Unraveled Media

Beginner's Guide to Ecommerce Web Design

There are many elements that go into designing a fantastic store that dazzles prospective customers and keeps existing ones coming back. So many, in fact, that someone just dipping their toes into the ecommerce web design world (typically as an entrepreneur or small business owner) is quite likely to find it rather daunting.

But as with any topic, the best way to get up to speed is to learn from those who’ve already been through the learning process with aplomb— the industry professionals with educational mistakes behind them and effective strategies in their pockets.

This piece is for anyone who wants to get started with ecommerce design without needing to do a ton of time-intensive and directionless experimentation. Let’s look at the basics you should be considering, and see how you can take advantage of the collective ingenuity of web designers.

Don’t Waste Space

The best ecommerce sites are stripped down, efficient. Streamlined like Olympic swimmers. They carry no extra weight to distract from the functions they’re built to provide. This is precisely what you should think about when you’re thinking about your first design drafts.

Ask yourself the following questions (at least) about the average user visiting your site, and use the answers to identify the core structure:

  • What are they looking to do?
  • What impression should they get?
  • What message should they see?
  • What actions should be in reach?

You shouldn’t be giving any thought at the beginning to anything complex or sophisticated. The basics are the most important things by a wide margin. Look at how a site like eBay does it:

Everything on the homepage is there for a specific reason: the hero image introducing spring products, the clear featured items below, the category row above, the main search bar. There’s no spiel about what the company does, because you already know.

You may find that you roar out of the gates with a barrage of interesting and creative design ideas, but resist the urge to add sections for the sake of it. You don’t score any points for simply having more content. As time goes by, you will be able to expand or contract your site to meet customer needs.

Adopt Sales Psychology

To sell online, you need to know how to sell in general. You need to be aware of why your users make decisions— why they want to know more, why they buy, why they leave. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the subtleties that can make such a difference.

I’ll include several resources on this in the following section, but here are some introductory points to get you thinking about the topic:

  • Be aware of Hick’s Law, which tells us that having more options greatly delays decisions.
  • Recognize how color affects our perception, and choose your palette accordingly.
  • Appreciate that it’s extremely difficult to focus on numerous things at once.
  • Take advantage of fear of missing out (FOMO) to drive interest.

Web design isn’t inherently different from any other kind of selling, so most of the tried-and-tested principles used in brick-and-mortar stores are transferable. That means it isn’t just the expertise of web design specialists you should be thinking about— you can also look to the rhetorical innovations of all the great stores you’ve ever visited.

Use Online Resources

The web design industry is absolutely packed with fantastic resources, and many of them are totally free, requiring an email address or social media share at most. Professionals tend to lean towards selling their skills, not their knowledge, and will give away much of the latter to demonstrate their authority and give back to their field.

Take this guide on Ecommerce Platforms, for instance; it’s full of tips on everything from the important of visuals to the power of feedback. Or try this fantastic ecommerce web design guide from Snap Agency. And check out the fantastic tips from this piece here on Unraveled Media.

Here are some more useful resources:

Everywhere you look, there are guides and strategies for every aspect of running an ecommerce site. If there’s a particular thing you’re interested in, you can simply search in Google for a guide, and you’ll probably find one. While you should take everything with a pinch of salt (not every source is reliable), it’s the easiest way to get a nudge in the right direction.

And if you’re willing to pay for training, there are outstanding courses available as well; for example, LinkedIn Learning has a wide range of handy ecommerce modules.

Get Inspired

It’s so easy to find high-quality inspiration for ecommerce design; so much work has already been done to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and you have free range to browse and draw from any elements that strike you.

There are the commerce giants, of course, like Amazon and eBay, and stores for every niche and industry. You’ll probably know some relevant to your personal interests— I particularly like to browse health food websites because it’s a topic that intrigues me. Protein bars especially...

One bars are phenomenal. Trust me.

Then there are sites where you can find numerous stores for sale, of varying types and quality levels, giving you a smorgasbord of design options to imitate or avoid. It’s a great way to get some insight into how people of all experience levels have approached their ecommerce branding and design work.

If you want to become a writer, you read every book you can get your hands on. Learning how to make a high-quality ecommerce site is no different.

Consult Experts

It doesn’t cost a thing to reach out to someone in the industry and ask them some questions. They might not answer you, of course, but there’s at least a fair chance they will. And many agencies will provide free consultations upon request.

In fact, an efficient way of learning the ropes when it comes to the ecommerce world is to work with a dedicated agency on your first project. Not only will you get a professional result right off the bat, but you’ll also be in prime position to learn from how the agency operates— how they plan, how they design, how they iterate, what they prioritize.

The knowledge you derive from the experience will stand you in good stead for the future, and position you to adeptly assess the qualities and weaknesses of any stores you set up.

Try and Try Again

The wonderful thing about websites is that they can be revised and updated as you go; you can start in one place and end up in another entirely after several years. That means there’s less risk involved with taking some chances, so you’re (relatively) free to test new ideas and approaches.

Change up a color scheme, add a popup form, adjust your product grid… there are so many tweaks you can do, and ubiquitous analytics tracking makes it fairly easy to tell which changes are positive and which are negative.

Ultimately, if there’s one thing to take from the pros, it’s an attitude of persistence and resilience. No one starts out with all the right answers, and everyone makes mistakes in their ecommerce journey— the important thing is that you keep expanding your understanding, stay open-minded, and try to enjoy the process of iterative improvement.

Are you just starting out in the competitive ecommerce arena? If you really focus on taking cues from the experts when it comes to providing a great user experience for your customers, you’ll have an excellent chance of separating your brand from the generic pack and getting a lot of traction for your business.


We thank Victoria Green for this post.
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who is always finding new things to learn. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.

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