A Guide to Improving User Experience on Your eCommerce Site

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eCommerce has come to play a massive role in our daily lives in a way that few would have predicted 20 years ago. It’s now an essential, driving force of our economy, unlocking new growth potential for retail giants and independent entrepreneurs alike. According to Statista’s measurements, eCommerce sales in the US hit $130 billion last year!

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For small businesses, in particular, the world of eCommerce holds a lot of opportunities. New platforms and software have made it easier than ever to get your online store up and running quickly, automate your marketing and outreach efforts, and start reaching new customers.

However, offering a high-quality user experience, or UX, is still the number one element of any successful website, including eCommerce sites.

Remember, the internet is a big place! There’s a ton of competition out there and, as online users and shoppers, our patience for poor quality websites is at an all-time low. Unless you give customers a seamless, positive experience that delivers exactly what they’re looking for, you risk losing them almost as soon as they arrive at your store.

This might sound like a lot of pressure, but there are all kinds of ways to improve the user experience of eCommerce sites! Oftentimes they come down to simply taking a step back and considering your customers’ perspective.

We focus on nonprofit web design at DNL OmniMedia. Working with a sector that (by necessity) prioritizes securing as many online donations as possible has taught us that streamlined, intuitive UX is the best investment you can make in your website’s ability to convert new transactions. This applies to both donations and eCommerce purchases. We’ve picked a few top UX tips and broken them down into three main categories:

  • Improving clarity
  • Personalization and follow-up
  • Streamlining checkout

Within each of these categories, we’ll walk through a few specific tips and share more context to help you start optimizing your own eCommerce site today. Let’s get started.

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Improving Clarity on Your eCommerce Site

It’s pretty self-evident that offering a clear, intuitive experience for customers is among the most critical steps you can take to secure their business.

However, this is an element of UX that many web entrepreneurs tend to overlook or take for granted. It can be surprisingly easy to complicate your website without realizing the UX repercussions. Adding new tools and features can be a great way to improve UX, but only when they don’t get in the way of a user accomplishing their primary goal!

We’ve all experienced how frustrating it can be to try navigating a complicated, poorly-labeled, or unattractive website. This is especially true when we’re trying to accomplish a specific task, like look up a piece of information or complete a purchase. Remember these best practices for maintaining clarity on your online store:

  • Keep the visual design of your store simple, focused, and unobtrusive. Graphics should definitely be colorful and striking, but never distracting or overwhelming. For each main page of your store, think about what a user wants when they navigate to it, and then make sure that element is the main focus. For instance, a colorful display of your products is a good idea on your storefront, but a simple layout with just a few high-quality photos is the best bet for individual product pages.
  • Double-check that everything is clearly labeled. Each page and feature that customers might need to access should be very clearly labeled. Buttons like “add to cart” and “edit quantity” should be easy to recognize and catch the eye; it should be clear what a user needs to do next. In our nonprofit work, digital advocacy strategies and online campaigns rely on the simplicity and clarity of their calls-to-action to succeed.
  • Make sure your store is structured in an organized way. Users should be able to navigate easily between the main product categories, the storefront, and their shopping cart from any other page on the store. A custom navigation bar at the top or side of the page is usually the best way to do this.
  • Anticipate the needs of customers and offer intuitive features. Search tools, sorting or filtering capabilities, and the ability to make a simple wishlist go a long way to improve the user experience on eCommerce sites. Make sure these features are working properly on your site
  • Understand your audience as much as possible. Whether you’re an individual selling custom merchandise, a small online-only business, or a brick-and-mortar operation looking to expand online, understanding exactly who you’re trying to reach is essential. Their preferences, desires, and habits should inform the structure, design, and messaging of your website as a whole.
  • Offer social proof whenever possible. It’s more important than ever that potential customers can see that other actual people have purchased and enjoyed your products. Implement tools that allow customers to leave reviews, post comments, and share posts about their purchases on social media.
  • Focus on mobile optimization. This is a big one! If any element of your store doesn’t work well on small screens, you will lose customers. Today’s consumers have very little patience for slow-loading or unresponsive eCommerce sites and will abandon their carts without a second thought. Check that your pages are formatted simply, can adapt well to smaller browser screens, and don’t contain any huge image files.

All of these best practices, and social proof, in particular, will help to boost the clarity of your eCommerce site’s design and purpose. The main idea across all of them is to consider your customers’ perspectives. What’s it like to visit your site as a first-time customer? Think through the entire user experience from start to finish, and try to identify any points of friction.

