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Ecommerce web design: how to build an outstanding online store
An online store helps you develop your brand, reach more customers, and sell more products—but only if you’ve got the right ecommerce web design.
Designing an ecommerce site isn’t just about building a website. It’s also about creating an online shopping experience that will convert passive shoppers into paying customers. Whether you’re about to create your first online store or you’re thinking about redesigning your current site, your ecommerce website design should attract potential customers, provide a great user experience, and present your shop in the best light.
What is ecommerce web design?
Ecommerce web design is the process of creating a design for a website where users can purchase products or services online. Good web design is essential for the success of your ecommerce business. An effective website design:
Compared to other websites—whose main function could be to provide information or educate visitors on a particular subject—ecommerce sites need to be carefully curated and designed to attract buyers. That means online stores must follow their own set of design principles to encourage shoppers to take the next step and make a purchase.
To help you connect with potential customers, these ecommerce web design principles rely on a deep understanding of the customer journey—the stages of a customer’s experience with an online business, from the moment they first become aware of its products through the moment they complete a purchase.
6 ecommerce web design principles to position your online store for growth
Here’s your step-by-step ecommerce web design process to help you drive the most conversions with your website. Follow these best practices to create an ecommerce web design that will impress more users and increase your revenue and sales.
1. Choose an ecommerce platform that works for your needs and objectives
To design an ecommerce website, you need to plan, conceptualize, and arrange your content and products for effective display on the internet. The first step in that process is selecting an ecommerce platform.
Ecommerce platforms can help you create your site from scratch and offer customizable options to ensure your website looks and feels like a representation of your brand. Here are a few options to choose from, according to the type of platform you need:
SaaS: an out-of-the-box ecommerce store design experience that lets you design an online store using a drag-and-drop visual editor, with limited customization. Examples include Shopify, Squarespace, or Wix.
Headless commerce: a flexible option that allows you to create differentiated shopping experiences with a powerful commerce engine on the backend. BigCommerce is a good example of a headless commerce platform.
Open-source: a blank canvas can be turned into any kind of ecommerce website, usually involving a coder and a designer to create everything from scratch. Open-source platforms include Magento and WooCommerce, which is technically an ecommerce plugin.
No matter which ecommerce platform you choose, make sure your top pick has the following elements, which are essential for your ecommerce website:
Product landing pages
On-site search engine
Account registration and login forms
Email subscription form
2. Provide a compelling user experience for potential and existing customers
A good user experience (UX) prompts consumers to complete their purchase and come back to shop again in the future.
UX plays a pivotal role in ensuring that your website is functional, intuitive, reliable, user-friendly, and easy to navigate. Good ecommerce web design takes all of this into account, allowing you to craft a website that provides a compelling—and rewarding—user experience.
Strong UX design is all about creating a seamless user journey. Think about your customers’ needs and ask yourself how you can create a product experience that lets your users do what they came to do. Is your site well organized? Easy to navigate? Accessible for users with limitations like vision impairment?
As you dive deeper into UX design, consider these factors to make browsing your online store a more pleasant experience for your customers:
Responsive design for mobile and desktop
A responsive ecommerce site can ensure that users have equally great on-site experience from every type of device—like desktops, smartphones, or tablets. If it’s hard to navigate, or elements aren’t correctly displayed on a small screen, users will get frustrated and bounce.
Mobile-responsive ecommerce websites benefit your store in several ways, including:
Faster page load times
Lower bounce rates
Higher conversion rates
Better search engine optimization (SEO)
Easy website navigation
Navigation is about how easy it is for people to move around the store, find what they’re looking for, and finally take action. Users won’t convert unless they can quickly and easily find the information they need to make a decision.
Clear, concise navigation helps users quickly locate their area of interest and follow it. It also helps the designer create a design that guides users along a desired journey. When you design with easy, intuitive website navigation in mind, you’ll create a great product that gets you loyal customers.
Pro tip: session recordings let you spot website bugs and problems that frustrate users and cause them to bounce.
An example of a Hotjar Session Recording
An optimized conversion funnel
A great ecommerce web design takes a visitor from a new, first-time user to repeat customer in a smooth, frictionless flow. A typical online store infrastructure includes a conversion funnel defined by these elements:
Each new step leads your customer closer to conversion, which in this case represents the purchase of an item. Your goal, as the website designer, is to make everything about the process crystal clear by optimizing your ecommerce conversion funnel.
Ease the user's passage from one step to the next by:
Analyzing and optimizing your landing pages
Identifying and removing blockers to reduce funnel drop offs
Getting user feedback from real customers
As you lower the psychological barriers between each of these steps as much as possible, you start to learn what users love (and hate) about their experience on your site, their barriers to converting, and how they ultimately decide to make the move from visitor to customer.
If you're using Hotjar
Learn how to improve the checkout process for your visitors by using session recordings and heatmaps, and find out why visitors are abandoning their carts by placing an exit survey on checkout or wishlist pages.
Use what you learn to optimize your site to improve UX and create a seamless checkout process.
An example of a Hotjar Heatmap
3. Design with Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) in mind
To increase your ecommerce website’s conversion rate, your best move is to understand your visitors, users, and customers, and give them what they need.
