In the growing digital world, eCommerce is an essential route to revenue for many businesses. By 2040, it is estimated that 95% of all purchases will be made through eCommerce. If you’re a business owner and don’t already sell online, it’s likely you’re missing out on customers, and your competitors are taking the lead.
In this article, learn all about the fundamentals of eCommerce websites and eCommerce web design.
Simply put, an eCommerce website is a website that allows the buying and selling of products or services rather than the traditional route of selling in a physical location.
eCommerce websites allow businesses to manage transactions, accept payments, arrange shipping, track orders, retain customer information, monitor sales trends, and many other actions that help their businesses function more efficiently.
An eCommerce website has many benefits over a traditional brick-and-mortar retail unit, including
Reduced costs for building lease, utility bills, and staff.
Your website is available 24 hours, with no loss of business through closing hours.
More opportunity to present the buyer with promotional material at the point of sale. E.g. video, photos, testimonials, and supporting information about the product or service.
Virtually unlimited space to add new products and services to your range, with no need to upscale your retail unit.
Drop shipping options are available with many manufacturers meaning you don’t even need to worry about warehouse space.
Most eCommerce platforms come with built-in features to make shipping and tax calculations, save customer details, and provide secure paying portals.
Ads and marketing online take your customers directly to your website to make a sale. No need to encourage them to visit your location.
Your business is not limited to one location, with your website being accessible internationally via the internet.
Another benefit of eCommerce over the traditional shop is the opportunity for choice in what businesses can offer. While physical shops are restricted by elements like unit size, storage capacity, opening hours, location, and facilities, digital platforms don’t need to be held back by these constraints. Here are a few examples.
The possibilities for eCommerce selling are virtually limitless. The eCommerce offering can be broken down into four categories.
Physical products: using photos, video, descriptions, and reviews, businesses can advertise, take payments, and ship products to customers.
Digital products: music, podcasts, videos, e-books, online courses. eCommerce websites have the capabilities to sell and allow customers to use digital products immediately.
Services (offline): eCommerce websites can be used to place online bookings and take payments for in-person services like cleaning, beauty treatments, and MOTs.
Services (online): through the same route as above, online services can be paid for, arranged, and carried out over the internet. An example of an online service is remote tutelage, where a lesson is held over a video call.
The success of an eCommerce website is, without a doubt, how well it can encourage consumers to like and trust the brand and how it can maximise sales. A dance of logic, psychology, functionality, and creativity determines how well an eCommerce website is received. So what are some points to look for?
It's essential your eCommerce website can keep up with the expectations of the consumer. It must have a fast load time, an intuitive user journey, and clear calls to action.
Your website must pass Google’s page speed test and core web vitals assessment. This is a measure of how long information takes to load on your website. Too long, and your visitor might give up and find an alternative website. It also needs to be mobile responsive. After all, mobile eCommerce sales make up 73% of the market share today.
Image source: pagespeed.web.dev
The user journey is also very important. The user needs to see a clean and logical path in order to take in the information on your website. Design hierarchy should be used to direct them to the most important pieces of information first and then carry them down the page. The sitemap should help them locate information, products, and services easily, and direct them to make payments logically via an easy checkout process.
It’s the role of a web designer to make this process look understandable, natural, and pleasing, and the role of a web developer to build each page of the website to support this design. If you choose to work with a web design agency, these are the professionals in charge of this critical aspect, so it’s vital you communicate with them about exactly what you want and need from your eCommerce website.
Image source: ssl.com
If you expect customers to part with their hard-earned cash, they need to be able to trust you. This doesn’t just mean creating a safe environment for them but also proving that their purchase is the right decision, a good investment, and won’t lead to buyer’s remorse.
The easiest element of trustworthiness is to ensure your website offers secure shopping, meaning that your customer’s details are privacy protected on your website. You’ll need to consider a few different elements to ensure your website’s security.
An SSL certificate: an SSL certificate protects information shared between your website and your customer via encryption. If your website doesn’t have a working SSL certificate, it leaves your customers' data exposed. Not only this, but most good computer virus security software will warn or even prevent its users from entering websites without an SSL.
Website hosting: a website host is where your website is ‘stored’ so that it can be accessed by people surfing the internet. Ensuring your website is protected by your host is vital. Many eCommerce website builders will offer website hosting, but not all. It’s important to find a reputable website host that promises to protect your website from malware, SQL injections, and other threats.
Regular updates: your website and associated plugins should be regularly updated to keep them current and minimise the chance of exposure to threats. As hackers constantly find weak spots in eCommerce platforms, developers constantly find ways to patch, fix, and improve security. Performing regular updates ensures you have the best protection.
