Ecommerce Website Design 101: How to Position Your Online Store for Success
Ecommerce has been growing at a rapid rate. Projections by Statista show that by 2024, global annual ecommerce sales revenue will pass the $6.3 trillion mark, up from $4.2 trillion in 2020.
In addition, more and more people are shopping online. Data shows that as of 2021, there are 2.14 billion online shoppers in the world, which is about 26.7% of the world’s population.
With so many people shopping online, and so much money to be made from ecommerce, it is not surprising, therefore, that every entrepreneur and retailer worth their salt has an ecommerce website.
If you want to build a successful ecommerce website that stands out from the millions of other ecommerce websites in the world, you have to ensure that your website is properly designed, with great focus on the user experience.
In this guide, we are going to show you how to design your ecommerce website for success, complete with examples of the best designed ecommerce websites. Let’s dive in!
What You Need To Build A High-Performing Ecommerce Website
To build a high-performing ecommerce website that drives customer conversions, you need the following:
1. A Domain Name
A domain name is the unique address that identifies your ecommerce website.
When shoppers want to access your ecommerce website, they’ll need to key in this domain name into their internet browsers. An example of a domain name would be www.myonlineshop.com.
2. A Web Hosting Provider
For your customers to be able to access your ecommerce website on the internet, you need a web hosting provider to host the website for you. The web hosting provider stores your website’s files on their servers and makes them accessible online.
Just like with a domain name, you can purchase hosting services for your ecommerce website from web hosting providers like Bluehost, HostGator, or SiteGround, or you can use the hosting provided by your ecommerce platform of choice.
3. An Ecommerce Platform To Build Your Store
It is possible to build a fully-functional ecommerce website from scratch. However, this requires a lot of time and technical expertise, making it an unsuitable option for most entrepreneurs.
An easier way to build your ecommerce website is to use a SaaS ecommerce website builder.
These website builders require no coding or programming experience, but they provide you with all the options you need to build and customize your own unique store that matches your brand.
When choosing an ecommerce platform, always check the features it offers to make sure that they meet the needs of your brand and the products you intend to sell.
4. A Shopping Cart Tool
Your ecommerce website also needs a shopping cart tool to help your customers manage the items they are interested in purchasing.
Many ecommerce platforms come with their own integrated shopping cart tools. However, if you are building your ecommerce site from scratch, you will need to integrate the website with third party shopping cart software.
5. An Integrated Payment Gateway
Every ecommerce website also needs a payment gateway to collect and process payments from customers.
When choosing a payment gateway for your ecommerce website, go for one that is compatible with your chosen ecommerce platform, allows multiple payment methods, is PCI compliant, and one that does not charge excessive fees.
6. A Shipping Solution
Most entrepreneurs don’t think about shipping until after they have built their ecommerce websites. However, shipping also affects your customers’ user experience, and therefore, this is something you need to think about right from the start.
Whether you are going to be dropshipping your products or shipping them yourself, you will need access to shipping software that will work seamlessly with the rest of your ecommerce website and your chosen shipping method.
With these 6 elements in place, you are ready to start building your ecommerce website.
Design Differences Between B2C And B2B Ecommerce Sites
B2C and B2B ecommerce websites do not sell to similar audiences, which means that design aspects that create a high-performing B2B website could be responsible for a poorly performing B2C website.
Therefore, if you want to build a successful ecommerce website, you need to figure out whether your website will be primarily focused on other businesses or consumers.
Below, let’s check out some of the key design differences between B2C and B2B ecommerce sites.
Difference #1. Homepage Design
Before making a decision, B2B customers seek as much information as possible about a product to make sure that it is the right one for them. Their purchase decisions don’t get swayed by how elegant your website looks or the discounts you are offering.
Therefore, when building a B2B ecommerce website, you should focus on creating an informative homepage design, with focus on things like product features, product demos, and what makes your products different from other alternatives in the market.
B2C customers, on the other hand, make their decisions based on emotion rather than rational information analysis.
Therefore, the homepage design for B2C ecommerce websites needs to focus on things like discounts and offers, trending products that customers might get tempted to buy on impulse, and attractive, flashy graphics that quickly grab the customer’s attention.
Difference #2. Content
The B2B purchase process is a long one that involves multiple decision makers. Therefore, the content on a B2B ecommerce website should focus on providing detailed information that supports a long purchase process.
The best kinds of content for B2B ecommerce sites include product demo videos, buyer guides, comprehensive user guides, case studies, and so on.
