Navigational aids

How do I present my product data cleanly and make my e-commerce site easy to navigate?

If you want to grab and hold a new visitor on your e-commerce Web site, the best weapon you can have in your arsenal is a professional design. After all, your site could be a customer’s first exposure to your company. If the design appears cheap, haphazard or unprofessional it’s natural for people to assume you’re not professional either.

One of the most basic and damaging problems for a site to have is spelling errors. It’s an immediate credibility killer. Using a range of different fonts is a bad idea too. Keep the information, descriptions and everything else in the same font. It’s easier to read and uniformity works best if you want to promote a clean and ordered look.

Simplicity sells

Keep in mind that when a customer comes to your site he doesn’t want to read a small pamphlet of instructions on how to find what he’s looking for. The site should be easy to navigate, and everything a user wants should be right in front of his/her eyes. Make it as simple as it can be.

If you have textual information that needs to be displayed, try to stick with bullet points. People can read them more quickly; they will simply pick out the key words that are important to them. Sure, some people browsing your site will want to know something about your company, but everybody knows that they can likely find more information in the “About Us” section.

Putting the cart before the client

The next thing you can do to keep customers happy is to pick a good shopping cart design. You want something that is flexible and lets users to do what they need to do easily and quickly.

Avoid lower-end shopping carts that don’t allow for multi-level logins. You will need this feature if you want to let your dealers buy from you, since, when they log in, they must be able to see their own prices. It’s a little bit more expensive, but if you have dealers, partners or wholesale customers buying from you electronically you may not be able to get by without it.

A lot of companies sell or give away gift certificates or email coupons out for use as marketing tools. These are fine ideas, but remember that they should be randomly serialized. Otherwise, it’s too easy for someone to guess what the next number’s going to be and get a discount they don’t deserve.

Checkout checklist

Another element that’s important to get right on an e-commerce site is the checkout process. Many of today’s shopping carts force users to fill out information on four or five different pages before reaching checkout. And many of them insist that a user create an account and log in before he/she can purchase anything. These sites frustrate and lose a lot of potential buyers before checkout can occur. Why not get everything done in just one page? All the information can be collected, including the client’s name, address and credit card number. When the client fills out the page, the site can automatically take the information, create an account and email the user a password.

Getting the picture

When it comes to presentation, sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000 words. Boring site visitors with lengthy product descriptions when a few pictures can get the job done is pointless.

And clearly, pictures that are jagged on the edges or otherwise poor in quality hurt your site’s aesthetics. They don’t look professional. You can’t expect someone to provide you with credit card information when what they see on your site makes them nervous that you might not be around tomorrow.

All of the shopping carts I know have a method to let you browse your computer, select images and upload them to your Web site. A lot of shopping carts use re-sized images, which provide poor quality thumbnail images. One way to avoid this is to use Adobe Photoshop to create different-sized images and upload them. But this is a lot of extra work. The best way by far is to use imaging software, which will take the larger image and create distortion-free thumbnail images from it – on the fly.

Obviously images are important. If they don’t look good as thumbnails, where’s the incentive to click on them for larger images? People assume they will look just as bad.

Hide and seek

There’s one very important aspect left: it’s marketing. Too often firms design great e-commerce sites, get them up and running, pay for them – then don’t properly market them.

If your site comes up in a search engine query at number 4.281, I guarantee that no one is going to find it. You’ve got to be on the first page of the search results. Ninety-nine per cent of the sites on the Internet are not optimized for search engines.

Make certain that when your site is ready for public consumption, you get someone to help you with search engine optimization. If you don’t, all the work you’ve done to build your e-commerce site will be for naught.

Ken Conrad is manager at, a Toronto Web design firm with experience in custom software applications, custom programming and search engine optimization.

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