Check our blog for tips on buying website hosting and our top recommended website hosting providers in the UK. We also cover tips for buying your domain name and the best domain name providers in the UK.
Beyond fortifying the technical safety of your website, it’s critical that you demonstrate trustworthiness in the form of integrity, honesty, and ethics to raise your brand reputation. 88% of consumers today believe that authenticity is important when deciding whether they like and support a brand.
In the world of 2022, saturated in user-generated content and information, brands are being pushed to do more than just promote their products and services. They need to demonstrate their altruistic and human-centred priorities.
Enough of the serious, technical stuff. Being in a sad, bored mood isn’t going to get anyone to buy your luxury range of dog coats. Your website needs to be fun and pleasurable to use. Get your customers in a good mood, feeling relaxed and excited about your products. Much psychology can be used to create a fun buying experience on a website.
Play up the novelty of your products and services: tap into peoples’ curiosity about your products. How are they unique? What about them is surprising and exciting? Forge a connection between the story of your product and the desired emotive response in your customer.
Foster a sense of communal action on your website: communal action is what motivates people to take part in trends and be involved in an aspirational group. You can develop this feeling on your website with social sharing, user-generated content, and testimonials.
Remove pain points: highly relatable to the section above about making your website easy to use, eliminating as many pain points (hurdles in user experience such as pop-ups) as possible makes the whole experience of using your website more fun.
Transform your brand development into a story: use your website to take your customer on a journey, linking your products and services to the emotional story of your brand’s development.
Use emotive colours, images, sounds, and animations: if you want to build your own website, many eCommerce website builders today offer easy page building options to incorporate stylish themes and content. Otherwise, your web designer and developer will handle this stage of the project.
Virtually all major website builders and content management platforms offer integrative eCommerce functionality. If you’ve created your website with Craft CMS, you can integrate Craft Commerce to help support your commerce needs. Transactions, shipping calculations, returns, customer accounts, security, all these critical elements can be handled by your eCommerce platform.
Whether you use a plugin such as WooCommerce to enhance your existing website, such as one built with WordPress, or build it from scratch with an entirely dedicated platform like Shopify, eCommerce website builders are designed to be accessible and intuitive to use. You’ll interact with content blocks and plugin features as opposed to lines of code. Every major eCommerce platform offers lots of support through forums, online communities, and customer service.
But adding eCommerce functionality to your website can get complicated. It’s not something to be taken lightly, with sensitive data and money changing hands (or computers), so if you’re not confident in the digital world, enlisting the help of a web design agency might pay off. There are thousands of web design agencies in the UK specialising in a huge range of services and industries. While hiring a web design agency costs more than DIYing, you can put your website in the trusted hands of a professional.
While the process behind building an eCommerce website generally follows the same steps, the needs, budget, and objectives of each business range widely. So, what web design tools are out there to help you create a slick eCommerce website suited to your needs?
Here are the most popular eCommerce platforms.
Image source: verbb.io
Powered by the highly customisable and user-friendly Craft CMS, Craft Commerce is a platform built for eCommerce. Expand your Craft website with lots of back-end and front-end options as well as plugins from a continually growing store.
Like any CMS, Craft Commerce is made to be easy to use, but the freedom afforded to developers makes this an excellent choice if you need a more bespoke eCommerce website.
Image source: woocommerce.com
WooCommerce is a plugin developed to be used with WordPress, currently the world’s most used CMS. Because of the popularity of WordPress, WooCommerce is very easy to use, most developers will have experience with WordPress and WooCommerce, and many professionals have used the CMS before, making it potentially easier for your team to pick it up for content editing.
Image source: startupstash.com
While WordPress is the most popular CMS, Shopify is the most used eCommerce platform. Shopify can be integrated with numerous different websites and is highly intuitive to use, meaning if you’re not a developer, you can find your way around it quite easily. Shopify is also more affordable than other options and offers flexible ways to help you grow your business, like drop shipping integrations and the ability to take payments in physical shop locations.
Image source: business.adobe.com
Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento)
The eCommerce platform that was once Magento, now owned by Adobe, Adobe Commerce is highly powerful, scalable, and customisable. Build for driving conversions, Adobe Commerce is highly secure, designed with SEO in mind, and offers many options for filters, attributes, tailored content, plugins, and third-party integrations. Unfortunately, though, this comes with a higher price tag.