B2B ecommerce content also needs to focus on both the decision makers and the users. For instance, if your website sells networking equipment, your content needs to speak to both the middle-level manager who will approve the purchase, and the network engineer who will install the equipment.
B2C content, on the other hand, should focus on ensuring an easy and quick decision making process. The best kinds of content for B2C ecommerce sites include attractive, high resolution product images, customer reviews and ratings, product highlights, and so on.
Difference #3. Pricing Models
Pricing models for B2C customers are usually very straightforward. Every customer gets the same price, unless they have a coupon code that they can use to get a discount.
With B2C customers, things are not as straightforward, because different B2C customers usually have very different needs, which creates the need for customized products or solutions.
For instance, if you sell web hosting services, a small business could only be interested in 20GB of storage and a bandwidth of 10 Mbps, while a large business could be looking for 1Tb of storage, 500 Mbps bandwidth, and root server access. It would be impossible to have a similar pricing model for clients with such varied needs.
The most common solution for B2B ecommerce websites is to have a tiered pricing model that allows customers to pick a plan that suits them best based on their needs.
Alternatively, B2B ecommerce sites sometimes implement pricing calculators that give customers a custom pricing based on the features they are interested in.
Difference #4. The Checkout Process
B2C customers want to be done with their sale as quickly as possible. Find a product they like, put it in their cart, complete the checkout, and wait for the product to be delivered.
The less the number of steps they have to go through, the more convenient the process is for them.
This means that the checkout process for B2B ecommerce websites needs to be made as simple as possible. If there is a step that can be eliminated without affecting the user experience, it needs to go.
For instance, if it is not necessary for a customer to register an account on your website in order for them to complete the checkout process, don’t ask them to do it.
B2B customers, on the other hand, are not in a rush to check out. Their biggest concern is to make sure that they are not making a mistake by purchasing your products. Therefore, you should design a B2B checkout process that helps them alleviate any of their fears.
This means that the B2B checkout process will sometimes involve phone calls and video chats, product demos, ability to change required features, and so on.
B2B customers might also require some unconventional payment options that would not work in the B2C world, such as the ability to buy on credit.
Best Ecommerce Website Design Examples
Let’s take a look at 6 examples of great ecommerce website design, as well as what makes these website designs so good.
Ecommerce Example 1: Amazon
Being the biggest ecommerce website in the world, it is not surprising that Amazon is at the top of this list.
Amazon gets everything right when it comes to ecommerce website design. First and foremost, the Amazon website is amazingly simple and easy to navigate around.
When you land on their homepage, the first thing you come across is a carousel showing the most popular product categories. Their entire homepage consists of links that allow customers to quickly find the most relevant categories.
Since Amazon carries millions of products, they have a highly effective in-site search engine that allows you to find whatever product you are looking for. And if you are not sure what you are looking for, a sidebar hamburger menu allows you to quickly access all product categories from any page.
The Amazon website also provides multiple filtering options, making it easy for users to find the exact product they are looking for without feeling overwhelmed by choice.
Ecommerce Example 2: Apple
Apple’s design philosophy is all about making things as simple as possible for their users, and this is well reflected on their website.
When you open Apple’s homepage, one thing becomes apparent immediately. The website is designed to highlight Apple’s amazing products in the best way possible. Like most of Apple’s products, their website has a very minimalist design, which gives the website a very elegant aesthetic.
At the top of the website is a navigation bar with links to all the different Apple product categories, making it easy for users to navigate around the website.
Another thing we love about Apple’s website is how detailed their product pages are. Combining text with highly captivating graphics, Apple gives you all the relevant information about their products, including product features, key benefits, the product’s unique selling proposition, and so on.
The product pages also give users the option to compare between different products of the same category, making it easier for users to find a product that is most suitable for them.
When you decide to buy a product, the website allows you to easily choose the product features you want – from color and size to storage space and connectivity options. Apple even gives users the ability to personalize products by engraving names and messages on the product.
All in all, the Apple website offers a very pleasant user experience.
Ecommerce Example 3: Smokehaus
Whereas most websites use a grid to showcase their products, the Smokehaus website uses a unique layout that shows their meat products the same way they would appear at the butcher’s shop – hanging on a hook.
Smokehaus understands that such a bold design change can be confusing for users. Therefore, the first thing they do when you visit the site is to give you instructions on how to navigate through the different products.
When you hover over a product, the website gives you the product name, the size/weight of the product, and the price, as well as an info button that you can use to learn more about the product.
The product page gives a description of the product, the weight, the price, the meats used to make the product, recommended serving accompaniments, awards that the product has won, as well as an option to buy.
