How to Build E-Commerce Experiences People Will Love

October 19, 2013

10:00 am

If you offer a great item but the platform to buy it is cumbersome and time-intensive to use, how many shoppers are going to become customers? Not many.

Many companies focus so narrowly on the products they’re selling that they forget to address the purchasing experience. Great e-commerce encourages discovery while also “getting out of the way” of the user. With more consumers utilizing their mobile phones as shopping devices, creating an engaging and frictionless shopping experience on mobile should be a top priority for e-commerce startups.

Below is a look at some recent trends that enable e-commerce sites and apps to create usable and enjoyable experiences.

Video Previews

One emerging trend in e-commerce is video. While some brands, particularlyfashion brands, utilize video for showcasing clothing in a seasonal “lookbook,” others have begun to utilize video in the actual shopping experience. Instead of viewing clothing on a static image of a person’s body, shoppers are able to see the clothing in motion — a much more realistic way of previewing clothes and imagining what they may look like on the shopper. For example,ASOS features a “catwalk preview” of its clothing, which helps customers see the true length of a skirt, or how a top might hang.

Large, High-Quality Photography

Gilt Groupe was onto something when it debuted large, high-quality photography akin to what you might see in a Vogue spread. Photography appeals to the emotions, and for newer brands, photographs can communicate the essence of the brand or lifestyle they’re trying to sell.

Photography also helps replicate the actual shopping experience. The optimal shopping experience is one in which the shopper can actually see and touch the clothes and gauge how they fit. While this experience isn’t wholly possible online, some websites, like Gilt Groupe’s, do a great job of replicating these experiences through high-quality photography with plenty of options to zoom in on fabrics and different angles.

Harrys

Harry’s features well-directed, high-quality photography showcasing its products.

Filters

Have you ever seen an article of clothing you really loved and wanted to buy, only to find the store didn’t have it in your size? These frustrations can be avoided by applying filters and discovery to the e-commerce experience. Rather than a trend, this is simply a best practice in user experience design. E-commerce sites like Target’s have filtering down to a science: Consumers can filter not only by size, but they can also narrow by color, trend, occasion, garment length, sleeve length, brand, and price. These filters make online shopping more convenient than shopping in a store.

On the other hand, while it’s important to allow users who might know exactly what they want — or think they want — to find a product, it’s also essential to encourage discovery in e-commerce. A good e-commerce site or app will entice users to explore and see what else is out there. A recent example of a great e-commerce app that encourages discovery and exploration isRent the Runway. In this app, a feature called “Dress Match” allows users to snap photos of “any dress, fabric, or pattern,” and the app will spit out recommendations of similar dresses.

RentRunway

Rent the Runway’s “Dress Match” feature helps customers locate items.

Responsive Design

Another best practice for user experience is responsive design. Responsive design simply means that your site’s layout and content adapts to the screen size of the user, however large or small. Responsive design enables users to browse and access content more easily.

HardGraft

Hard Graft is an example of a responsive e-commerce site. Go ahead and try shrinking your browser window while viewing the site.

Content

Another recent trend in e-commerce is the addition of valuable content to the shopping experience. Not only do shoppers want to see the clothing or products, but they want to hear the story behind them and fully understand the brand essence of a product.Of A Kind, an online retailer of one-of-a-kind accessories, places content at the forefront of its shopping experience; each product release is followed by an in-depth interview with the designer and his or her production process and personal story.

Furthermore, making content a priority can greatly benefit e-commerce startups if that content is shareable and relatable. Many brands use social media platforms, like Instagram, to boost their signals, asking fans to use hashtags when posting photos of themselves wearing the brands’ products. One startup,Olapic, helps brands facilitate this kind of “visual e-commerce,” collecting hashtags and displaying user-generated photos. Viewing a product on a real person is quite different from viewing a product on a mannequin and can help increase sales.

What about Virtual Try-Ons?

Virtual try-ons have made a lot of noise in the past few years, but such features can come off as cheesy and unconvincing at best (have you ever used one?). Physical try-ons and personalization, however, could be useful and pleasant additions to an e-commerce site.Warby Parker pioneered its famous “at-home try-on” program, allowing potential buyers to try on up to five frames at home for free.BonLook, another eyewear company, has a team of “virtual stylists” who give personalized advice on which frames may fit your face best after viewing a photo of you. Feedback is lightning fast anduploaded to YouTube.

By combining ideas from the aforementioned companies, you’ll be able to envision an e-commerce site or app that people will love — one that encourages discovery while also getting out of the user’s way. Creating engaging and frictionless shopping experiences that perform cross-platform will enable a generation of busy people to shop online whenever and wherever they want — and make them much more likely to click “Add to Cart.”

Guest author Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, an award-winning design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 25 startups in downtown Manhattan. Chawla is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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