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The old days, when websites were looked upon as simply another form of advertising, are long gone. Websites have grown to become vital marketing, customer service and sales platforms.
Any website that provides online business transactions must make those transactions as easy as possible for the customer. An e-commerce site should be user-friendly. It must be both interactive and useful to the customer. While it's a good idea to have an attractive eye catching site, aesthetics can only go so far. The site that sells the most will be the site that customers find useful and easy to use.
The website's homepage must be centered around the user and should duplicate the shopping experience as far as is practical. Remember that a user cannot hold an online product in his or her hand, so it is vitally important to be as detailed as possible. Online images should offer a zoom capability and product descriptions should not only be detailed they should also offer explanations or statements clarifying any common area of concern that customers may have. This is vitally important. This may seem like a lot but you can keep the site from being cluttered with text by addressing specifics.
Never treat your website as simply an online catalog. Remember that the internet is all about communication. All text on the site should be helpful and clarifying. It should be written as if you are having an over the counter conversation with your customer. Of course, this means knowing your customers needs and wants even before the customer reaches your site, or at least having a pretty good idea. There are a number of sources for customer information, from surveys to customer feedback and forums where potential customers congregate. And it's a very good idea to have a dedicated chat function right on your site, where customers can have their problems addressed and questions answered in real time.
Also keep your navigational architecture simple and straightforward. Make it easy to move from page to page without getting lost. Don't clutter your home page with links, offer a good search engine instead, one that enables the customer to drill down from the general to the specific and doesn't require the customer to have detailed product knowledge in order to find what he or she is looking for.
Make the checkout process easy. Don't require more information than is necessary and put all information, such as shipping cost, right up front. It's okay to offer a signup form to make later purchases easier, but this should be optional.
And finally, but most importantly, you should test your site with potential customers, ideally before the site goes live. Customer experience testing is vital. It can save you a lot of grief and there's no substitute for user testing if you want a friendly e-commerce site.
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