Planning for e-commerce

User experience in e-commerce


To be successful, an e-commerce site must be easy for customers to use. It's also an important part of your online brand image.

You should consider the user experience at each stage of the shopping process.

An alternative to developing your own e-commerce website is selling through online marketplaces

User interface

The user interface of your e-commerce website or app is like an online shop front. The interface allows your customers to browse products and choose what to buy.

Customers should be able to find the product they are looking for quickly. Some best practice features for e-commerce websites include:

  • Search field - this allows users who are looking for something specific to find it quickly.
  • Call-to-action buttons - this can improve your sales by encouraging users to take an immediate action.
  • User-friendly navigation - help your customers find what they are looking for with a simple menu structure. Use familiar, meaningful categories and avoid complex hierarchies.
  • Breadcrumbs - this helps users navigate easily through the site by showing them where they are in the site structure.

The navigation design is an important factor. This includes features like search fields, breadcrumbs, dropdown lists and image carousels. Consider allow customers to filter products (eg by price, colour, category) to help them find what they are looking for.

The design of the interface should make shopping intuitive, with the customer knowing at all times what stage of the buying process they are at.

Carry out research to find out how to improve your user interface to increase sales. Research techniques include:

  • A/B testing
  • user testing and focus groups
  • web analytics

See user-centred web design and best practice in web design.

Shopping cart

Shopping cart software allows customers to select the products they wish to purchase. Once the goods have been selected, the customer should find the checkout clearly signposted, so that they can proceed to pay for the goods.

The system should process the order speedily and provide you with a summary, including any packing and shipping requirements. It should also allow you to send a confirmation email to the customer.

Keep the number of steps involved to a minimum. Show clearly where the customer is in the process and what they need to do next. You can use web analytics to see if there are steps where customers abandon their purchase. This indicates there could be an issue or barrier to completing the purchase, for example an unexpected delivery charge or confusing layout.

Payment software

Most customers will wish to pay for their purchases with credit or debit cards. There are three options for accepting such payments - you can:

  • open a merchant account
  • use a payment processing company
  • set up an online shop within a virtual shopping mall

Read more about accepting online payments.