Effective eCommerce Usability Tips

That’s right, it’s time to tackle ecommerce usability. This one scares a lot of people because ecommerce, while being remarkably convenient for customers (if handled properly), is actually a real headache from the other side of the fence.  I mean a migraine level of headache. Not only are there a lot of confusing web APIs you have to make play along nicely, such as cart systems, payment gateways, marketing systems and auto mailing, not to mention getting interoperability with your CRM system and product management systems, but there’s that aggravating human element when it comes to accommodating customers and the diversity of devices they will attempt to use to interact with your storefront.

Oh yes, ecommerce usability is one of the tougher things to handle and test – you must face this beast head-on though, because as time continues to tick away, it’s going to be more and more the standard way people shop and sell. The brick and mortar storefront is going to only be a social novelty for many things, and we already see this happening as certain types of physical businesses have just ceased to exist (arcades, video rental stores and many theaters being prime examples).

So, let’s stop stalling, and talk about some of the most important things to account for in successful usability when it comes to the daunting field of ecommerce.

#1 – Instant Knowledge

What I mean by instant knowledge is that the moment a user accesses your storefront, there are a few pieces of information they should know within a minute of looking at your site. These are shipping costs (and if shipping is free, it needs to be emphasized), any limitations to what regions of the country, or if international, what regions of the world you can’t ship to, and above all else, what payment methods you accept.

If you don’t accept PayPal, for instance, first, shame on you. However if you don’t, then the customer needs to discover this within a minute or less of time because they will be very angered to find out only after shopping, happily adding an item they want to the cart, and going to check out, that you don’t accept the most convenient payment method in the galaxy. That will tick them off and even if they would have been willing to use another method later on, this frustration will lose you a purchase flat out.

#2 – Dynamic Search Refinement

Take a lesson from eBay. eBay is capable of making mistakes, but this is something they got right. Users will appreciate being able to make all kinds of refinements and filters on a search, such as free shipping, brands, models and aspects of products, and the like.

A smart designer will ensure that the refinements don’t require a new form be pulled up, and that changes to the refinements don’t require the search to resubmit, calling for a lengthy load time every time they make a change.

#3 – Separate Ad Space

eBay and many other ecommerce storefronts make a mistake and it makes the shopping experience a confusing and frustrating mess. Make sure that advertisements (necessary for suggestions and for reduction of overhead for running the storefront) are very obviously just that – advertisements, not related products or parts of a customer’s search.

It will frustrate them to click an item that looks like some kind of highlighted item in their search results, only to have it take them to some other site that this item was in fact advertising.

So, ecommerce usability isn’t so bad, as usability is all about the customer interaction. All the loathsome mess I mentioned at the beginning is very much there, and it is indeed a frustration, but the points I outline here? These are what makes for a useable ecommerce design, for the customer.

Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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