The usability of your ecommerce site can make or break potential sales. How can you tell if usability is an issue and, more importantly, how can you improve it? First, give it a go yourself. It’s probably been awhile since you’ve used your site like a customer. Navigate the steps through your customer’s eyes and see how difficult it is to find items. Making your website more user friendly should be a continuous process — never assume that your site can’t be improved. After all, each incomplete order may be tied to a potential customer you may never get back.
Does your website have usability issues?
A more technical way to determine if your website isn’t user friendly is to compare your traffic and sales statistics to those of other ecommerce websites. In terms of sales, a good standard to keep in mind is a visitor-to-sale conversion rate of 2-3%. This means that 2-3% of the visits to your site result in a sale in the same session. If your site is below this rate, you may want to re-examine your website design.
Another key metric is the percentage of people who have started an order on your site who actually complete one. Called the funnel conversion rate, the average for most ecommerce websites is about 29% (in other words, about 7 in 10 orders never make it past the add-to-shopping-cart step). Closing a deal is the hardest part of making a sale, so it’s important to know if your order process is preventing customers from completing purchases.
You can also get some insight into your site’s effectiveness by looking at how much time customers spend browsing on it. According to a recent study, the average time is less than 3 minutes. But you don’t necessarily want customers to spend a ton of their time on your site. While customers who spend between 3 and 4 minutes on a site tend to spend the most money, average revenue dramatically decreases when a user spends 7 or more minutes on the site. Visit durations that are too long may be the result of usability issues in your site’s layout or navigation, or the ordering process in general.
How can you improve your usability?
When only 3 in 10 orders are followed through to completion, it means your site has room for improvement. Here are some tips to improve the user friendliness of your site:
Users are accustomed to fast web pages and won’t have patience if yours is too slow. You can start by choosing a server that will be able to accommodate your website’s traffic and data needs. Eliminating unnecessary animations and excessively large images will also speed up the load time of your page.
Follow everyone else: Websites tend to have some elements in common. These include a logo in the top left that links back to the main page, a link to checkout on the right side of the page, and a “Contact Us” page that provides an email address or phone number. By following these conventions, you will make users feel more at home on your pages.
Use text wisely: Large, bold, and bulleted text will catch the eye of your customer. Remember that reading text on a website can strain eyes, so avoid fonts that are difficult to read, and stick to left justified text (as opposed to right or center). Try to keep text short and sweet, and avoid long paragraphs.
Limit use of unnecessary graphics: A company logo is fine, and pictures of merchandise are essential, but try to keep other graphics to a minimum. In many cases, they will distract visitors from your products, particularly if they are poorly designed or overused. Worse, they may make your site look unprofessional.
Make items easy to find: Making customers find their way through a maze of pages to get to the item they want won’t encourage them to make impulse buys and will likely discourage sales altogether. Carefully categorize your merchandise, and spend time implementing an efficient site-wide search function.
Set navigation conventions: Make your site easy to browse. Links to go to the next page or back to the previous page should be in the same place on all pages of your site and should be easy to recognize. Merchandise listings should be similar for all categories. The checkout button should be the easiest button on the page to find and always in the same location.
Have a menu bar: All pages of your site should have a basic menu bar that allows customers to navigate back to critical pages. Access to the home page, shopping cart, and Contact Us page should always be available. It also helps when customers can access broad categories from the menu bar so that they can quickly backtrack or move on to browsing for another product.
Make the cart clear: You customers want a clear picture of what they’re buying and what it will cost when they look at their shopping cart. If you can, it’s a good idea to include an estimate of shipping costs here as well. Try to eliminate “surprise” charges (like processing, handling, shipping, and even tax) that are added on in the checkout process. Also let them easily edit the cart by giving them the ability to change quantities or delete unwanted items.
Keep it simple: This seems like an obvious point, but most ecommerce websites refuse to follow it. The average checkout process includes 5 separate pages, and each page is an opportunity for the customer to leave without completing the sale. Don’t ask for more information than you need and save your customers from retyping information where possible. Have a check box, for example, that automatically fills in shipping details when they match the same as the billing data. It’s also a good idea to provide some kind of progress bar that shows customers how far they have to go in the checkout process.
Don’t require registration: Some websites require customers to register for an account before they can complete a sale. This adds steps, time, and inconvenience to the order process and will cost you some sales. Let your customer make their purchase first, and then offer an opportunity to create an account.
Last but not least, turn around and ask your visitors for feedback on their experience. No one knows better how to improve your site than your customers.