07.04.2017

Lessons learned from Ecommerce website design

 

By Sarah Gleeson

I’ve worked on a number of large eCommerce and web projects over the years, so I thought I would share my thoughts on the pitfalls of eCommerce web design with you.

Simplicity

This point cannot be stressed enough - simplicity is the key to a successful eCommerce website (or any website for that matter). This applies to more than just the visual look and feel of the website, I also mean simplicity in terms of the features and functionality.

One of the most important things to capture upfront for any web project is a defined feature list. There are many ways to generate this list including online research, user surveys, brainstorming, workshops, stakeholder interviews, user interviews, etc. In my experience though we often end up with a very long list of features for the sake of having features. Clients often mistake having a lot of features and functionality on their site with having a great website.

In the end those long feature lists don’t serve the customer, push out deadlines, increase budgets and drive the project team and client to within an inch of their sanity. So be careful to ask yourself before you create a long list of features - how am I serving the customer and business needs with this feature?

Less does not equal simple

I’ve found over the years that clients often confuse a small product catalog with simplicity. Having only a few products does not make your eCommerce project simple. The same complex user experience and flows still apply even if you only have a small catalog of products so be patient and work closely with your project team.

Be realistic about your deadline

There’s no point in beating around the bush here. A straightforward brochureware website can sometimes take 6 months or more, so a complex eCommerce site will take longer.

Apart from the fact that it’s a larger site with more features, which takes time to build, you also need to account for more extensive testing. Testing an eCommerce website is a lot more complicated when you take into account the number of possible scenarios a user might encounter. It’s best to approach testing with user stories so that you can identify all possible routes a customer might find.

You also need to thoroughly test any 3rd party payment portals ensuring tax and delivery charges for multi-country setups are working perfectly and that all of this data is feeding correctly into any backend systems integrated with your site, e.g. stock management, delivery services, etc.

It’s easy to fix bugs in a brochure website after go live, but if you’re missing transactions on your eCommerce site that has major effect on your business and customer service reputation,  so thorough testing of all scenarios before go live is crucial.

Choose your platform carefully

Never choose your CMS platform until you have your features and functionality clearly defined. No one eCommerce CMS is perfect so research what each platform has to offer and make decisions about what features you (and your users) can live without. Don’t forget, most good CMS platforms will allow for custom development on top of their out-of-the-box functionality.

Any custom development should be carefully considered - ask yourself how much this feature will benefit your business and your users vs. the budget required to implement it. eCommerce platforms tend to have more expensive licenses than your typical CMS and this often depends on how many products or features you require so set your yearly budget accordingly.

Take your time in the discovery phase of your project to ensure you choose carefully and correctly - and know that you will probably have to live with this system for at least 5+ years.

Collaboration

It’s incredibly important to have close collaboration with the full project team at the very early stages of the project, before the budget is clearly set. Don’t make key decisions without your project team already on board. Have workshops with all key stakeholders from both the client side (business, sales, marketing, branding, technical, distribution, etc.) and the contractor side (project manager, designer / ux, frontend developer, backend developer, analytics, etc).

The earlier these discussions begin both you and the project team you’ve hired can begin to form a plan, discuss what’s possible, find the best solutions for the user and your business within the technical restraints set out by the CMS, 3rd party portals and backend systems. Collaborating early in the project will save you both time and heartache.

I hope these few lessons that I’ve learned can help you with your next eCommerce website project.

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