As you design your online store, think of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) as the process of focusing on understanding what drives, stops, and persuades your users—and, in turn, makes them convert—so you can give them the best user experience possible.
From calls to action to product categories to high-quality images, your ecommerce design has to appeal to your target audience, not just be aesthetically pleasing to you. Here are a few ways to incorporate CRO at the ecommerce web design stage:
Use data to understand customers
Back your design hunches by data. Use a combination of web analytics tools—which gather numerical, quantitative data about your website and its visitors—and user behavior analytics tools—which gather qualitative data about how visitors use your website and why they behave a certain way on your site—to understand how people use your site and identify and test potential changes to increase conversions.
Study the customer lifecycle
The customer lifecycle—the various stages a consumer goes through before, during and after they complete a transaction—can help your business maximize the revenue potential for each customer who makes a purchase on your website.
Learn as much as you can about their browsing habits, then incorporate those findings into your design. Ask yourself:
How can we access users who aren’t yet customers?
What happens before the customer gets to our website? How do they do research? What kinds of search keywords do they use online?
Is the lifecycle non-linear? If not, how can we represent this in the design?
Pro tip: use Hotjar Surveys to collect real-time suggestions about your website from users to make data-driven decisions and validate assumptions that inform and elevate your user experience.
Hotjar’s no-code UI makes it easy to create drag-and-drop surveys
Run usability tests
Usability testing is a necessary step to make sure you build an effective, efficient, and enjoyable experience for your users.
When shoppers visit your website, you want them to feel like they can easily find what they're looking for. By observing real users as they attempt to complete tasks on your ecommerce store, you can reveal areas of confusion and uncover opportunities to improve the overall user experience through design. This helps you:
Identify issues with complex flows, like an ecommerce checkout process
Validate your prototype by bringing in users early on in the design process
Get buy-in for design changes with stakeholders
4. Build trust with your users to encourage conversions
When a user visits your ecommerce store for the first time, you’ll need to earn their trust before they actually go through with a purchase. If users don’t trust your website, they’ll be reluctant to interact and are likely to navigate away. That means fewer leads, higher bounce rates, less traffic, poor SEO rankings, and lower conversion rates.
To create a trustworthy ecommerce store, incorporate these trust indicators as you build your website:
Transparent return policy: a clear return policy increases sales by lowering shopping cart abandonment and offering customers a sense of confidence and trust.
Contact information: include an email, a phone number, and a mailing address, if possible. This type of information helps potential customers feel they’re buying from a 'real' person or business.
Trust badges: icons from sites like Symantec and Visa-Mastercard demonstrate your website security with multiple payment methods and security seals.
Social proof: customer reviews, testimonials, and user generated content help to instill trust among visitors who might still be apprehensive about shopping online.
5. Design your ecommerce store for visual appeal
Optimizing your design is all about creating the look and feel of your website and customizing the pages that your customers will see and interact with.
Here are the two most important aspects of your ecommerce web design’s visual appeal:
Website accessibility: elements of color, contrast, and typography define your branding and make sure that, when customers land on your homepage, they immediately understand your site’s feel and function. A good design usually means a convenient layout, aesthetically pleasing typography and iconography, bright colors, crisp visuals, and other on-site design elements that differentiate your store from others.
Product photography: good product images act as an ambassador to your customers, highlighting the promise of your products online. In ecommerce web design, products photographed on a white background are the gold standard.
6. Measure website performance and request feedback
Once people are actually using your ecommerce website, it’s important to measure everything and get concise data to drive business development, and the design and technical development of the site.
Website performance metrics
Tracking metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) shows you where users are converting or getting blocked on your ecommerce website—so you can ensure your design, messaging, and marketing steer visitors towards completing key conversion actions.
For example, sluggish pages, glitching design elements, and slow-loading product videos lead to slow page load time and overall website speed, which can really subtract from your UX.
First-hand customer data and feedback
Direct feedback is key to understanding how users experience your ecommerce site. Use customer feedback to learn what's working, what's not, and double down on your best web design strategies.
Use milestone surveys to capture your visitors' thoughts and feelings in different stages of your sales funnel. Run user interviews to dig even deeper into the customer experience with a series of open-ended questions.
Qualitative insights from surveys and interviews will help you better understand users’ actions and buying behavior to learn what works—and what doesn't—and optimize the customer journey for them.
Pro tip: use behavior analytics software to measure and track user behavior and feedback.
Behavior analytics tools like heatmaps and session recordings can help you identify pain points a customer experiences on your site—like website bugs, a confusing design, or broken links and elements.
Hotjar Engage helps you automate the entire user research process
Next steps for ecommerce web design
You can't truly optimize your ecommerce web design if you don’t know how your users are experiencing the site as they move through it.
Put users front and center at all stages of planning, design, and beyond—they’ll reward you with loyalty and increased revenue. Understanding how users really interact with your ecommerce website will put you on the right track toward success.
Everything you need to know about ecommerce web design
This first chapter has given you a list of best practices and principles for conversion-driven ecommerce web design—but that's only the beginning. In the next three chapters, we dive deeper into designing an impactful website. Keep reading for: