Anatomy of the Online Store

Some of these parts, electronic product catalogs, were related to structure and were developed in a variety of database-driven architectures. The online store that relies solely on a database-driven product database is weak and cannot withstand competition or support customer needs. These early electronic catalogs displayed long lists of products to online customers. They lacked intuitive organization and structure.A strong online store is dependent on having the right elements, which consist of structure, form, and navigation. It is also dependent on having the right product mix, sufficient customer research, intuitive navigation and ease of use, and a good delivery and fulfillment mechanism. Information must be adequate and appropriate. The basic elements of the store €”the web pages €”must fluidly guide the customers to desired destinations. Customer-centered web design reverses the typical development order for websites. The typical method is to take an existing product database and build a user interface on top of it to accommodate the existing category structure. The customer-centered method starts with the user interface and builds the database structures and content to accommodate the page layout and content requirements of the customer and merchant. The user interface requires specific online merchandising techniques to influence effectiveness and design simplicity.

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Six Functional Parts, The Home Page

The home page sets the shopper’s expectations for the rest of the site and lays out the framework. The home page performs the following jobs:

Store Framework

The store framework—or page layoutsets the expectations for the customer for each subsequent page within the website. It usually consists of the top banner of the store, the left navigational bars, the primary content area (middle), and often has a third column on the right side used typically for advertisements. The top banner and left navigational areas are usually consistent throughout the remainder of the store.

To help the customer remain oriented in the site, there are static elements that start on the home page and then remain constant. For example, the company logo and top of the page identification banner help ground the shopper in the store even though page content changes.

Company Information

The company name, logo, and positioning statement are important informational elements. In addition, a toll-free number provides another means to order or to ask questions and should be readily noticeable and available on the home page and all other pages of the store.

A link to a company information area will provide the company name, address, telephone number, parent company, and a key contact name. It may tell a little about the company itself, how long it has been in business, the types of markets it serves, and the range of products it produces. There may be a photo of the main office to establish credibility. This area can reinforce the value proposition and reassure customers that they will get the promised quality, service, or other attribute when they order.

Online Store Benchmarking

We developed and used the following process:

  1. Establish search criteria.
  2. Develop a metrics scorecard.
  3. Conduct the evaluation.
  4. Map out purchase process flow issues.
  5. Purchase products.
  6. Total the scores.
  7. Recommend improvements.

Recommendations were supported by annotated screen captures. Recommendations were detailed in an overall recommendations/assessment document that lists good and confusing aspects of navigation by area and category. It also noted best practices that reinforced what appeared to work well within the site.

A meeting was conducted with the online merchant to share key findings and deliver recommendations on online store improvement as it related to category profitability. Store executives, buyers, merchandisers, and members of the IT department attended the meeting, because all have an influence on the online store design.

The Online Shopper

Shopping process hierarchies depend on the purchase purpose, and the online store needs to address these purposes. Generally, for those shoppers who already know what they want to purchase, the process is simple and similar online to the retail process. The process normally features the following steps:

The other two types of shoppers may shop randomly. The browsing third is enticed by link, an ad, an end cap, or another promotional device. This shopper will move randomly around the store to see what is offered. The information shopper is more specific in searches and may look in catalogs, search at retail, or investigate on the web.

When Michael was seeking a specific product, he was not interested in the distraction of a pop -up advertisement. Yet, when he was looking for a vacation spot, the pop-up window did not bother him. In fact, he quite enjoyed it. He wasn’t waiting for a client, and he had plenty of time before needing to book reservations for his vacation.

How Does Your WebStore Stack Up?

Regardless of the size of your online store or your organization, there are questions that you can ask of your site as a potential influencer of site design and customer experience. A website self-evaluation shows opportunities to improve site usability. Comparing your competitorssites against the same criteria and analyzing the results reveals areas of focus to remain at a competitive advantage or to catch up. Read the rest of this entry »