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Designing a boutique ecommerce site?

Designing a boutique ecommerce site? Here's how you need to be different from the big guys

Yesterday, I hit the checkout button on a cart filled with a really cute bag and an awesome necklace. And I realized, damn, when was the last time I actually walked into a store to purchase anything but groceries? Seriously, even my favorite local shops have online stores.

But nothing can kill my online shopping buzz faster than bad design and poor funneling. Let’s talk about what a well-designed boutique ecommerce site looks like, shall we?

Don’t look at the big guys

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All right, yes, you should totally look at Amazon to see how they’ve eliminated buyer friction. They save credit card info and link reward points to their accounts, just to name a couple of features that make it ridiculously easy to finalize a purchase.

But don’t look at them for design.

Sites like Amazon and Zappos and eBay are, well, enormous. Lots of product, lots of search options, lots of information, lots of stuff going on. But they can get away with a cluttered look. You can’t.

When was the last time you actually browsed on one of those huge ecommerce sites? Chances are you went in knowing exactly what you wanted to buy or to compare a couple products.

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For smaller, more boutique online shops, you want to provide the equivalent of a stroll through the mall. Show off your products in a fresh, beautiful setting. Provide as much info as possible but keep the page uncluttered. Utilize large, browsable photos that don’t require your visitors to navigate to a separate page to get a good feel for the product.

Think of the big guys as big box stores where you know which aisle the light bulbs are in. Your site, on the other hand, is more like a brick-and-mortar boutique with beautiful displays, appealing vignettes, and on-point lighting.

Your product pages need to be emotional as well as useful

Special shipping info? Material and sizing? Color options? Multiple photos? It’s a lot of information that can add up quickly. I get it, you want your visitors to be as informed as possible. But only give them the details when they’ve clicked over to a separate product page.

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Think of the individual product page as your shop’s dressing room. Your visitor is starting to invest in your product here, so you want to show them why it’s awesome. Keep the page clean, uncluttered, and give the product room to shine with multiple photos of models in good lighting.

Some ecommerce sites are even saying goodbye to flavor text in order to keep the look as clean as possible. If you decide to keep it, make sure the product copy is in keeping with your shop’s branding — describe what you want a buyer to feel from the product. Is your brand’s tone light and fun, like Vardagen? Revolutionary and game-changing, like Revel & Riot? Keep that emotion going strong on your product page.

Balance number of checkout options with simplicity

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This is where the big guys generally have things down pat. For example, the further someone goes down the checkout funnel, the fewer clicks you need to be asking from them. Have a single checkout page plus a confirmation page, max. A few other no-brainers keep this section of your site super simple:

  • Default to guest checkout. Only ask if they want to save their information to an account after a visitor has made their purchase.
  • Don’t make them fill out their info a second time.
  • Never, never, ever force registration. You will leave money on the table in exchange for a few emails.

How-To bloggers debate a couple other checkout-related features, namely how many payment options are ideal and whether or how you should indicate security at checkout.

For example, some opinions hold that too many payment choices are paralyzing and clutter up a page. Others suggest you should have five: the four major credit cards plus some epay option, like PayPal or Dwolla. It’s safe to say that one payment option is definitely not enough and at least three is better.

As for indicating security, do you want to display every security emblem at your disposal? Some argue that you should include them, others say a site looks less secure the more emblems you put up. One thing stands true though: Do reassure visitors that you’ve made your site secure using SSL.

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