3 tips for creating an effective e-commerce website

April 10, 2023 | 7 minute read

Small business owners know how important it is to create enjoyable customer experiences in-store. But an enjoyable online experience is becoming just as important. According to Bank of America research, 42% of consumers say they have shifted to online shopping since the pandemic, and nearly all of those who have plan to keep doing so.1 Successful online businesses have perfected the art of removing friction from customer interactions, including the search experience, the information gathering process and, finally, the purchasing experience. Here’s how to do it.


The benefits of selling online

E-commerce is generally defined as the practice of buying and selling goods over the internet. “But that simple definition doesn’t capture the full benefits of online retail,” says Jonathan Sepulveda, small business product executive with Merchant Services at Bank of America. “With a brick-and-mortar store, you’re not likely to get customers from great distances,” he says. “With e-commerce, you can open it up to an entirely new, borderless market — the entire country or even globally. That creates enormous potential.” It’s also a critical part of staying competitive since customers expect to be able to purchase goods from any store online — an expectation that increased during the pandemic, when many physical shops were closed.


3 tips for an effective e-commerce website

Start by considering the overall look of your website. “First impressions matter,” says Sepulveda. “If your website design and user experience is high quality, you’re much more likely to receive purchases.” Fortunately, you don’t have to be a designer yourself. Many e-commerce platforms have off-the-shelf templates — not to mention an entire ecosystem of designers who are prepared to customize your site, and at affordable prices. In fact, building a basic e-commerce website has never been easier. The challenge, however, is building one with the functionality that meets your customers’ expectations. But there’s good news: These three basic principles can help you create the type of e-commerce website that you want and your customers deserve:


1. Make it easy for customers to find what they want

A good search function allows customers to explore your products and find what they’re looking for. But many search functions present unwanted results: For example, a search for “red shoes” may turn up red shirts or shoes in colors other than red, leading shoppers to abandon their search and move on to a competitor with a better experience. To prevent this, you need an intelligent system for categorizing and tagging the products on your site. In short, make it easy for consumers to find your products!


Categorizing is all about putting products on a page that make sense logically. For example, a clothing retailer could categorize by type of product, brand, gender or price. Customers can then go to the “shoes” page to browse all the available shoes.


Tagging gets into more detail, letting you label items based on color, size and more specific product features. This helps customers search using any combination of categories or tags like “red dancing shoes” and find exactly what they want without all that extra scrolling.


You can get an in-site search box for free from an open-source provider, or you can purchase more advanced software. Either way, your focus should be on making sure the search function is as helpful and intuitive as possible. Consider adding product recommendations — such as showing best-selling products, similar products or products that are frequently bought together.


It’s also important to help customers understand exactly what they’ll be getting. That means including high-quality photos as well as detailed product descriptions.


And don’t forget the power of a personal touch. Make sure customers can easily contact you — whether by email, a contact form on your website or even by phone. It’s also important to respond in a reasonable amount of time. If you can’t respond immediately, create an automatic email response or voicemail message that lets people know you’ve received their message and that you’ll respond within a specific timeframe (e.g., 24 hours, two to three business days, etc.).


2. Simplify — and secure — the checkout process

Once shoppers have found what they need, checkout should be seamless. “If you’re redirecting people to another page, that will increase abandonment rate,” says Joe Pellar, senior product manager with Merchant Services at Bank of America. By some estimates, the average cart abandonment rate for e-commerce is around 70%, which means that seven out of every 10 customers who add an item to their shopping cart will never complete their purchase.2 To help prevent this, ease of use and transparency are important. Keep a shopping cart icon prominently displayed on each page — ideally in a top corner — so that customers can clearly see pictures and descriptions of the items they’ve selected.


Also be clear on the taxes and any additional shipping charges that may apply. If you’re offering any deals or coupons, include a box for customers to enter this information. In addition, customers should be able to add or delete items from the cart with the click of a button and understand how long checkout will take. Indicate their progress by showing them how many steps they've completed and how many more are left before their purchase is complete.


It’s also critical to take security seriously. Allowing customers to create an account and securely save their payment information so they can streamline purchases in the future is an easy step to help turn a one-time buyer into a repeat customer. To help protect customers from the impact of data breaches, invest in security technology that masks and protects all customer data. That includes technology that encrypts and/or tokenizes customer payment data. Encryption scrambles sensitive payment data so that it can’t be used by hackers, while tokenization replaces sensitive payment data with less-sensitive token data. Make sure you choose a payment gateway that protects data in one or both ways. 


Finally, be transparent about your return policy, including the cost of shipping back the items.


3. Prioritize speed

Your e-commerce platform needs to have the capacity to handle not only your current traffic but also increased traffic as your business grows. And with consumers increasingly shopping on their mobile devices, it’s critical to make sure your website is optimized for mobile viewing.


Also key to making sure customers are satisfied is enabling them to get their products quickly. Offer multiple options for shipping so customers can select the option that best meets their needs. You’ll need to keep strict tabs on your inventory to deliver products efficiently and minimize the risk of not being able to fulfill an order right away. Especially if you’re selling the same goods both in-store and online — a trend that’s expected to grow — consider investing in an inventory and order management tool that keeps track of your products and lets you know when it's time to replenish your stock.


Alternatively, you may find that one of the many order fulfillment services could streamline your shipping and delivery processes. For instance, fulfilling orders through drop-shipping liberates you from physically keeping products in stock — and allows you to outsource packaging and shipping to a third party instead. This makes it easier for you to focus on increasing sales and improving the customer experience without increasing the size of your back-office operations.


Positive online customer experiences can be the difference between surviving and thriving. Taking the time and effort to figure out how to make online purchases as easy and convenient as possible should be the highest priority for any small business in the e-commerce space.

1 Bank of America research, 2021

2 Baymard Institute, 48 Cart Abandonment Rate Statistics 2023

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