Usability: A Necessity for a Successful Online Store

I’m a big online shopper. HUGE, in fact. Outside of food (although we do buy some dry goods through Amazon), we purchase everything online. And we’ve been shopping online for so many years that the mere thought of having to walk into the mall raises my blood pressure.

Business of all kinds is becoming more virtual by the day. (Good) websites are expected. Social media accounts are to a large extent as well. Then there are businesses with an online store that have another component to design and maintain on top of that.

Building a successful online store that makes it easy and efficient for a customer to find and purchase what they want is more than just a list of product pictures, prices and a shopping cart.

Take it from me, a long-time, heavy online shopper: A poor user experience means I’m likely not coming back to your online store.


So, What Makes an Online Store Successful?

This list can vary somewhat depending upon exactly what it is that you are selling, but these 8 points are a great start for building an easy-to-use online store.

  • A clear photo Depending upon what you are selling, it’s quite possible you actually need several clear photos of different angles of your product for an online shopper to get a true sense of what they are potentially buying.
  • A rich description You might begin your product description with a fluffy marketing line, but don’t forget shoppers want specifics on what is included with their purchase, and other details like measurements, materials used, age recommendations, etc.
  • Social sharing buttons People like to share products they are excited about. Plus, this is strategic for you as the business owner. Making it easy for customers to share your products to their social media networks of choice means your stuff gets in front of more eyeballs…and with a personal endorsement from someone they know.
  • Don’t lump different products under 1 item listing If you are selling a product that comes in 5 different versions, plus 6 different color options, you need to have more than 1 product listing in your online store. Good usability means you make it as easy as possible for a customer to see at a glance what you have for sale. For example, if you tweet a link to your product stating it’s a blue bracelet with the quote “I love soccer!”, and a potential customer who follows the link lands on a product page with a single photo of a pink bracelet with the quote, “Girl rules, boys drool!”, they are going to think the link was a mistake or you are falsely representing your products. Once customers have identified the specific product they want to buy, they are used to making a color selection for that item. So don’t put all your quote bracelets under 1 product listing in your online store; create a separate listing for each one, and let people choose their color from there.
  • A good search function Chances are that as a small business owner, you aren’t going to need a deep hierarchy of filters like, but Zappos is a great example of online catalog ‘musts’. For your business, perhaps a category or price breakdown is all that’s needed. If you build your online store with a CMS like WordPress, it’s easy to use tags and categories to help with this.
  • All relevant ‘extras’ If it’s a custom product, be sure you include estimated production time in your product description. If you are selling clothing, be sure you have a link to a size chart. Do you offer gift options? What’s your return policy? What kind of shipping options do you offer? Knowing the answers to frequently asked questions like these up front will help to remove any hesitation a customer has about ordering from you.
  • Related items Often showcased as “You Might Also Like”, this is another feature that is helpful both to you as the business owner, and your customers.
  • Make it easy to contact you Even if you do all the ‘right’ things, customers may still have a question or two before making their purchase. Your contact information needs to be easily found on your website or online store, and you need to be sure you have a quick turnaround for those inquiries since those customers are in the final stages of the buying process.

Building an online store that provides the best and easiest experience for your customers will require more effort and planning from you, but it is something that you absolutely need to do ‘right’ if you want to be successful at it.

What would you add to this online store usability list?

1 Comment

  1. Pat Payne

    Great article, Liz! We are in the processing of building our online store, and I’ll definitely keep your tips in the forefront!


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