Using Personalization and Follow-Up to Boost UX

As a more specific strategy than generally focusing on improving clarity, personalization is an excellent way to boost the quality of your store’s user experience when done well. 

Personalization techniques can be incorporated into the structure of your eCommerce store. Consider implementing responsive widgets and tools like:

  • Recommendations based on previously viewed products
  • “Customers also viewed” widgets to display similar or related products
  • Reminders to return to previously viewed products

These are among the simplest examples of personalized marketing tools that can help to improve the user experience of your site, but it’s important to remember that taking it too far can be a turn-off for many users. For example, location-specific targeting or targeted ads that draw from previous browsing history can sometimes become a detriment to your site’s UX. Find the right balance for your business and audience.

Additionally, personalization strategies in your email marketing and communications can go a long way to improve user experience and encourage long-term engagement with your brand. The main idea is to use what you’ve already learned about a customer to improve and personalize your communications with them as much as possible.

Even for very small online businesses, it’s possible to personalize your communications with customers through email by segmenting your email list by any number of factors and then creating email messages and offers specific to those groups. Typical email segments for eCommerce include:

  • One-time customers
  • Return customers segmented further by how long they’ve been a customer or how often they make purchases
  • Customers who’ve signed up for email contact through particular sources, like your checkout page or newsletter signup
  • Customers who’ve expressed interest in particular categories of your products
  • Customers who’ve begun transactions but didn’t complete them

Use your engagement data to sort your customers and subscribers into different segments, depending on your business’s goals. Personalizing your approach to customers based on their actual history of engaging with your store is one of the most reliable and least intrusive ways to personalize your marketing to them.

Continually refining your segmentation strategies can help you to develop high-converting mailing lists that will actually deliver additional value to customers, strengthening their relationship with your brand and encouraging continued engagement.

Never forget to follow-up with customers, too! You can easily automate this process. Email follow-up is a simple way to boost the overall buying experience of your shop by offering a friendly thank-you and confirmation.

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Streamlining Checkout as Much as Possible

This last category of eCommerce UX improvements is specific to your store’s checkout process. Out of every stage in the customer conversion process, checkout deserves the most attention for one main reason:

It’s the last point of contact between your store and the customer before they choose whether or not to complete a transaction. It’s your last chance to either earn their business or turn them away.

This means your checkout page needs to be as streamlined as possible and optimized to secure their purchase first, and nothing else. Many eCommerce stores unnecessarily pummel customers with additional steps and questions around the checkout process, which can drastically reduce the chances of a successful conversion. Try to ask only the bare minimum of customers as they check out, including:

  • Their contact information
  • Their billing information and billing address
  • The order’s shipping address

Of course, you can ask customers to provide additional information or go through extra steps, but anything much more than the bare minimum will make them much more likely to drop off and abandon their cart.

Our work with nonprofits has shown us that directness and speed are best for securing any type of transaction. Buttons should be clearly labeled, forms should be minimalist, and the process should be simple. Explore some of our favorite nonprofit websites here to see some examples.

Always be on the lookout for additional ways to reduce friction in the checkout process. A few common techniques for further streamlining the process include:

  • Provide a guest checkout option. Never force customers to go through a long account creation process before they’re allowed to complete an order.
  • Use more intuitive login tools that make it easier for customers to quickly access your store and actively encourage further engagement.
  • Make sure your checkout page and entire checkout process are completely mobile-optimized. A malfunctioning checkout page is the easiest way to lose a ton of potential customers.
  • Clearly explain shipping costs and provide plenty of shipping options. Sticker shock around the cost of shipping is a leading cause of shopping cart abandonment.

For more context and friction reduction strategies, check out the comprehensive customer acquisition guide by Swoop. The main idea is to focus your energies on the places where they matter the most. Of course, you should regularly check to see that your entire store looks and works great, but your checkout process is too important to not give extra attention.

Improving the user experience on your online store can seem like a major challenge, particularly if you’re new to eCommerce or if your business is very small. However, there are always easy steps you can take to improve the quality of your store and the experience that customers have browsing and using it.

These strategies can help you to boost engagement and reach new customers, but remember that the main idea is to consider the customer’s perspective. What works, and what can be improved? You’ll be building a better store in no time!


Read more about email marketing and e-commerce:

Connect Your Online Store to ActiveTrail

Top 6 Steps to Planning an Effective Email Marketing Strategy

6 Marketing Automation Mistakes E-commerce Businesses Must Avoid