Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to a few senior IT decision makers from e-tail, retail and other industry segments where e-commerce is becoming the new business magnet. Alongside, I have also flipped through tons of content on what makes or mars the prospects of an e-commerce firm.
The result: this blog post you are going through right now. What I have done is distilled some industry best practices and do’s and don’ts that can be helpful for e-tail newbies as well as fast-growing e-commerce sites. Given that there’s little spare time for people working in this realm, here you go:
Aim for simplicity: Designing a user interface is a highly evolved discipline now. All the same, it is the online users who are the most evolved of species! Which is why keeping the UX simple yet elegant, rich yet devoid of unnecessary complexity, appealing and vibrant without being gaudy or over-the-top is more important than ever. What is the one thing that strikes us about a Google or Apple product? Its simple yet amazing user design, isn’t it?
Ensure easy site navigation: Many of the high-traffic e-commerce sites today boast of millions of products across hundreds or even thousands of product categories and sub-categories. One key thumb rule in designing navigation is that the user should not be made to click too many times (some call it the three-click rule) or find it too difficult to locate a product. Site search, in this context, is extremely important. GetElastic.com, a popular e-commerce blog, points out that even the biggest of e-com sites often fall flat in optimizing site search. It says: “Site visitors that use search boxes are more likely to know specifically what they want and are closer to conversion than those just browsing.”
It goes on to suggest that the merchandising team must anticipate variations in how consumers might be looking for certain things; for instance, they can type “two piece bathing suit”, “2-piece bathing suit”, or “2 piece bathing suit” (without the hyphen). Unless search dictionaries or tools accommodate such “correct misspellings” (in addition to commonly misspelt terms and synonyms), the potential buyers might be disappointed with search results.
Choose your e-commerce platform carefully: With hundreds of tools that let you set up an online shop, it’s a crowded market out there. For those who wish to play safe and do not have too much time researching or experimenting with options, going with an established platform such as Shopify, Magento or ZenCart makes ample sense. For the more adventurous, there are plenty of tools to fiddle with. The site www.ecommerce-platforms.com has even put up a comparison chart of some such tools available in the market. Among the things one should look out for in an e-com platform: availability of hosted/self-hosted environments, payment options supported, stock size (for which you want to build the e-store), credible case studies in a given industry segment, etc.
Look out for mobile-best customer experience: In this age of ubiquitous mobility, it would be foolhardy to ignore the significance of an optimum mobile user experience. Whether it is achieved through a mobile app or responsive web design (in which the same code can cater to multiple device types), a less-than-superlative experience that can be delivered on a majority of popular mobile handsets just wouldn’t do.
Test, test, test, and then test some more: We are living in a connected, socially hyperactive age. One in which customers go all out to tweet, post, share and shriek bad customer experiences from the rooftops. So it is always better to thoroughly test any new piece of code or feature before rolling it out to a million potential customers who will be exposed to it within minutes. The DevOps movement can indeed meet its full potential in the fast-paced world of e-commerce.
Ignore shipping and fulfillment at your own peril: In the nascent but burgeoning e-com market in India, it is not uncommon to find so many negative tales of shipments gone wrong. According to Richard Lazazzera, a leading e-commerce expert who runs an online e-commerce incubator deliciously named A Better Lemonade Stand, “Many new ecommerce entrepreneurs either don’t give much thought to shipping their products, or rightfully so, don’t understand the confusing and complex world of shipping and fulfillment.” (Read this blog post of his that talks about packaging, resources such as courier services, tracking & insurance, and apps to help make the whole process easier. The scenario in India may not be as mature as the advanced markets of USA or Canada, but some useful inferences can be drawn or lessons learned from e-com ecosystem players operating there.)
In the next couple of years, e-commerce will have come into its own as an established segment of industry in India. While the broadest market may turn out to be a case of the proverbial three-horse race (or four horses, perhaps), scores of mid-size and niche players in e-tailing will prove their mettle. Soon, the fight would stop being about funds and customer acquisitions; instead, the attention would shift to technology-led differentiation, profitability and customer retention.
And that’s where the players that implement the best practices and treat customers as the center of their universe will stand out from the crowd.
(This blog post first appeared on www.DynamicCIO.com.)