Tips for Creating an Excellent E-Commerce Website

Apr 8 2011 by Mathew Carpenter | 10 Comments

A growing number of top quality designers are turning away from contract work and towards their own personal projects (such as selling WordPress premium themes, for example). From skills-based products to online consulting, the world of design goes far beyond the field of Design itself; it extends into disciplines such as online retailing and marketing — two of the most lucrative forces on the web.

Many designers have moved from working for clients and employers (often at a pay grade that isn’t quite as high as it deserves to be) to working for themselves. In the process, they’ve also created a range of enduring online properties, major e-commerce stores, and worthwhile online products.

In this article, we will cover some tips you should keep in mind when venturing into e-commerce.

Focus on a Niche and a High-Quality Product

Unless your name happens to be Jeff Bezos, it’s fairly unlikely that selling anything and everything without a good profit margin is going to be successful. As a smaller online merchant, you need to focus on products that have higher margins — items that cater to a group of people who would be likely to purchase a wonderfully crafted product.

For example, the 8 Faces magazine, a beautiful, custom-crafted magazine for and by designers, effectively focuses on a niche; as a result, the magazine is sold out in a matter of hours of being released.

8 Faces magazine

Test the Profitability of Your Product Before Launching

There’s nothing worse than developing a product, creating a website and building out marketing tools only to find that your product just isn’t profitable. All that time and money wasted.

But it’s one mistake that can easily be reversed using a simple test. With a small product viability testing budget, it’s fairly easy to see just how well your product could sell using paid advertising.

Set up an account with Google AdWords, and create a variety of search ads to test your product’s hypothetical conversion rate. Of course, you should do this before your product is prepared in order to save money. Perhaps have a landing page that asks for a user’s email so that they can be notified once the product is available. It gives you an idea of how many people are engaged and interested in your product; enough that they want to stay tuned for its actual release date. This simple tactic can help you quickly and easily price your product before it’s even developed and ready to sell.

Split Test and Optimize the User Interface

By using some simple split testing tools such as Google Website Optimizer, you can track which of your e-commerce designs is most effective at converting visits into sales. Create a series of small changes in your pages — different button colors, headlines, or calls to action — and track them using one of several free conversion testing tools. Then, move forward with the most effective result.

A variety of tools are available for this very purpose, with some being more robust and more complex than others. I like Visual Website Optimizer for its simplicity and speed — it’s literally the easiest tool out there for tracking clickthrough rates and sales effectiveness.

Other options include Google Website Optimizer, and a heat mapping tool called CrazyEgg, which can be used to assess on-page mouse movement.

CrazyEgg

Usability and Results Should Drive Design, Not Aesthetics

Is Amazon.com a beautiful website? Not notably, no. What about eBay or Newegg? Again, it’s a no.

The design community is obsessed, and often for good reason, with smooth lines, pretty background colors, and perfectly spaced fonts. It’s a great obsession to have when building pretty websites is your goal, but the reality is that very few e-commerce site owners care about design on its own.

What e-commerce websites do care about is effective design — design that compels visitors to buy products and complete web form submissions. Amazon, eBay, and thousands of other big e-commerce websites have used effective design to transform themselves into giant businesses.

Use a Versatile E-Commerce Platform

There’s a reason smaller businesses continually trump their larger competitors when it comes to sales value and profit margins. Not only are they more personally attentive with their customers, they are also more effective at making minute, ultra-quick changes to their business. E-commerce isn’t any different — smaller players constantly adapt to trends faster than their larger, more entrenched rivals.

For this reason, it’s essential that you pick an e-commerce platform that’s flexible, easy to use, and built with adaptive changes in mind. I’ve had good experiences with Magento, although it’s not the best solution for everyone.

Smaller e-commerce websites may work well in WordPress, although it certainly isn’t the ideal platform for larger websites that have hundreds of products on offer.

Other options include OsCommerce, a great tool favored by the open source community, and Zen Cart, a simple option that’s generally better for beginners. Although ZenCart doesn’t offer its own payment processing options, it easily integrates with PayPal and other payment platforms.

Hosted e-commerce like Big Cartel, Shopify, and SolidShops are also options to consider.

Resources and Further Reading on E-Commerce Websites

Here’s a list of online resources to check out related to e-commerce websites:

Related Content

About the Author

Mathew Carpenter is an 18-year-old-business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on Sofa Moolah, a website that teaches you how to make money online. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter. Follow Sofa Moolah on Twitter: @SofaMoolah.

10 Comments

Sam T.

April 8th, 2011

Another e-commerce solution:

LogiCommerce, http://www.trilogi.com

Enterprises like MediaMark, Seat…are working with LogiCommerce 8

Nathan

April 8th, 2011

Magento is alright, but if you’re Rails minded, Spree is MUCH better: http://spreecommerce.com/

josh

April 8th, 2011

I would have to argue that usability of ebay and amazon is horrible.

They are like they are because they have grown off a horrible base that the people running the show are too scared to change for fear of alienating people.

But by all means think that amazon have it down when category browsing is a total nightmare.

Neha

April 9th, 2011

A very useful guide..as currently I am working on e-commerce books website.

This article is become my checklist before handing over the website to client

Thanks!!

Optimise Web

April 10th, 2011

Well written and sharp. Magento rules the eCommerce world! Anyone entering eCommerce should give Magento a go.

Jez

April 10th, 2011

You missed the best up and coming platform out there I am afraid…

http://www.lemonstandapp.com

I have used them all and nothing comes close to this new entrant to the market.

RedMan

April 15th, 2011

I believe manufacturer selection is very important. You have to choose your product suppliers as carefully as you would choose a partner.

Good Article – Kudos

Dydacomp

April 25th, 2011

Nice points! Its really important for eCommerce retailers to offer clear product images and product descriptions. Site Analytics is key to making sure that you are able to monitor and track the performance of various pages on your site and find ways to improve the quality of your site. Make sure you add new content and keep your site up to date.

Thanks for these tips!

Yahya

May 3rd, 2011

Typo spotted, written : Magneto, it should be Magento :) ( guess this happen because of the autocorrect )

” Usability and Results Should Drive Design, Not Aesthetics ” ? I think its more to Usability & Results Should Drive Design, Not Just Aesthetics , ok i’ll give that those 3 site weren’t the most eye striking as those on awwards ( http://www.awwwards.com/ ), but still the well placed elements & the use of grids makes them easy to look at and pleasing to the eye. I believe usability, results, and as well as aesthetics were important elements on designing websites.

Johnnie Walker

July 22nd, 2011

You forgot PrestaShop!

It won the open source software award in 2010 and is an amazing free ecommerce solution.

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