The website also keeps things simple by making it possible to navigate to different product categories from any page. They also have a “Your Bag” link in the navigation menu that allows users to view their shopping cart at any time.
We also love how they use personalized messages to encourage users to keep shopping. When you add an item to your bag, you get a message like “Yum! We love that one.” Or “Good choice!” This small detail goes a long way in improving the user experience.
Ecommerce Example 4: Skullcandy
Skullcandy is an ecommerce website that sells various audio gadgets. There are several things that we love about this website.
First, their product images are stunning – high quality images that clearly show what you are getting. When you scroll down the page, they have a trending section that shows the most popular products at the moment.
They also have a cool feature that shows you an image of someone using the product when you hover the cursor on the product.
Skullcandy’s product pages are a perfect combination of stunning imagery and relevant product information, including the product features, a product video, lifestyle shots of people using the product, and reviews from other users for social proof.
We also love that the product pages have a sticky add-to-cart button that remains at the bottom of the page as you scroll. This way, whenever you decide to buy, you don’t have to scroll to the top of the page to find the add-to-cart button.
Ecommerce Example 5: Bite Toothpaste
The first thing you notice when you open the Bite Toothpaste is their beautifully designed home page.
Their color palette and beautiful images quickly capture your attention, while the caption on the featured image immediately makes it clear that this is no ordinary toothpaste.
This is closely followed by a section showing all the notable magazines and websites that Bite Toothpaste has been featured on, which helps to provide social proof. The social proof is bolstered by the user reviews that are included at the bottom of the home page.
Another great feature on the Bite Toothpaste website is that when you hover above a product image, the website displays a series of images showing how the product is used. This helps make sure that their unconventional product is still easily understood by first time customers.
The amazing copy combined with the hero shots and social proof come together in a great way to convince customers to give this unconventional toothpaste a try.
Advantages Of Using Ecommerce Platforms Or Online Store Builders For Designing A Site
You have two options when it comes to building your ecommerce platform – building the website from scratch or using an online store builder.
While both routes are capable of delivering a powerful ecommerce website, we recommend using an online store builder for the following reasons:
Advantage #1. Quick Setup
Building an ecommerce site from scratch is a time consuming endeavor, whether you are doing it yourself, or hiring a designer to build the site for you.
At best, it could take you about a month or more for a fully featured ecommerce website. This translates to a whole month of your customers not being able to find you online.
With an online site builder, most of the ecommerce website elements are already prebuilt, saving you the time it would have taken you to build them from scratch.
This means that you can have your ecommerce website up and running within a few days and start finding clients for your business.
Advantage #2. You Don’t Need To Be Tech Savvy
If you don’t have the technical skills to build a website, you have two options – learn how to code, or hire a designer. None of these two options is easy.
Learning to code could take you several months before you become proficient enough to build a powerful website with the right features and proper security. You’ll also need to take time off your business in order to learn how to code.
Hiring a web designer, on the other hand, can be quite expensive. Hiring a skilled professional designer can easily cost you upwards of $5,000, depending on the features you want on your website. This is money that would have been better spent on other aspects of your business, such as buying inventory or marketing.
With an online store builder, however, you don’t have to learn how to code or hire a designer. Online site builders are designed to be easy to use, even for someone with zero technical knowledge.
They come with pre-built online store templates and drag and drop building environments, allowing you to build a fully featured ecommerce website without having to write a single line of code, even if you’ve never built a website before.
The best part is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on them either, since most ecommerce website builders cost just a few dollars a month.
Advantage #3. All Features Are Available At A Click
Even if you know how to develop a website from scratch, setting up all the features you want on your ecommerce site can be quite a hassle – dozens of plugins and widgets to install, lines of code, dealing with bugs, and so on.
With an online store builder, however, all the features you’ll need are already incorporated into the builder. If you need a particular feature, you can add it to your website with just a few clicks.
Advantage #4. Take Advantage Of Best Design And Business Practices
Building a good website takes more than knowing how to write code. You also need to know best design practices and have a good idea of what works in today’s highly dynamic, and more importantly, what doesn’t. This is the kind of knowledge that only comes with experience.
Fortunately, the teams behind most ecommerce website builders have spent decades learning the ins and outs of website design and have good knowledge of the best design practices for ecommerce websites.
They incorporate this knowledge when building the prebuilt templates and features that come with online store builders. Therefore, by building your ecommerce website using an online store builder, you are already applying these best design practices on your website.
