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Five Tips For Improving Ecommerce Website Usability

Posted on 9.14.2008

ECOMMERCE AND USABILITY:  What did you spend in man (or woman) hours and advertising dollars last month to drive traffic to your ecommerce storefront? And what will you spend this upcoming holiday season? If you're like most Internet retailers, it might just seem like the total expenditure of a small nation. Is it more than you need? What are the other options to improve long-term customer value? Let's look at some practical tactics for improving the usability of your ecommerce site to increase long-term customer interaction with your products and your brand.

- Identify Users By Email Address; Not Username
It might seem like a good idea on the surface to enable people to customize their user experience with personalized usernames, but most consumers change their personal profiles frequently. How do you ensure your "forgot username" function doesn't get overloaded? Try using an e-mail address to identify users rather than a username. E-mail addresses (while changed frequently) are easier to remember, often require no special characters and are most always unique, so users avoid the problem of someone else already taking their preferred username.

- Shorten the (Perceived) Distance To Checkout Completion
Can't see the forest because of the trees? Probably so. Often times, ecommerce merchants think they "get" the optimal user checkout experience, but breaking the process up into shorter segments allows users to focus on one step at a time. There's less to think about at each step and less information to enter (or screw up). Consider splitting the ordering process into just five sections (supposing they are logged in); delivery address confirmation, delivery option selection, entering payment details, order review/submission and confirmation.

- Address (and Publicize) Common User Issues
All the time you've spent building out a comprehensive FAQ section should not go to waste. It's important that throughout the ordering process, common user questions and queries are addressed. Users might want to know how long delivery is expected to take, or if they have to enter extra information such as their date of birth, they might want to know why. Go through the ordering process and ask yourself at each stage: What queries might a user have? Answers to these queries should either be provided on-screen, or through a hyperlink. Take this a step further by cutting off issues at the pass. If you give your users a "dashboard" to see account activity, this is the perfect place to highlight these issues.

- Establish Trust With Users
Many consumers are still not 100% comfortable buying online - no surprise, right? They might be concerned about giving out their credit card number, or about not receiving the items they've paid for. It's therefore important that you acknowledge and allay these concerns to put users' minds at ease. Try and think about the concerns users might have at each step of the ordering process, and try to address them. For example, who is this person or company I am buying from? Including information on your company and the people behind the company is essential to your success. Links to this information should always be included in the navigational architecture of your users' experience, but consider calling out this information within a sidebar during the actual checkout process. If you're worried about abandonment or leakage in general - open up the link in a new browser window. 

- Success From Confirmation Emails:
Once a user has placed their order, a confirmation e-mail should be sent immediately - no waiting until you can process the order. Confirmation e-mails should be brief and tell users important information such as the order number or tracking code. Including contact information for a real customer service associate from the company might be a little too much for the business process of smaller enterprises, but if you can manage, there is no substitute for conveying yours is a quality product from a quality company.

How do you improve consumer usability on your ecommerce platform?

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