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6 Essential Elements Of Effective Ecommerce Website Design

In 2021, ecommerce generated $870 billion in sales in the United States, making ecommerce website design essential for success. Setting up an online store makes it possible to sell products right from your website, get better SEO results, and build a stronger brand.

We put together this guide to help you build your online business without getting overwhelmed. Keep reading to learn what type of site you should create and find out what the best ecommerce website design professionals say about balancing design with functionality.

How to Start Designing Your Ecommerce Site?

Before you start, look at some website examples from companies in your industry. Tell your web designer what you like and dislike about each one. If you don’t like any of the sites you find, check out a few web design templates for inspiration. Social media is also a great place to look for examples of attractive designs.

Once you have a basic design in mind, work with the designer to bring it to life. You may need to go through several rounds of revisions before you settle on a design that matches your branding. When you have a design mockup, you can start thinking about functionality.

Recommended reading: 20 Best Ecommerce Platforms For Ecomm Pros

What Kind of Ecommerce Site Should You Build?

Next, think about what type of site you want to create and which tools you’ll use to keep it running. For an ecommerce site, you have a few options. For example, you can use WooCommerce with WordPress plugins or invest in BigCommerce to access additional marketing and security features.

Now that you know what tools you want to use, it’s time to decide whether you want to create a single-brand site or a marketplace.

Single-brand site

A single-brand site showcases products from just one company, making it the best type of ecommerce website for most businesses. Unless you have affiliate partners or sponsors whose products you need to promote, a single-brand site is a good way to build a cohesive brand and maintain control over your company’s identity.

An example of a single-brand site. (Credit: garyvaynerchuk.com)
An example of a single-brand site. (Credit: garyvaynerchuk.com)

Marketplace

Another ecommerce website design option is creating a marketplace or site where several companies come together to sell their products. Walmart is a great example of a well-known brand with a marketplace site.

If you go to Walmart.com and search for a product, you can narrow your search results by retailer. Options include Walmart, Pro Sellers, and Marketplace Sellers Fulfilled by Walmart. Although it may seem counterintuitive to offer someone else’s products on your ecommerce site, it’s a good way to drive traffic and generate more revenue.

A screenshot of Amazon's marketplace showing the different categories of products offered.
Amazon's marketplace is another good example of a site where various companies and individuals can sell their products.

What Does Good Ecommerce Website Design Look Like? 6 Essential Elements

If you want repeat customers who are happy to refer people to your business, your ecommerce site should adhere to a few basic principles.

A great ecommerce website is:

1. Designed with the buyer in mind

Have you ever visited an ecommerce site that made it almost impossible to find what you needed and check out quickly? Think about how you felt. Now imagine if your customers feel the same way about your business.

Every design and development decision should be made with current and potential customers in mind, from what color scheme to use to how many product pages you have. The homepage should clearly state what you do and make it easy for visitors to find what they need. 

If you’re ready to create a user-friendly website that gets results, try the following:

  • Don’t be afraid to use bright colors, but only if they match your brand’s color scheme. Choose colors that complement your logo and other branding materials.
  • Make sure the homepage makes a great first impression. The site's fonts, animations, and other design elements should match your branding and enhance your content and product photos rather than overshadowing them.
  • Use consistent formatting across all pages of the same type. It’s difficult for customers to find what they need if every page looks different. For example, if you have multiple versions of a landing page optimized for local search engine optimization, make sure they all follow the same structure.
  • Put a call to action (CTA) close to the top of each page. Some customers would rather leave your site than scroll down to the bottom to request a call or sign up for your newsletter. Adding a CTA closer to the top increases conversion rates.

Site navigation is an important part of the user experience. If users can’t find what they need in your ecommerce store, they’ll buy from one of your competitors. To make it easy to find specific products, add a search bar to every page of the site.

A screenshot of Amazon's site highlighting the search bar navigation tool.

