Selling Online: Design, Development, and Business Considerations

by in Articles on 30th Nov 2011 · Comments

Selling physical and digital goods online has become a mainstream option for nearly every type of business. Traditional retail is moving stock online, there are endless online-only shops, and every other type of service-related professional has the possibility of selling digital goods or related products online.

Selling Online: Design, Development, and Business Considerations

It's so practical to sell online these days, yet it's also a very over-saturated method of doing business. With more competition and a larger market, we as designers and developers should consider several factors when it comes to creating online shopping experiences, whether it is for our own products and services, or for our clients' ecommerce solutions.

In this article, we'll look into these considerations from our viewpoint: web and UI design, development, and business considerations for selling both digital and physical goods online.

Web & UI Design

Having a good design surrounding an online shop of any sort can be the key to its success. Great design creates trust, and can influence more buyers. Below are a few best practices concerning the web design and user interface design for websites selling either digital or physical goods.

Strong Images

Having strong imagery can be very influential when there's buying involved. Online shopping is more of a risk than casual browsing because there's commitment involved, and people like to see imagery of what they'll be purchasing. For physical goods, imagery of the products is a good start, and for digital goods, screenshots or visual representations will do.

Heartbreaker Fashion
Heartbreaker Fashion

It isn't just about simply showing the customer what they'll be purchasing either, but rather having high quality and creative imagery to help represent the product. The imagery should portray emotion: a bag or clothing item could have a highly fashionable and successful women wearing it; a productivity app for sale could show a screenshot of somebody with a successful business using the app.

Focus on Categories

People prefer browsing by categories, or if they're looking for something specific, categories help them find it faster. There is usually a category section in every online shop as it's practical from the seller's standpoint too, so the design should put focus on the categories available for browsing. The longer a potential customer spends browsing, the more likely they'll make a purchase as well as recognize the brand at a later date.

Sanctuary
Sanctuary

The example above keeps categories simple and up top, and draws a lot of attention to them with colorful navigation and plenty of whitespace. The categories of this shop take on the primary navigation in this design.

Calls to Action

Any web design can benefit from a call to action, leading visitors to highlighted parts of the website. For online shops, calls to action can help get new visitors started on browsing, giving them a place to start. A strong call to action for an online shop may be the newest item, featured item, or featured section of the site.

Me and Mommy Tobe
Mommytobe

Calls to action that provide a particular use or benefit for those browsing can be most beneficial. Don't just highlight a product, highlight the benefit that the customer will get out of it if they purchase the item, or an item within the section displayed.

Easy-to-Find Shopping Cart

Just as you can see how many items you have right in front of you when physically shopping in a store, so should you be able to when shopping for anything online. The shopping cart should be easy to see and keep track of, and the traditional place is in the upper right hand corner. Displaying the number of items and a nice interface for finding the shopping cart easily can remind customers when it's time to check out.

A Modern Eden
A Modern Eden

Design a shopping cart link that displays the total items, and even the current total price if wanted. A great design for the shopping cart link can increase sales overall.

Development

Just as an online shop should have a useful and excellent design, its development structure should be set up for success as well. If a website doesn't function well, customers will not likely feel as though they should put their hard-earned money towards the products it's selling. Having a strong website from a development standpoint can create trust for customers, as well as provide an easy shopping experience.

An Integrated Shopping Cart

Have a shopping cart that is well integrated into the site. There are some options where shopping carts can be added on as the customer goes to a separate website to review the cart and pay, but it doesn't make for a very seamless experience. It's easy to do, but it does take the customer away from the site, and if they'd like to review their items, they can’t, and reviewing the cart comes only as a last option.

Open Cart
Integrated Shopping Cart

Having a shopping cart as a part of the website allows the customer to remain on the site, review easily, and checkout, alter, or add items as needed. It can also help the customer to see their total cost or number of items in the cart on every page. External shopping carts can be a cheaper and easier alternative, and are great for any shop just starting out or a website selling a few items on the side — a serious online shopping experience should have an integrated cart however.

