2 foolproof ways to make your online store a success

On 19/02/2010

In Help to make a website

Online store - get shoppingPartly inspired by the lasting image of last week's illustration (I swear that'll be engraved in my memory forever), and partly because my internet connection is going haywire, I thought I'd write a little about getting the most out of your online store. Specifically, how to ensure your e-commerce website attracts customers willing to stick around long enough to buy something. If you're making a business website, and your goal is to use it to sell stuff, then the last thing you want is for people to do a WIWO (walk-in, walk-out – and yes, I made that up) within the first few seconds of their arrival.

First impressions last, and getting your visitors to hand over their plastic means you really need to make sure you know how to make a website that inspires confidence – it's not enough just to have great stuff to sell.

Rest assured, you still don't need to be a web developer to make an effective website – even if we're talking about a business website (complete with online store) rather than a personal website. However, if you want to inspire confidence and get your visitors to pull out those credit cards, then you'll need to do more than the bare minimum.

So where does our favorite website builder come into this? Well, when you're setting up your online store, at the very least you're going to want to ensure that your products are:

  • clearly labeled
  • sorted into appropriate categories
  • available (you'd be surprised how many people forget to add stock when setting up their online store!)
  • ship-able (think about it – if you don't spend time setting up your shipping details, how are your clients going to get their goods?)
  • and (most importantly) looking their best

e-commerce websiteThis last point is the one I particularly wanted to highlight today - making your products and your store look their best. The key is to ensure that your overall website design corresponds to what you're selling, and to get the right images to illustrate your products. Your images should be a true likeness of what you're selling - it's the law, and besides, people will be less likely to return things if they know exactly what they're buying before they pay. They should also be as flattering as possible; postage stamp-sized or poorly compressed images are a sure-fire way to lose your customers' attention, and sales. Big, glossy photos, on the other hand, can really help sell a product.

Of course, don't neglect the obvious: organization. Using categories to sort your products will help people find things fast, and prevent them wasting their time searching. If it takes too long to find something in your online store, they'll leave. A well-organized e-commerce website, with big, attractive and meaningful pictures, will help visitors focus on what they're looking for and increase the chances they'll actually buy something (which, after all, is the point).

A while back I threw together a site that'll give you a hint of what you can do without really trying too hard. You can have a look at it here. I didn't put a whole lot of effort into dressing it up, beyond a couple of modifications to one of the default themes. I'm no designer, but you get the idea – quick and easy, and doesn't look half bad (though beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder). I'm sure yours will take as little time to make and look infinitely better.

e-commerce website for online shoppingOr you can check this one out, if you're not afraid of French (and, let's face it, who is?). OK, you'll have to fiddle around with your CSS a little to get it looking like that, but Nicolas swears it only took him 5 hours – not a lot of time to build and publish an online store that looks that good.

The long and the short of it is that getting an e-commerce business up and running is the easy part – with a little help from your favorite free website builder. But if you want your online store to be successful, then you need to put a little thought, and a little effort, into focusing on the basics like product categorization and store layout. In other words, you need a store that's well organized, and that looks inviting (or pretty, if you prefer).

If you can sort out those two when you make a website for your business, the rest will follow. Easy.