Best Ecommerce Platforms
There are dozens of ecommerce platforms available on the internet, but not all of them will give you a great experience.
Based on our experience and detailed reviews of all these platforms, we recommend the following, which we have found to be the best ecommerce website builder platforms.
- Shopify: Best hosted ecommerce solution.
- Squarespace Commerce: Best for those who want elegant looking storefronts.
- Wix eCommerce: Best for small businesses that want an easy and quick solution.
- BigCommerce: Best for businesses looking for a great collection of in-built tools.
- Volusion: Best for new businesses looking for an affordable solution.
Powerful Ecommerce Website Design Checklist
While different ecommerce websites will differ depending on the kind of products you are selling and the customers you are targeting, there are some things that are an absolute requirement for an ecommerce website to be successful.
Below are 5 things that you need to get right before launching your ecommerce website.
1. Website Design And Layout
It takes site visitors just a few seconds to form their opinion of your website. If they feel that the website doesn’t provide what they are looking for, they’ll quickly leave the site, resulting in a lost sales opportunity.
So, how do you get a visitor to hang around on your ecommerce website for more than a few seconds? The answer lies in website design and layout.
A powerful ecommerce website needs to have a clear and high quality homepage design that immediately captures a visitor’s attention, makes it clear what the website is about, and quickly communicates what action you want the user to take.
To do this, every page on your website needs to have a logical area where you want visitors’ eyeballs to land.
For instance, when you land on Apple’s website, it is immediately clear that they want you to focus on their flagship product – the iPhone 12. There’s no confusion.
Similarly, your ecommerce website design needs to make it clear what you want visitors to focus on as soon as they land on the page.
In addition, your ecommerce website layout and UI needs to be fluid and intuitive, allowing your users to quickly understand how your site works and where to find different things.
Finally, you need to understand that the harder it is for your site users to navigate around your website, the more likely they are to abandon your website without completing their purchase, or even finding what they want.
Therefore, every powerful ecommerce website needs to implement easy navigation that allows users to quickly move between different product pages and product categories.
The days when all internet access used to happen on desktop are long gone. Reports show that the smartphone is the most popular device for online shopping. Other popular devices for online shopping are laptop computers, desktop computers, and tablets.
The point here is that your customers are accessing your website from multiple devices. Sometimes, customers even switch between different devices before completing the purchase process.
For instance, during the morning commute, a customer could go to your ecommerce website on their phone, browse through different products, and add some products to their cart.
Unfortunately, they get to their destination before completing the purchase, and they forget all about it.
Later during the day, while working on their desktop computer, they remember that they didn’t complete the purchase, so they access your site from the desktop computer to complete the purchase.
With such omnichannel shopping, the only way to deliver a pleasant and seamless user experience is to ensure that your ecommerce website is responsive.
Responsiveness means that your ecommerce website should be able to automatically resize and adjust what it displays depending on the device it is being viewed on.
3. Search Engine Optimization
When looking for a product to buy, most people won’t key in your website URL into their browsers and then search for the products on your website.
Instead, most people simply search for the product on Google and other search engines and then click on the results with the product they are looking for.
In other words, organic search is the greatest driver of traffic for ecommerce websites. Therefore, if you want people to find your site and buy your products, you have to optimize your site for search.
When it comes to optimizing your ecommerce website, the first thing you need to do is to perform keyword research to find out the keywords that shoppers are using to search for products related to what you sell. There are several good keyword research tools that you can use to do this.
Once you have identified these keywords, you then need to optimize the content on your ecommerce website for these keywords, as well as other important elements of your website, such as html tags, image alt text, and so on.
4. Conversion-Optimized Checkout Process
Most of the top reasons for cart abandonment have something to do with the checkout process.
Either your site requires users to create an account before they can complete the purchase, the checkout process is too long and tedious, there are hidden costs that are only introduced during checkout, some payment methods are not supported, and so on.
There’s no point in spending time building a powerful ecommerce website and spending time driving traffic to the website if most of these people will end up abandoning their carts because of your checkout process.
Therefore, you need to make sure that your checkout process is as friendly as possible for your users. If possible, allow users to have a guest checkout option that allows them to complete their purchase without having to create an account.
Eliminate any unnecessary steps to keep the checkout process as simple as possible, make sure users are aware of all costs upfront, and ensure that your payment gateway supports multiple payment methods.
5. A Visible Search Bar On Every Page
While people may use the product category pages when they are browsing, the most prominent way of finding products is through search.
This means that every successful ecommerce website needs to have a well-visible and properly functioning search bar on every page. This way, whenever a user wants to find something, they can easily search for it without having to navigate to the homepage first.