Trustworthy Payment Gateways

Taking credit cards can and should always be an option as it’s standard, easy, and convenient, but not everybody likes entering their credit card information on any site they come across. Plus, credit card transactions can be a hefty fee for the owner of the website as well. Use payment gateways that are trusted, such as integrating PayPal and PayPal's Bill Me Later Service. Google checkout is another popular option, and getting validated by Authorize.net is a small investment for the added feeling of security your customers earn.

Payment Gateways
Image credit: Images of Money

Many popular pre-made eCommerce options already have the top payment gateways included, and it's best to have that variety and the trustworthy options. If creating a solution from scratch, be sure to keep this in mind. If working off of the base of another eCommerce platform, do research in this area for sure.

Organized Site Structure & Search

Have practical categories, an organized directory structure, and a file system for managing all product information and images. The more organized, the more efficient the site can be. An online shop can become very content heavy very quickly, so it's best to be incredibly organized from both the back-end development perspective, and organized in the front-end for a great user experience.

Giraffe
Search

From the perspective of the customer, always keep categories clearly defined, and sub-categories where needed. Have various filters for customers to easily find what they want, such as price, color, model, or other commonly searched-for features. Finally, include a well-functioning overall search for any customer that may be looking for a particular item or category of item.

Business Tactics

The portion of creating a successful online shop that is probably the most difficult is the business portion. Even with a perfectly set up shop there is still a lot to be done in the realm of branding, marketing, and management. All of these tasks take on their own role with any type of store, but selling online brings a new aspect to each of them.

Marketing is #1

For running an online shop, marketing is everything. Those that sell goods need to convince more customers overall to create a profit equal to someone providing a service. Marketing must be treated as a top priority, and marketing tactics should be smart and consistent. All of the standard marketing tactics still apply: provide great value, use social media, ads if necessary, and use SEO techniques.

Marketing
Image credit: bargainmoose

In addition to the standard marketing tactics, online shops can benefit from providing customers with the same marketing tactics as any offline store. Discounts, coupons, bundle specials, product placement, email/mail campaigns, and similar advertising techniques can all be translated to the online world to work in the same way.

Because profit margins may be lower, focus more on free or cheap advertising solutions, but with tactics that are intelligent and well-thought out. Make sure marketing remains a priority overall, and test various solutions for their effectiveness based on the particular market.

Worry About Shipping

The reason many people may choose to shop real-time versus online if possible is to avoid the issue of shipping. Not only does shipping cost far too much at times, but nobody likes to wait a week to get their order. Make shipping quality a priority as well, and you'll have a greater chance of repeat customers. If you offer free shipping on orders above a certain amount, or offer cheap and fast shipping, this can also act as a deciding factor for customers to shop through your site as well above others.

Package
Image credit: halfbisqued

Sometimes simply having enough of a profit margin to cover partial shipping expenses can ease the shipping cost fear for most customers. Nobody likes to see their total, and then at checkout see another $20+ added onto it because of shipping. Disguise it for a better shopping experience.

A Great Customer Experience

This can mostly come down to the design and development of an online shop, with user experience and user interface design. However, from a business perspective as well, pay attention to the customer service and experience your shop offers. If it's overly complicated or a hassle, don't expect repeat customers. Repeat customers are often the lifeblood of any online business, service-based or product-based.

Thank You
Image credit: jenosaur

Build Trust and Be Credible

With so much competition in the online marketplace, building a brand is essential. It's not like a location dependent shop where location can limit shoppers. On the web, if someone can get online they can reach any shop to find a better experience, a more credible shop, or cheaper prices. Building trust and credibility among your customers with a great presence and great service can make or break any type of business with too much competition. It's all about marketing the brand name successfully. Make sure people can recognize you, and remember you after stopping by the first time!

Conclusion

Selling products online is a very competitive industry, and that's why it takes the best techniques in order to succeed in doing so. With a great design, useful functionality, and strong marketing and business tactics, an online shop can succeed with the right goods. A great design will build trust and stability, a strong development of an ecommerce website will also build trust and create for a great user experience and repeat sales, and the right business methods can bring the right customers to your website that will buy.

Feel free to share any additional tips for selling online in the comments below. Do you have any experience selling physical or digital goods online? What type, and how did you find success?

Kayla Knight is freelance web designer and developer with several years of experience. In her spare time she enjoys the busy college life, and writes for some top design blogs.