Designing the site with the store in mind

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Another thing to consider when you’re designing your site is to design your site with your store in mind. At this point it’s understandable that you’re excited and just want to get going. You may already have your site designed well in mind or laid out in Fireworks or Photoshop. So you just want to dive in and get started. Well resist that impulse.

When developing an eCommerce site it’s vitally important that your layout and design are done with your store in mind. You should take a little extra time to plan your site, for the same reasons that every store, from Safeway to Saks Fifth Avenue, spends significant amount of money and time laying out their floor and merchandising plans that is for better customer, experience and better sales.

So let’s look at some things to consider. First of all, know your customers. Even if this is a new store, a little research will teach you a lot about your customers. If you’re adding a site to a business where you already have a physical store, take what you’ve learned about your customers and make sure that you carry that over to your site. If this is a new venture, take time to check out your competition and see what they’re doing well, and what they’re doing poorly and learn from that. Next it’s important to convey not only your brand but your voice or your personality. On the web, you’re not alone.

No matter what market you’re in on the Web, there’s a lot of competition, often in selling the same products that you do. So what sets you apart? If your first response is “we’re cheaper,” you’re already domed. Face it. Somebody is always cheaper and if you sell a million dollars worth of product but make no profit you’re still out of business. If you have a successful bricks and mortar store, and someone walks into it for the first time after shopping on your online store, there should be no disconnect or surprises. They should already feel like they know you.

Let’s look at a couple of good examples of this kind of design. Here we have a site that focuses on what you would call in niche market on sportsmen. The minute you land on their homepage there’s no question that that’s what this site is all about. New users to this site won’t feel any disconnect because they will know exactly what the site is about and it’s easy to find their way around. Also, if you were to go into their retail stores, this same feeling is conveyed.

Here’s another example in a completely different market but, again, instantly you know what they’re selling and it conveys the feeling of what the site is all about. And again, if you’re going to go into one of their retail establishments, there would be no disconnect. You would have the same feeling as what you did with their website. Another important matter is to get to the point. In the sites we just looked at, it’s very obvious when you get to the site what they sell and what they’re about.

If you put all the merchandise in the back of your store and had your employees waiting at the front door for your customers, insisting on telling them about your store’s owners and history, and so forth, how successful you would be? Not very. Customers would leave before ever having a chance to buy. On the web however this is very easy to do and commonly done. Of course you want to make this information readily available. But don’t force your customers to sort through it to find your product.

Design your site to sell easy, to sell early, and to sell often. Next, take time to map it out. Taking time to map out or wireframe your site, even hand-drawn on a napkin, to be sure that your site is organized is a good exercise to go through. Do the same for the design structure of your pages. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just focus on the navigation and content layout to be sure that everything fits and that it is easy to understand at a glance.

For example, here we look at a common site map. It’s important to layout the information architecture of your site. So you can clearly understand ahead a time how your product and your stores going to be organized. If you don’t properly understand ahead of time how can your site possibly convey this and how can you customers understand it? Take time to sit down and draw it out, and really understand the information architecture of your site, and how things are going to be divided up. Same goes for the page structure.

Take time to draw out where your navigation is going to be, how it’s going to work, and how you’re going to divide up the different blocks of information that you’re going to convey. Doing this ahead of time will help you design your site. But it’ll also help you design the information you put on your site and how your products are displayed. Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll be ready to get started developing and designing your site.

Taking time to properly map out your site and design it with your product, brands and customers in mind is worth every minute it takes to do it. The rewards will be quality customer experience, and better sales.

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