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The Elements of Digital Design for an eCommerce site

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With consensus from the stakeholders, the eCommerce manager is finally ready to get started building the nuts and bolts of the site specifications. A home page is the starting point, obviously, but what goes on it? Which basic design elements are crucial, and which are a waste of bandwidth? Frank Fiore digs in.
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The digital design of eCommerce web sites has changed dramatically from their earliest inception. In the beginning, the general web developer, usually a young programmer or graphics designer, created and programmed the eCommerce web site—often by slapping together a brief navigation structure (About Us, Our Products, Help, Contact Us) and adding a simple shopping cart and an email address. But it became painfully clear with many of the dot-bombs that a technology-savvy web developer was not the same thing as an eCommerce web developer. As eCommerce came to be seen as a real business that needed management by real businesspeople, many organizations realized that they needed someone with a business perspective to take on the responsibility of managing their eCommerce web site—someone who knew the difference between web site development and eCommerce web development.

So what exactly is the difference?

What sets apart an eCommerce web development project is the creation of a unique selling position (USP) that's designed and programmed into the eCommerce web site during its development—not after. Although this is the major difference, many other eCommerce elements must also be understood by the eCommerce manager if he or she is to properly write the necessary specifications for the web site storefront and manage the interdepartmental team needed to create and administer a true company eCommerce initiative.

As stated in the prior articles in this series, eCommerce managers don't design the eCommerce web site; they develop the site specifications to be followed by the web developers, programmers, and IT personnel. From these specifications come the necessary elements that a company eCommerce storefront should contain. Every company's storefront is different, but all should adhere to some basic site elements. This article covers those elements.

Home Page Elements

After the company's unique selling position is agreed upon by management, the first element of digital design to concentrate on is the home page. A web store's home page must contain at least these three major elements:

  • Brief explanation of the company's unique selling position. A short tag line at least, and one or two sentences at most, describing to the site visitor what consumer need your product or service meets, what makes your company unique from the competition, and why a consumer should buy from you rather than your competitors.
  • Offer. Several, in fact. Get your site visitors shopping right away. Offer impulse buys on the home page with a Buy button beside them.
  • Recruitment! Offer a way for visitors to give you their email address. Offer a subscription to your newsletter; a preferred shopper's club; a free quote; or a free download of a document, sound file, or software sample. This way, if the visitor doesn't buy on her visit to your site, you can capture her email address to market to her later.

Once these essential elements have been designed into the web store, the eCommerce manager must consider other home page elements. When writing the specifications for the home page, keep these issues in mind:

  • Think of the personality you want to project on the home page. Are you selling at retail? At a discount? Perhaps at the high end of the price scale? The personality of your home page should be like a book cover, giving the visitor a sense of something beneath the surface and sparking interest in further exploring the web store.
  • Unless you're selling entertainment software or video games, don't present visitors with a splash page of Flash animation. The job of an eCommerce web site is to sell—not to entertain. Your home page shouldn't include any unnecessary design elements; for example animations, heavy graphics, image maps, or background sound files.
  • Privacy and credit card security are the two biggest concerns of the online consumer; make sure that your home page addresses these concerns. Place a link to your privacy policy at the bottom of the home page. Mention in a very visible spot that a shopper's credit card is secure when ordering from your site.
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