The search functionality on your ecommerce website should also allow customers to apply filters to search results, so as to make it easier for them to find the exact products they are looking for.
Expert Advice On Ecommerce Website Design
Having talked about what it takes to build a high-performing ecommerce website, let’s look at the go-to tips for various ecommerce experts on how to build ecommerce websites that are effective at capturing visitors’ attention and converting them into paying customers.
1. Pick A Scalable Ecommerce Platform – Nathalie Lussier, AccessAlly
When starting out, a lot of entrepreneurs choose ecommerce platforms based on affordability, rather than features.
At this point, their business is new, they don’t need a ton of features, and they have a limited budget, so it makes sense to go for the cheapest option. Once the money starts rolling in, you can always upgrade to a better platform, right?
According to AccessAlly CEO, Nathalier Lussier, this kind of thinking is flawed. As your business grows, you’ll discover that you need more features, which means changing platforms, sometimes multiple times.
Migrating an already existing store to a new platform can be very costly, and could even end up costing you more than the money you saved by opting for a cheaper platform.
In addition, if you keep on changing platforms, these changes will be confusing for your customers, which could cause some of them to leave.
To avoid this, Lussier recommends choosing an ecommerce platform that will scale with your business, even if it might be costlier in the short term.
2. Prioritize UX – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
Your site might have the best graphics, the best prices, and the most amazing content, but if your user experience is clunky, none of this matters. Most visitors will abandon your site without making any purchase.
With this in mind, Formidable Forms founder Stephanie Wells advises online store owners to put a lot of priority on offering a pleasant user experience. Everything on your site needs to feel easy and intuitive for your users.
3. Show Social Proof – Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
Most people make their decisions based on the decisions and experiences of others in the same situation.
If previous customers had an awesome experience shopping from your ecommerce website, prospective customers are more likely to want to purchase from you.
Here’s the catch, however. You have to let them know about the awesome experience of your previous customers.
This is why OptinMonster co-founder Thomas Griffin insists that every successful ecommerce store needs to display social proof.
Social proof can be showcased on an ecommerce website through user reviews and ratings, counters showing the number of people who have purchased the product, testimonials, and so on.
4. Offer Value Outside Your Products And Services – Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
A lot of entrepreneurs only focus only on the products or services they are selling on their ecommerce websites. After all, this is what brings you money, right?
The problem, however, is that most people won’t be ready to buy when they first land on your ecommerce site. A lot of them are still researching their options, comparing prices, and so on. And if they leave your site, they might never come back again.
So, how do you get these people to come back to your site again? The answer is by giving them some value even if they do not end up purchasing your products or services.
According to Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, the best way to do this is through content marketing.
By setting up a blog on your ecommerce website, an email newsletter, a podcast, or even a YouTube channel dedicated to educating your site visitors about topics related to what you sell, you are providing them with a reason to come back to your site.
They’ll become part of your audience, and once they are ready to make the purchase, you’ll be at the top of their minds, because they already trust and engage with your content regularly.
5. Keep It Simple – Andy Sowards
When building an ecommerce website, many entrepreneurs are tempted to add as many bells and whistles as they possibly can.
While all these features certainly make a website look cool, most people don’t stop to think about their impact on the user experience.
The more “cool” features you include in your ecommerce website, the more stuff your visitors have to deal with. Clicking on multiple popups, going through a couple of pages before getting to what they want, and so on.
All this can be overwhelming and frustrating for visitors, who only want to find the product they are looking for, make their payment, and leave.
According to Andy Sowards, the key to getting to go ahead with the purchase is to make everything as simple as you can for them.
Before adding any design element to your website, consider how it will affect someone using your site for the very first time. If it doesn’t make things easier for your users, you don’t need it.
Ecommerce Website Design FAQ
Ecommerce website design refers to the process of conceptualizing and building a website that allows customers to purchase goods and services over the internet.
Good ecommerce website design is more than simply building a website, however. It also involves making sure that the website design is optimized in such a manner that effectively drives the site’s visitors towards doing what the website owner wants them to do, which is making a purchase.
Building an ecommerce website from scratch can be a costly affair. Hiring someone to build an ecommerce website will cost you about $5,000 on the lower end, but the cost can run even into hundreds of thousands.
The cost will depend on the kind of features you want on your website, your chosen ecommerce platform, the complexity of the website, the person or company you’re hiring to build the website for you, and so on.In contrast, when doing everything by yourself using online store builders, you can bring down the costs to about $500 to $1,000.