Emma Sturrock: E-commerce made easy – what makes a good website?

Emma Sturrock, e-commerce manager at PalmerStores.com looks at what retailers need to think about when setting up their own e-commerce websites.

Online shopping has been around since the 1990s and has grown into a very competitive business in which consumers can compare, research and make quick purchases at any time of day. Here at Palmers about 75pc of orders are placed outside of the normal 9-6 trading period.

In order to capitalise upon the increasing trend towards online shopping and stay one step ahead of the competition we have had to embrace changing consumer behaviour. Gone are the days when a retailer's ecommerce website included simple pictures and brief descriptions of its products - nowadays a successful ecommerce website needs to offer so much more.

As more and more consumers cite detailed and visual product information as the most important factor in making a purchase you need to design not only a great looking product page but one that's simple to use and gives the user all the information they need to make a decision to buy.

An accurate and descriptive product title is the basis of a good product page so remember to keep it as short and as descriptive as possible. Remember too that search engines will use the product title in their search results, so think about search engine optimisation and add keywords wherever possible.

Detailed and accurate product information is the most important element of our product page design - without it you can't possibly hope to make a sale. We give customers as much information as possible such as product details, specifications and available options. As with product titles you should add well-optimised, keyword-rich descriptions too.

Product options for your ecommerce product page should also be simple to use and easy to understand. Regardless of whether it's a single colour selection or different sizes it should not detract from the user experience - if options are required it should become an integral part of the design and layout of the product page.

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The add to basket button is your call to action so should draw your customers' eyes and be easy to see. We make sure our 'add to basket' button stands out and works with the design of the website and page.

Believe it or not quality images can make or break a sale. All images need to be of the highest quality possible while also being as small a file size as possible for accessibility. We've included a rollover zoom facility to let customers see the product up close, and add additional images in the form of thumbnails which the user can click or rollover to view larger versions.

Customer reviews and ratings are a great way of engaging customers and encouraging them to help other users make buying decisions. We have included an option to let customers leave a review, or Tweet or Facebook the product to their friends and followers.

Finally, ensuring that the buying process is as easy as possible is key to a sale so don't force customers to login to make a purchase. Once a customer adds an item to their basket and proceeds to checkout make sure all they need to do is fill in their details and click pay. If you make people sign up to create a user account you'll lose potential sales – it's as simple as that.

Also remember that security is crucial in encouraging a potential customer to buy from you. All card payments are secured by SagePay, but we also offer other secure forms of payment, such as PayPal and Google Checkout. For customers who may still feel daunted about the security of online shopping, we have provided a 'call me back' option should the customer want to pay over the phone.

So there you have it – these are just a few of the many elements that make up a good ecommerce website. The list is by no means definitive and everyone's requirements are different but by giving some thought to your product display and together with your buying process you can be confident that your online presence is as efficient as possible.