Image source: support.bigcommerce.com
Slightly lesser known than other eCommerce giants is BigCommerce. This eCommerce platform offers a range of features to help make online selling easy and straightforward, including lots of themes and drag and drop options for non-tech savvy people. BigCommerce focuses on scaling eCommerce websites rapidly, so it’s an excellent option for high-volume stores.
*prices estimated including hosting, domain name, plugins, themes, and security.
Ensuring your eCommerce website is legally compliant should be at the top of your agenda. Not only does this cover you as a business owner, but ut protects everyone else involved, including your customers and, by extension, your business reputation. Here’s a definitive list of the requirements your business needs to meet to trade securely and legally online, no matter how much or little you make.
1. Your business details must be fully and clearly displayed on your website.
This includes company trading name, registered address including the country in which it is registered, company’s registered number, and whether it is a limited (ltd.) company.
2. Your website must meet web accessibility standards.
Web accessibility is a standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to ensure websites meet the needs of as many people as possible, including those with disabilities such as sight impairment. Making your website accessible to everyone means ensuring it has capabilities for functions like text-to-speech and assisted technologies like navigating without using a mouse.
Your website must meet Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints as advised by the UK government and the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
3. Put GDPR and data protection measures in place.
The Data Protection Act came into force in 2018 to regulate how businesses use and store other peoples’ information. If you run an eCommerce website, you will take sensitive details from your customers like personal information and card details, so you must have a data protection procedure in place. The Data Protection Act states that
Everyone responsible for using personal data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’. They must make sure the information is:
used fairly, lawfully and transparently
used for specified, explicit purposes
used in a way that is adequate, relevant and limited to only what is necessary
accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date
kept for no longer than is necessary
handled in a way that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unlawful or unauthorised processing, access, loss, destruction or damage
If you collect information about peoples’ race, religion, sexual orientation, health, biometrics, and political opinions these have stronger legal protection.
4. Comply with distance-selling regulations.
The 2014 Consumer Contracts Regulation outlines certain requirements that you as the proprietor must meet when selling at a distance (online, over the phone, or by text message).
The regulations state that you must provide
your business name, contact details and address
a description of your goods or services
the price, including all taxes
how a customer can pay
delivery arrangements, costs and how long goods will take to arrive
the minimum length of their contract and billing period
conditions for ending contracts
how they can cancel and when they lose the right to cancel
if they will still need to pay reasonable costs for using a service after they cancel
a standard cancellation form, if they can cancel
conditions for money given as a deposit or financial guarantees
what digital content does (for example, the language it’s in or how to update software)
the cost of using phone lines or other communication to complete the contract where it will cost more than the basic rate
You must also give the customer the right to cancel within 14 days without any reason needed, deliver the goods within 30 days unless stated otherwise, and provide a copy of the contract or invoice for the customer to keep on record.
5. Comply with relevant laws in certain countries.
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 are in place to ensure clarity across legal regulations and requirements across all countries in the EU. For example, the regulations state that a website should only follow legislation in its own country and each European country it sells to.
The regulations require that additionally to the company information required in point one, each website should bear the name and email address of the service provider, the VAT number, and details of any relevant trade associations. Prices must also be clear to see and understandable.
6. Protect sensitive information related to card payments.
Any eCommerce website taking payments must meet the requirements of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which aims to protect payments and prevent fraud. While many eCommerce websites use third-party services to handle their transactions, certain requirements are still relevant to them.
eCommerce websites must
Implement firewall protection, including virus protection software.
Avoid the use of default passwords and other sensitive information.
Securely protect any data collected.
Encrypt data transmission.
Maintain a good level of security at all times.
Restrict access to sensitive data, including cardholder data.
Assign each person with access a unique ID or number.
Monitor and keep a record of all access to the network.
Keep a policy that addresses security and regularly test security.
7. Respect anti-spam laws.
In accordance with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (E-Privacy Directive), businesses must not send unsolicited electronic communications and offer customers opt-in and opt-out options. Any information databases you purchase must be from consumers who have consented to their information being shared.
Cookies are used to collect data about the people that visit your website to be used with targeted advertising, which is involved in collecting and storing data and therefore a potential privacy issue.
If you’re preparing to start a web design business or branch out into eCommerce services, it’s a good idea to learn about the legal ramifications of an eCommerce website to ensure you can offer your clients a high-value, trustworthy service.
At Best Agency Sites, we write a lot of resources for business owners and web design professionals to understand more about the industry. Read some of our other articles about what a web design agency is, how a web design agency works, and the difference between large and small web design agencies. We also cover the best web design agencies to work for in the UK.