The Characteristics of a Successful Ecommerce Website

As one of the most complicated and interactive types of sites, a web store can be a daunting task for the uninitiated. Even if you’ve been working in web design for years, you might not know where to start. So once you’ve made decisions on the large-scale aspects, like a solid wireframe and clear conversion tunnel, take note of these necessary concepts that can help your site to greater success:

Choose a Niche that Suits You

You can find anything and everything on the web, so what’s to stop someone from shopping exclusively on big-box retail sites, and instead come to you? It’s important to provide a user experience that makes your customers respect your expertise. If you project a knowledgeable and dependable impression, customers will fell that it’s worth the extra effort they make to shop with you. Identify what makes your ecommerce site stand out, and highlight those attributes in your design.

Kiki and Bree

For example, Kiki & Bree focuses exclusively on baby clothing made for twins. While you could probably find similar products at a big-box store, this site’s design and descriptions give you the sense that their products are carefully curated and specially crafted in a way that you might not find anywhere else.

Adhere to Conventional Navigation Elements

An ecommerce site is one of the most no-nonsense types of web design; form definitely follows function in this context. Some rules that can be broken in other types of sites (like a portfolio or a blog) should be strictly adhered to so as to minimize user confusion and frustration. Stick with conventions such as:

  • A navigation list on either the left or the top of the page.
  • A clearly identifiable search bar.
  • A footer with easily-accessed contact information.
  • A system of breadcrumbs along the top of the page.
  • Consistent interactive elements, such as buttons that look and function alike.

Madsen Bikes

Of course, these rules don’t mean that you can’t have any creative freedom whatsoever; Madsen Cycles has horizontal navigation along the top, but putting the links on two lines and giving them subtle styling adds interest. All the rollovers and important buttons on the page are consistently orange, but they don’t look repetitive or static.

Product Detail Pages Are Where People Focus

After the exhaustive effort that goes into creating an effective and compelling homepage, some people forget that where customers really focus their attention is on the product detail pages. There are a lot of elements that make these pages a pleasurable and informative interactive experience for users, such as large images from a variety of angles and clearly categorized information.

Ann Taylor

Ann Taylor gets it right by devoting most of the page’s space to high-quality images of the product, and giving plenty of extra information. You can find specifics such as the length of the dress for different sizing and details about the type of fabric. But these elements don’t distract from the more important, universal information, like the cost or the user rating.

Use the Platform that Works For Your Business

Many beginners to the ecommerce world start by using WordPress to create the first iteration of their store. It’s an especially helpful launch point because so many others have gone before; there are plenty of flexible and powerful themes you can adapt to suit your needs, and a myriad of plugins that you can add for anything your theme is missing.

It’s important to be aware of when you need to look into a more comprehensive backend solution down the line. Etsy is a great place to start for folks looking to try running an online store. If you find that you’re in need of more advanced solutions, and you’re capable of investing more into driving sales and traffic to your own domain, consider upgrading to something like Amazon’s ecommerce platform, Shopify, or Highwire. After that, the next step is likely developing your own CMS, which should certainly be left for the most technical of web developers. The best design and functionality plans can be derailed by a faulty service, so a solid platform is arguably the most important element to monitor.

The best small ecommerce sites find a way to express a unique personality, care, and craftsmanship in their site, while still retaining all the sophisticated functionality that larger names have to offer. Take advantage of all the resources on offer, and you’ll find that you have everything you need to build a great site.

About the Author:

Rob Toledo loves CSS3, no longer supports IE7 or lower and still prefers Firefox over Chrome, despite pressures from his management to switch. He can be reached on Twitter @stentontoledo

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8 Responses

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  • Anna, January 4, 2013

    Good tip about ecommerce sites navigation. If you want people to make a purchase you shouldn’t complicate this project :)

  • Martin, January 4, 2013

    Nice article Rob. You chose some great examples of how it should look like.
    Adding you to my RSS.


  • Jonas, January 5, 2013

    Hi Rob!

    I wonder why you don’t mention Magento in the last section? I think that is the ultimate compromise between pre-built and custom CMS. As I understand it, many large corporations as well smaller businesses use it as their main platform.

  • Daniel Alcorne, January 6, 2013

    Nice article. Pretty much covered every point I can think of. Enjoyed it… Thanks!

  • Rob Toledo, January 7, 2013

    Glad you like it! — Always on the lookout for high quality ecomm design too if you have any specific ones you’d recommend as inspiration

  • Maneet Puri, January 8, 2013

    Good one Rob! Technology no doubt has to be the best tested and also the latest when it comes to Ecommerce. Somehow, I also feel the need of transparency that frees an individual from the burden of signing up on the website before shopping is also the key. Following the conventional trend is absolutely fine but innovation can surely lead to new trends and till the time they ease the burden of a visitor, it’s acceptable!

  • Brandon, January 22, 2013

    I’ve built a few small ecommerce websites, and realized dedicated software is way more functional and easier than trying to modify something like a wordpress plugin. Just use the right tool for the right job.

  • Caleb Serna, May 16, 2013

    Improving the navigational elements on a recent ecommerce site made a big difference in conversions.