Your ecommerce business can also benefit from having an easy-to-use navigational menu. A good menu has the following benefits:

  • It’s easier for users to find products and complete sales transactions.
  • You can easily track user flows, enabling you to determine which product categories are the most popular.
  • The items in your navigation menu influence how visitors feel about your brand.

To enhance the functionality of your ecommerce site, make sure your menu uses descriptive labels. "Red Christmas Ornaments," "Blue Christmas Ornaments," and "Green Christmas Ornaments" are better than "Ornaments" or "Christmas Decorations" because they help customers understand exactly what to expect when they click each link.

3. Packed with features

Messaging, typography, white space, and overall store design are all important, but they’ll only get you so far. To make a great impression, your online storefront needs plenty of features to keep users engaged. In addition to the search bar and easy-to-use navigation menu, your ecommerce platform should have the following:

  • Videos demonstrating how your products work
  • Customer reviews, testimonials, and other types of social proof
  • Order tracking capabilities
  • Filters to help customers narrow their search results by size, color, and other characteristics
  • Multiple ways to request assistance
A screenshot of Amazon's website showing the account features of the user.

These features build trust, make your site easier to use, and show customers you’re a brand that deserves their trust. Offering additional features also helps you increase sales conversions and maximize the average lifetime value of a customer.

4. Mobile-responsive

As of April 2021, 85% of all Americans owned a smartphone, making online shopping a major source of revenue for startups, small businesses, and large corporations. Shopify also reports that nearly 70% of users rely on retail mobile apps to help them find what they need.

With so many people using mobile devices to buy digital and physical products, your site needs to work just as well on mobile as on a desktop or laptop computer. This is a concept known as responsive design.

To make it easy for your target audience to navigate your site on a smartphone or tablet, focus on the following:

  • Flexibility: Text, product images, videos, and other site elements must display correctly on small screens. Work with your developer to create a responsive design that prioritizes flexibility.
  • Checkout process: Displaying product information is just one of the many functions of an ecommerce site. Make sure users can add products to the shopping cart and check out without encountering any errors.
  • Consistency: Make sure your site looks the same on mobile as it does on desktop and laptop computers. This consistency is essential for building a cohesive brand.
  • Navigation: Make it easy for users to navigate the site when they’re on mobile devices.

5. Filled with powerful copy and product descriptions

If you came across a product described as "Pack of 10, red, Craftsman brand," would you be excited about buying it? Probably not. Powerful copy and product descriptions are essential for getting customers enthusiastic about what you offer and persuading them to purchase.

Here’s an example:

"Keep your best friend healthy with Lord Barkington pet treats. Each tasty treat is packed with protein to keep your pooch feeling full and prevent overeating. Available in six flavors, these treats also contain chicken as their first ingredient, eliminating harmful fillers from your pet’s diet."

The example above doesn’t just list product features. It tells the reader that the product has high-quality ingredients and may prevent health concerns associated with overeating or consuming harmful ingredients.

A screenshot of a fuel tank product with powerful descriptive copy.

6. Filled with high-quality photos of your products

Now isn’t the time to snap a few photos with your smartphone and upload them to your site. For the best ecommerce web design possible, have a professional photographer take high-quality images under appropriate lighting conditions.

A screenshot of a wearable blanket product page with a high-quality image of a person wearing the product.

Have the photographer take photos from multiple angles to show off each product’s features and give customers a reason to buy.

Make an Impact with the Right Ecommerce Website Design

Now that we've covered the basics of ecommerce website design, it might be time to look at the tools to get your ecommerce business set up.

The Ecomm Manager has all the tools you need to master ecommerce, and how-to guides for SEO, marketing, and more. 

For tips to help you maximize your sales conversion rate, sign up for our newsletter today.

By Francois Marchand

I’m Francois Marchand, content strategist and editor. I've worked in marketing, journalism, and communications for 20 years. I've been in charge of creating and managing content at Postmedia, Vancouver Film School, and Unbounce. I love helping business leaders, content creators, and marketers of all stripes grow their skillsets and knowledge base to stay ahead of the competition.

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