Entry-level ecommerce

State of the market

The UK spends the most per capita online according to a late 2013 Ofcom report - see p40. Alongside Germany, the UK has the most frequent online shoppers. So in the UK there's no problem in finding people willing to shop online.

In order to capitalise on this interest, you need to ensure that the shopping process is slick.

Kinds of ecommerce shoppers

According to Nielsen Norman group there are 5 kinds of ecommerce shoppers. In summary these are:

  • Product focused - know what they want and are in a hurry
  • Researchers - goal driven like the above, looking for the right combination of features, visiting multiple sites
  • Browsers - leisurely shoppers returning to favourite sites or going to new sites for inspiration
  • Bargain-hunters - looking for the best deal possible, so clear pricing is a must
  • One-time shoppers - typically gift card recipients or buyers

It's up to you to decide how many of these types of shopper you want to deal with.

Questions to ask yourself about the buying process

  • Can the visitor find the price of what you are selling quickly and easily? Too often, visitors have to go through the motions of filling in a shopping basket just to find the total price including shipping. Not good.
  • Do you need a catalogue system at all? If you have a small range, would a single page order form with an interactive running total at the bottom be better?

Here is a quick demonstration of an interactive shopping basket that may be suitable for 20-30 items. If you change the quantities, the totals update immediately which makes it quite nice for the visitor.

In practice the product lines would come from a database and visitor inputs would be validated to prevent them messing about with your lovely order system.

Quantities are limited to 99 - you know these things aren't good for you.

Qty Description Unit Subtotal
  Order total
  Order inc shipping
  VAT (20%)
  Grand total
  • Does the visitor get a complete summary of what they are about to buy, including shipping costs, before they place the order?
  • Can the visitor purchase without creating an account? It's reckoned that account creation can put off up to 30% of shoppers.
  • If your goods are perishable, have you made the use-by date clear to the prospect?

User experience testing

When online shopping yourself, rather than just clicking away to another shop when you get impatient with a website, note down what you think is wrong so that you don't commit the same error yourself.

If you can't afford independent testing, you can try 'hallway testing' ie you grab passing people in your office hallway who haven't seen this incarnation of your website. Since they are probably busy, their concentration on the task you set them may not be 100% which might be a 'good thing' because it will expose weaknesses. Of course if you don't have an office hallway you may have to use friends and family though obviously some of them might be too nice to you (or the opposite).


Once you've got the order, making the fulfilment process smooth should encourage return visits or recommendations.

Some thoughts about this:

  • Can the customer print off a confirmation of their order on a single page of A4 or US letter paper? This particularly applies if they have to show it to collect an item or receive a service.
  • If there is a lead time before delivery, how do you propose to keep the customer informed?
  • Once the goods or service has been delivered, is the invoice available on a single sheet of paper?
  • Can the customer find their previous invoices on your website?
  • If you allow goods to be returned, do you have a mechanism in place to deal with it?

Implementing your shop

Your website designer will have opinions and preferences, particularly on the make-or-buy front. So before you approach them you need to prioritise your ecommerce requirements so that you can map them to any proposed solution. If you can't map your requirements then either the solution has to go, or you compromise on your requirements.

Warning bells should ring if someone tells you a particular solution (or particular shopping system) is 'industry standard': firstly because it may not fit what you want to do; and secondly you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. That said, off-the-shelf systems are much cheaper than bespoke ones.

Don't forget that if you have a lot of catalogue items, you will need a lot of photography, possibly some kind of photo studio environment with stands and lighting. Using a professional photographer might be a worthwhile investment.