5 Design Elements That Can Help Maximize Online Sales

Evan Brandell
by Evan Brandell 25 Jul, 2013

Website design trends are constantly evolving, often leaving those responsible for ecommerce either scrambling to keep up or simply resigned to the fact that they're running an outdated site. But keeping the online shopping experience fresh does not require a complex and costly tear-down every year to meet shifting preferences. Following these five design tips will help to create fresh, modern storefronts that customers can access anytime, anywhere.

1. Create a Large Feature Area

Whether it's used for announcing sales, new product arrivals or as a more novel form of customer engagement, a large spotlight area anchoring the home page creates incentives for customers to visit frequently and explore the storefront. Large visuals have a deeper impact on customers than a list of search results or even a normal product page. As a general rule, the feature area should be updated at least twice a month - a goal that sellers with frequent promotions or large inventory turnover should have no trouble hitting.

Even businesses with consistent inventory that avoid discounts can benefit from the large feature spotlight. It makes an ideal place to lure customers into blog content, or for deep dives into how the company's products are designed, manufactured and used. The technological requirements are quite light-many content management system (CMS) platforms offer built-in spotlight tools complete with randomized and/or sequential slideshow capabilities. If not, manually scripting such a feature area is a straightforward task.

2. Incorporate Flexible, Mobile-Friendly Technology

The world just keeps getting more complicated for Web designers. Desktop displays are growing larger and more plentiful. Some smartphones boast HD displays while others display at relatively low resolutions. In such a complex landscape, the key is to remain calm, remain flexible, and check your work. Maintaining a second, separate mobile site is a common fix, but it's wearisome because you commit to maintaining two storefronts instead of one.

The growing trend is responsive design, creating sites which are responsive to the constraints of the client on a case-by-case basis and that avoid throwing tiny, unreadable text at the would-be shopper. Reformatting based on actual screen size, not just device type, is an important distinction. Responsive design, which can present a stripped-down version to mobile users without actually losing the underlying capabilities and code, is more sustainable. Above all, stop using Flash. Flash looks great on desktops, but terrible on phones and tablets - if it even displays at all!

3. Maintain a Clean, Texture-Free Layout

Even companies that prefer a busy, textured presentation for informational pages should think twice about cluttering their store design with anything but solid backgrounds and plenty of white space. Why? Because when the customer is browsing a storefront, they want to find products-not textures. Products, descriptions and prices are the reasons customers are engaging with the store. Simpler layouts, using flat design, ensure the information that matters to customers stands out.

4. Use Engaging, Right-Sized Product Images

What's good for storefront design is not the best choice for product imagery. Whenever possible, choose images that show products in use or in their natural settings, rather than floating against flat, white backgrounds. Customers want to see how and where they will use products, understand how the products will meet their needs and visualize how products will fit in with the rest of their belongings. Show that rake hanging next to a shovel on the garage wall rather than isolated in a sterile, artificial environment.

Additionally, minimize page loading times by pre-scaling images to their display resolution, rather than relying on browsers to scale them interactively. And adopt a uniform size and dimension for the products on your site. When image sizes vary, the result looks jumbled and unprofessional.

5. Enhance the Cart Icon

Spruce up the shopping cart icon so that it is more than a simple, static graphic linking to the cart page. Provide at-a-glance totals for the number of items and even the total, out-the-door price of all items added to the cart. The cart icon should be in the header of each and every page you display to the customer-because guiding the user to checkout is the final, crucial step in closing the deal.

Enhanced cart icons provide shoppers with positive feedback and confirmation that their selections have been logged and are ready for purchase, while still leaving them free to browse the rest of the store.

Making careful, considered design choices can mean a world of difference in maintaining a website that engages the customer and leads to a sale without constantly needing an overhaul.

About the Author:

Evan is an experienced designer with LightCMS, an intuitive, easy-to-use cloud-based content management system (CMS) used by small and medium-sized business to create beautiful websites and online stores. He can be reached at ebrandell@netsuite.com.