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The retail industry is in a precarious state. Toys ‘R’ Us, the American retail company specializing in toys and whose pronunciation confounded me in my earliest memories, finally shuttered the last of its 735 stores across the United States this week, with the Australian arm still in administration as I’m typing this. The Australian arm of the UK brand Topshop also went into administration last year as another victim in the list of retail brands that went bust in the past few years.

Payless Shoes, Marcs and David Lawrence, Lover, the news has been filled with news of struggling retailers with growth from brands like Uniqlo and Muji serving as exceptions rather than the rule. The culprit? The unprecedented global growth associated with e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, piggybacking on the continued democratization of smartphones and the internet in general.

Daniel Wellington, the minimalist watch brand founded in 2011 epitomizes this digital revolution, reaching massive growth in five years simply by marketing on Instagram and utilizing e-commerce. This growth has prompted a shift in the world of web development, as services like Shopify emerges to cater to this growing business by offering ready to use e-commerce platform for its users.

E-commerce platform design process

An e-commerce entity is not judged solely based on the quality of the product that’s being presented (or the price-to-quality ratio) but also on how easy it is to use. Whether it’s for physical goods like Amazon or a digital platform like Steam, a good e-commerce platform values user experience just as much as the product on offer and sometimes even more.

Not everyone has a palette refined enough to differentiate between Domino’s and Pizza Hut and when that’s the case, which pizza chain would they go for? Probably on the company that has a better digital user experience and the initiative to fix potholes so that their pizza won’t be ruined on deliveries. The optimum user-centered experience is the ultimate goal for an e-commerce platform, and here are some tips you help you achieving that goal

  • A clear homepage design

First impression lasts the longest and the homepage is a website’s way of establishing that. You want to communicate to your users just the kind of products you’re offering while at the same time, you don’t want overwhelm them with information. Offer a clear message on what you’re selling and your proposition, whether it’s a value based approach or a quality based approach. Basically, your company’s calling card.

The approach that I prefer is to offer an image of your product, on its own and in use if applicable, together with a shortened mission statement of your brand on your homepage, just enough for users to know what your brand stands for. After all, users can’t love what they don’t know so an introduction should always be on the docket. Additionally, make sure that your homepage isn’t flooded with contents and employ a scrolling method, in which new contents would only appear as users scroll down the page, if necessary.

  • Detailed product description

There’s no physical connection when it comes to an e-commerce platform. That’s a gulf that’s never going to be bridged, not even with VR and that’s the one advantage physical retail is never going to lose. You can however mitigate this by giving a detailed description and images for your product. This is especially prominent for fashion brands as proper sizing could make or break a particular piece of clothing.

The other reason is for the purpose of cross-shopping. Last year, Google recorded a 375% growth for best salt in the past two years in mobile searches. Because of the plethora of choices and the ease of getting information on those choices, shoppers are becoming increasingly discerning and offering a detailed description would help accommodate such shoppers while still giving you the opportunity to showcase your product in the best light possible.

  • Easy payment process

Convenience is the main advantage e-commerce have over physical retail and you want to drive that point home by making the buying process as painless as possible. Design the purchase button to be obvious, but not overwhelmingly so and try to ask no more information from your customer than what’s necessary and use the least amount of steps as possible to keep the process smooth. Also, add as many payment options as possible to accommodate different users.

While it’s tempting to require shoppers to create an account to complete their purchases, always provide an option for one-time shoppers but add incentive for unregistered users by offering them extra promotions. Alternatively, allow users to create an account using their social media accounts like Google and Facebook to save them the hassle of inputting their information. This is used to encourage what is known as impulse buying, which leads to me next point.

  • Limited time promotions

Not exactly a design choice but this still bears mentioning. Amazon has their one day only Prime Day sale, Steam has their seasonal celebration with the annual Steam summer and winter sale and even airplane tickets use flash sale these days. Limited time promotions is not just a way to score some headlines and generate hype, it’s also a reliable way of scoring impulse buys from first time shoppers, potentially adding a loyal following to your brand.

What’s great about flash sales on an e-commerce platform is that instead of having shoppers camping out in front of your stores way before opening time and playing witness to horror stories as any inhibition takes a backseat behind a great deal, all you have to do is sit in front of a screen. You can even do it in a coffee shop while sipping a chai latte if you want to. Just make sure that your website could handle the extra traffic.

Designing an e-commerce website is only a part of the equation. The technical development process is potentially trickier. Luckily, the rise of commercial e-commerce platform builders like Shopify has made that process much easier but if you’re thinking of implementing specific features, there’s a chance that you’re going to have build one of your own. Once the site is up and running, maintaining and improving them is also no easy task.

Data you have collected on your users is a precious commodity. For example, your data is showing that a particular user once put a product inside his shopping cart only to remove it later. Instead of doing nothing, why don’t you leverage this data to give recommendation to this particular user on changes associated with this particular product? Perhaps when it’s on sale, or when a new color is available or when other similar products are added, there’s a lot you can do using user’s behavior as a baseline.