E-commerce has been an expanding space for decades, and your site's design has a direct impact on how your customers navigate it and find products. As big players like Amazon dominate the market and enterprise companies such as Walmart join in, it's become crucial for small businesses to differentiate their offerings to survive. Selling on another platform, like Amazon, may be a good way to get your feet wet in the world of e-commerce, but selling on your own site and providing a personalized experience is even better.
Design is often the backbone of online experience. Jeremy Greenberg, founder and primary designer of web development and design firm 97 Switch, said a digital experience can dictate the full experience a customer has with a business.
"When people walk into a physical place, they quickly make assumptions about the experience they will and can have with that setting," he said. "The same thing goes with digital experiences, and that is why web design is critical when trying to tell a business story."
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If your website is a digital extension of your brand and business, there are some design elements and e-commerce trends for 2019 that are crucial to keep in mind:
- Go minimal and remove unnecessary complexity.
- Stay on brand.
- Personalize your customer's experience.
- Offer negotiation features.
- Use big images to tell your story.
Regardless of what trends dominate e-commerce right now, David Keefe, a managing partner for Conran Design Group New York, said web design should focus on removing complexity.
"The better you are, from a design perspective, at removing complexity from any kind of interface or any kind of medium – you're going to be more successful," Keefe said.
A known e-commerce design trend is what many are calling "minimalism." Keefe said this artistic style, while present in some projects, may not fully encompass "removing complexity." By focusing on creating the simplest and most direct user experience, you can create a website that is simple enough to get the job done. This may not qualify as minimalist, but it still serves the vital purpose of guiding your customers through a digital experience that is consistent with your branding and company story. Keefe said that should be a main goal of any e-commerce site.
"You, me, everybody are totally in the experiential mindset," he said. "I need to see things, I need to interact with things."
As you aim to simplify your website or a customer's journey to a product page, Keefe said it's crucial to maintain the "treasure chest" that is your brand's established equity. Brand equity is essentially the sum of everything your company does to define itself from a branding and operations standpoint. Successful e-commerce web design means extending that experience into a digital medium without eroding the power your brand has already established.
"One of the worst things you can do in design is take something that has equity and create levels of a lack of relevance or recognition, or any levels of customer disruption because of the new design," Keefe said.
As you work with a design firm or redesign your site on your own, don't try to reinvent the wheel – extend your existing presence into an online one so it reflects your brand's story. [Interested in finding the right e-commerce software for your small business? Check out our best picks.]
Personalization, negotiation and small business
Andrew Scarbrough, COO and co-founder of PriceWaiter, said one of the main ways small businesses can differentiate themselves from big players like Amazon is with a higher level of personalization to their e-commerce websites.
Think about what separates your small business from big players in your physical location. Customer service, intimate knowledge of a community, and familiarity with your product or service's industry can all drive local customers away from routine, big-business experiences and into your own personalized small business.
The same should go for your online experience, according to Scarbrough. He recommends introducing negotiation or name-your-price features so you get the opportunity to directly interact with customers and develop sales relationships. This allows you to work with your customers to ensure everyone wins.
"Negotiation is as old as trade itself," Scarbrough said. "It's mitigated a lot of the effects of pricing policies that often hinder a small retailer who would be willing to give a discount to a shopper to close a sale."
Images and asking for feedback
While removing complexity and personalization are more abstract design trends, using big images to tell a story is a concrete way to revamp your existing website, Greenberg said. This allows your website to act as a buying and branding experience as opposed to just a sales avenue.
"This way, people can see and start to feel the experience with any product or service," Greenberg said. "With that going on, many websites are cutting down copy and using images to tell the story more and more."
While this is not a direct design trend, Greenberg also said small business owners in 2019 should prioritize feedback on their products or services. This can come through asking customers directly and looking over online reviews.
"The ideas that people have about how they are using a product or service is very valuable in order to learn what information people want to see online," Greenberg said.
A harsh reality for both small businesses and customers is that sales tax will become a part of nearly every e-commerce transaction. A Supreme Court ruling earlier this year widened the reach of sales tax on e-commerce businesses. This means the glory days of tax-free e-commerce selling are over. While this isn't a specific design trend, it's important for small business owners to be aware of law changes that have a direct effect on their sales. Scarbrough said a third-party tax service may be a good option for some small business owners.
E-commerce is an expanding field, but it doesn't live and die on the latest design trends. If you're revamping your current offering or selling online for the first time, it's more important to prioritize big ideas than to get caught up in the latest design fads. Focusing on branding experience, extending your business's story online and making your buying experience personal for customers are great ways to build a successful e-commerce site.