buy buttons on the last screen a customer sees before completing his or her transaction can garner you impulse buys and help you to increase your margins. Just don't make those last-minute pitches obnoxious: no one likes pop-up ads or transaction-slowing image loads.
By keeping these simple suggestions in mind during your design and implementation phases, and by working with an experienced e-commerce fulfillment provider, your business will be able to tap the global reach of the web and see increased revenue streams.