Guest blogger, Jerome Cathaud, Director of Operations at a full service web agency, shares his experience designing websites for online merchants.
One of the most time consuming aspects of launching or rebranding an online business is designing a unique and successful web store. And yet, with the proper planning and anticipation, the design process can be very enjoyable.
I’ve worked with dozens of merchants with different requirements and I always ask them this list of the top 10 things to think about before designing an online shop. All of these elements are subtly connected to each other but if you review them carefully, you’ll be on the right path!
1. Define Your Goals
It is very important to set a clear goal and different milestones to achieve before starting your project; this will help you stay focused on the final objective. Why are you launching an ecommerce site? Is it a revamping of a pre-existing website or are you launching a brand new project? You could, for example, have a primary objective such as increasing your market share, and a secondary objective, which could be changing your company’s image in the eyes of customers.
2. Keep Branding In Mind
Your site needs to visually and structurally reflect who you are as a company, what is your image, and more generally the core values you want to communicate to your customers. This often starts by looking at your logo which is meant to symbolize all of that: a good logo will help define the graphic chart and general aesthetic of your new website. If you’re not satisfied with your logo, you might want to give it a facelift before designing your new website.
3. Think About Your Products
What do you sell and how do you sell it? Each industry is different and that means you need to communicate and display your products in a certain way. All products have specific attributes that need to be treated accordingly: color, size, accessories, technology, etc. Among many other things, this reflection will help you determine decisions such as whether your product pages need to be as simple as possible or thoroughly detailed because of the very nature of the product.
4. Targeting Your Audience
What defines your target market? The interface of your ecommerce store needs to be adapted to your customers, hence the paramount importance of understanding who they are, how they behave when searching & purchasing products, and if there are patterns in their behavior. Understanding your marketing demographic will also give you hints on what type of user experience you should deliver on your website, and how innovative you can be based on the ability of users to take ownership over the interface you will offer them.
5. Rise Above The Competition
One of the first things to do naturally is analyzing your competition: who are your competitors and how are they running their ecommerce sites? There are very often a lot of things to learn in order to implement successful practices. However, the difficulty when looking at your competition is not replicating what they are doing but rather finding what they are “not” doing right (or at all), and that you think you could implement on your own site in order to differentiate yourself from rivals.
6. Setting A Budget
Launching a professional ecommerce site is not a trivial thing to do: you are about to invest in your primary business tool, literally the “machine” that allows you to run your company. An ecommerce website plays the role of an expert, a salesman, a cashier (etc.), through a single interface; it is crucial to set aside a budget that will give you the means to acquire the efficient tool you need.
7. List of Feature Requirements
Make the right technical choices based on all the elements above: objective, product, audience, etc. This concerns needs for specific pages, modules, hosting, email subscriptions, blog, etc. You also need to think about aspects connected to your site such as emailing solutions, social media and content strategy.
8. Develop a Plan
Write a plan containing a detailed description of the project including all the above elements. Creating this document will not only help you in your thought process, but it also will generate a document of reference to which you can go back to every time you’ll need during the project’s duration. This will allow you to take a step back, identify potential weaknesses, and find solutions to eliminate them. Last but not least, having such a document will set a solid basis if you decide to work with a professional web designer to start the project in ideal conditions.
9. Consider An Expert
Now that you’ve taken all of the above into account, you can determine if you could satisfy all of your needs using a pre-designed ecommerce template or if you should work with a professional.
If you decide to work with an expert, select a skilled professional from whom you appreciate past work references and that you feel comfortable working with. You need to pick the right partner for this project: someone who will be able to suggest adapted solutions based on the above elements. Designing a fully customized ecommerce website is not easy and such a project requires a lot of communication between you and your partner, so choose wisely and select someone you can trust.
10. Design Specifications
The design of your website needs to take all aspects of your project and its different parameters (functionalities, graphic chart, rebranding, etc.) into account. Make sure the design process answers all specifications and delivers a website that will be able to achieve your initial goal.
There may be difficulties along the way you need to avoid. Among them might be the sentimental approach you have towards your project: this is your project, your “baby,” but it needs to be more functional and efficient than it needs to subjectively please you. Also, this is why choosing the right partner is so important as a seasoned professional will be able to advise accordingly to ultimately deliver not what you might ephemerally want, but what you not only like, but truly need.
Jerome Cathaud has been spearheading the expansion of NewQuest in the United States for 3 years; an experienced web agency certified PrestaShop Platinum with offices in Philadelphia, Chambery & Sydney. Jerome has had the chance to shepherd and collaborate on a variety of projects including ecommerce but also nonprofit websites and implement innovative digital tools for clients like the Franklin Institute or Pennsylvania Wines. He holds a Master in International Marketing and also is a self-taught graphic designer.