Ecommerce Web Design - July 2003

Ecommerce web design is about anticipating your visitors needs.

If visitors encounter difficulties on your site or lack enough information to buy you will lose a sale.

You as a site owner are responsible for anticipating the difficulties visitors will encounter as they negotiate your site.

The key here is details. You should focus on the intricacies of the buying process in order to figure out the specific problems visitors face and how to address them.

Of course, depending on your site and your target audience, the questions you need to address will vary. Here is a list of 26 often-asked questions to get you started:

1. How long will it take to ship my products? Do you offer rush delivery?
These questions are important for visitors who must have a product in a hurry.

2. How much are shipping, tax, etc. going to cost?
All sites have to answer this question eventually, but sometimes they don't do it soon enough. Avoid making visitors wait until the very end of the checkout process before they find out the various charges to be added to their order.

3. How do I find more products like this?
Often, visitors will locate a product that's not quite what they wanted, and they need help finding a related product that would better fit their needs.

4. What all does this product or service include?
Make sure visitors are clear on exactly what they'll be getting.

5. How big is this item?
Because visitors can't actually see or touch your products online, they are often limited in their perceptions of size. Make sure you give dimensions. Also, make sure that your photos are as accurate as possible (show items in context), because pictures can sometimes give a misleading impression of size, even if you provide the actual dimensions.

6. What materials or ingredients is this item made from?

7. Can you give me more details about this product?
Always try to give as many details as possible about exactly what visitors are purchasing. If you're going to err on one side or the other, err in giving too many details. Remember, the web is a digital medium, so it limits visitors' ability to use their senses of touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. So even if you provide a picture, write an information-packed description. Also, rather than giving just dry details, use your descriptions to make the product seem appealing. Visitors want reassurance that the product is actually going to be satisfying.

8. Can I see a bigger picture?
On many sites, the photos are too small and visitors can't get a good look at the product. Give the option to enlarge all product photos. From personal experience, I know this is a huge factor for visitors in deciding whether or not to buy a product where appearance is important.

9. Can I see more pictures?
Depending on the type of products you offer, try to provide additional photos. It's very helpful to see an item from different angles or in different colors.

10. How do I use this feature?
Don't overestimate a visitor's ability to figure things out on their own. Even if a feature seems simple to you, they might not understand it. Always provide simple, accessible instructions for anything even remotely challenging.

11. How do I know I'm going to be satisfied?
Offer a guarantee, include testimonials liberally, and write in language that makes visitors feel secure.

12. What if I'm not happy with my purchase?
Make sure your return/refund policy is easily accessible, and avoid making it too complicated or restrictive.

13. Where did I make a mistake?
When visitors fill out forms or are required to input information somewhere, they often neglect an important piece of information or make a mistake in entering it. You should try to anticipate as many of these simple mistakes as possible and design your site to minimize their occurence. Nevertheless, recognize that there will be times when visitors still make mistakes. In this case, you need to provide simple, specific, and relevant error messages. Tell them exactly where they made the mistake and what they can do to fix it. If you aren't specific, they may not be able to figure out what they did wrong.

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14. How do I find the information you are asking for?
Sometimes, you will have to ask visitors for information for which they don't immediately know the answer. For example, if they are looking for replacement parts for a widget, you may have to ask what model of widget they own. If you need to ask for such details, make sure you tell visitors where they can get the answers.

15. How do I navigate around this shopping cart?
Once visitors arrive at the "View Cart" page, they may want to go in a variety of different directions. They may want to continue shopping, edit a quantity, remove an item, or checkout. On many sites, it's confusing to figure out how to perform any of these functions. Concentrate on making these options as intuitive and obvious as possible.

16. I don't remember my password!
Most sites are fairly good with supplying quick help for lost passwords, usernames, and other critical info, but it doesn't hurt to offer a reminder: Make sure you provide a quick way for visitors to retrieve forgotten info.

17. I have questions that aren't answered here--what do I do?
Although you should try to provide answers to as many questions as possible, some visitors are bound to have a question you haven't answered. Make sure they have an easy way to get answers. Provide a phone number, a live help feature, or a customer service email address. Make sure contact and help info is always easily accessible--don't make visitors hunt for it!

18. I don't understand this term or concept--can you explain?
Often when you try to describe a concept, process, or feature, visitors won't understand what you mean, particularly if your explanation requires technical details. They may lack adequate background knowledge or they may not know the jargon. Provide links to additional explanations and definitions. (Yes, this info can usually be relegated to a separate page.)

19. How do I find a solution to match my problem?
Sometimes, visitors know the specific problem they have, but they need help finding the particular solution that will meet their needs. Make sure you help them match their need to one of your products or services. You can't always expect them to do this on their own.

20. What's different about your product or service that's different from others on the market?
You must define what is unique about what you offer as opposed to your competitors' offerings. If you don't make the distinctions clear, your visitors will have no compelling reason to purchase from you.

21. How do I get the most out of this product?
Provide directions on how to use your services and get the maximum benefit from them. Offer a list of tips or ideas on how to best use your product, care for it, and make sure it lasts as long as possible.

22. I want to search for something specific--how do I do it?
If possible and relevant, provide both a simple search feature as well as options for an advanced search. Simple search boxes should ordinarily appear at the top of every page on your site, but you should provide links to an advanced search page in case a visitor wants to enter a more detailed query. Try to let visitors narrow down their search in as many ways as possible.

23. I know I need to buy a widget, but I don't know anything about how to choose the right widget!
Visitors often need to be educated about the genre of products they are considering before they can actually make the decision to purchase one. To answer these needs, provide guides or editorial content. This is particularly important for products or services of a technical nature, such as cameras, computers, or merchant accounts.

24. How do these two products compare?
Visitors sometimes struggle in comparing two products because they can't visualize the differences. In this case, provide comparison charts or graphs to illustrate the similarities and differences between two or more products.

25. Can I see this product or service in action?
Whenever possible, show a demo of how your product or service works. It can be something interactive, or it can be as simple as just describing (perhaps with pictures) how the product is used, step by step.

26. Can you help me justify this purchase?
Sometimes visitors may want to buy something from you, but they need help justifying it. They may not even consciously recognize this need, but you need to address it anyway. Make it abundantly clear how the purchase can be justified.

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