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More people are flocking online to get their shopping done these days. But, an online shopper doesn’t necessarily equal genius website navigator. You need to ensure that your business website’s search tools are simple and intuitive for those who are less technologically inclined — or risk losing customers.

About 60% of online purchases result from a customer search, according to ecommerce design solution Volusion. Not only should you do everything you can to land your business in the search engine sweet spot, but you should also optimize your in-site search for convenient user navigation.

The following tips will help improve your ecommerce company’s search functionality, both on-site and via organic search.


1. Navigation Bars and Filters


Usability studies indicate that a user’s eye naturally progresses from left to right; therefore, place navigation bars to the left. Also, you’ll probably have more room for detail if the navigation bar runs down the left side of the screen.

From there, you may choose to expand navigation bars into drop-down boxes that display sub-categories. For instance, a navigation heading displaying “Automotive” might expand into subcategories that include “Carburetors” and “Transmissions.” Just be sure not to get too specific (e.g. “Bi-Xenon Headlamps”) or else the user could become overwhelmed and discouraged.

SEE ALSO: How to Design the Best Navigation Bar for Your Website

Once the user has moved beyond the navigation, he will be taken to a page full of products. Provide a filter option that allows him to narrow products further — by price, color, fabric, most recent, etc.

In addition to pairing products with colorful, high-resolution photos, make sure to include unique, intriguing product descriptions. Not only will the shopper be more intrigued to click through to the main product page, but Google is more likely to prioritize unique product descriptions versus unoriginal content.

Cross-link between product pages and categories. That way, the shopper will more easily find related products, all while spending more time on your site and lowering your bounce rate. Cross-linking is one of the most effective search methods for ecommerce customers, especially those browsing without a clear purchase in mind.


2. In-Site Search Box


If your site has a larger population of product pages, a search box can help with targeted navigation. Follow TasteBook‘s example and consider including brief search hints like “keyword,” “ingredient,” “fabric” or “sport.” Depending on the effectiveness of the tool, the search should bring the shopper to page full of corresponding products.

However, you still want to entice users on a mission to explore the site. Consider a floating sidebar of most popular products or categories that follows a shopper throughout her search or a feed of sales activity, like Fab.com’s social shopping page. And an ecommerce homepage should constantly cycle through featured products, sales and curated content so that repeat customers are more enticed to explore.


3. Organic Search


Speaking of homepages, Google will crawl the pages of a website that have the most SEO juice, which is usually the homepage. Therefore, the pages that you link to your homepage should be the most important. Keep in mind that these pages might not necessarily reflect the categories on your navigation bar. Give prominence to other highly-clicked pages like the “About” page, for instance — they’re more likely to be indexed by Google.

Be sure to index all of your main pages, category pages and even specific product pages. Use Google Webmaster Tools and Webmaster Central to learn how to effectively index pages, then track how users searched for and found those pages. You can even view the ratio of your total URLs compared to how many have appeared in Google’s web index.

In order to maximize SEO, be sure to attach strategic keywords (including long-tail keywords) to your site pages. Use Google’s free Keyword Tool to estimate the traffic you can expect from certain key words and phrases.

Finally, be sure to index user reviews as well — Google favors fresh, user-generated content. For this reason, you may also choose to invite curators to regularly contribute related content to your website, which will not only improve SEO, but will also add a community element to your business.

How does your website design and optimize its search features? Which are the most easily navigable ecommerce sites out there today? Let us know in the comments.


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More About: ecommerce, features, Future of Search Series, Search, search optimization, SEO

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Daniel Alves is the design director for the small business web design division at the digital marketing and web design company 352 Media Group.

If you read the business news that followed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you would remember that this year’s online holiday shopping season was predicted to be the biggest in history. Many reported that online sales were up a whopping 16% compared to 2010.

However, despite these impressive trends, ecommerce websites only convert 1-4% of their leads, on average. On the other hand, some of the best ecommerce websites convert upward of 15% of their visitors. So how do they do it?

While there are many factors that go into creating conversions, one thing is certain: Great ecommerce websites successfully connect a user to a product with a system that is efficient, easy and fun.

When designing your ecommerce website, keep in mind there are three basic steps in an online shopping experience. First, a user must find the product she wants. Second, you must showcase the product well. Third, you need to seal the deal with a seamless checkout process. Read on for more details.


1. Finding the Product


Believe it or not, the biggest reason why a shopper won’t buy something on a given website is not due to its price, your customer service, or a lack of buyer’s intent. Surprisingly, the biggest reason ecommerce websites fail is because shoppers can’t find what they are looking for.

So, why is it so hard for websites to guide users to their desired products? The key to understanding this phenomenon is understanding your users.

Great web design has the ability to cater to different user needs in a unified user interface. For the users who know exactly what they are looking for, your job is to help them find their desired product in as few steps as possible. Some users might need more hand-holding, while others just want to casually browse. Each type of shopper presents unique challenges, as well as unique opportunities.

  • The Power Shopper: Power Shoppers know exactly what they want, have sophisticated shopping strategies, and don’t want to waste time casually perusing your website. For these shoppers, your first priority is to provide them with an awesome search bar so they can type exactly what they want. In terms of design, you want to make sure your search bar is large and presented with enough contrast so it’s easily visible. Per conventions, place it in the top-right of your website and make sure it is consistent across the entire website.

    As for functionality, it’s pretty much expected that your search bar should provide suggestions as you type. This allows your shoppers to type a few characters and be presented with potential choices, without having to type out the product’s entire name. This auto-complete feature can also be leveraged to cross-market products related to the product users are looking for. If you do include these suggestions, make sure to clearly label them as suggestions, not actual results of the search.

  • The Recreational Shopper: If you’re not a recreational shopper, you probably know one. This type of shopper would prefer to spend an entire afternoon at the mall casually exploring any store that piques his curiosity. They don’t see shopping as a means to an end; they’re shopping for the experience.

    While these shoppers are more likely to jump ship and not purchase from you, they provide an incredible opportunity, due to their tendency to be more adventurous and impulsive in their shopping habits. Because these shoppers respond to visual cues, you need to wow them with dynamite photography, featured item showcases, unbeatable deals and the occasional unique surprise.

    Don’t worry, you don’t have to blow your marketing budget with a tricked out homepage to lure in shoppers. In fact, some of the best ecommerce websites accomplish an eye-catching and entertaining storefront with simple and creative techniques. A popular women’s clothing website, Free People, shows off a traditional model spread, but presents a simple, unique twist when you move your mouse over one of the images.

  • The Reluctant Shopper: This type of shopper is generally uncomfortable and nervous about shopping online. She is typically less tech-savvy and needs more guidance throughout the entire shopping experience. One of her biggest concerns is privacy and security; therefore, she responds well to promising statements of trust and customer service. Because online shoppers cannot physically touch the item they are buying, promoting return and refund policies greatly increases the likelihood they will do business with you.

    For finding products, these shoppers benefit greatly from gift guides or “Shopping Wizards:” The customer answers a few pre-qualifying questions, and the site provides suggestions that suit her particular needs.


2. Showcasing the Product


Once a shopper zeroes-in on a product, the conversion clock starts ticking. Your number-one goal at this point is to get the user to add the item to his shopping cart. While there are several different ways to arrange a product detail page, several important components will help retain shopper interest and make him more likely to commit to a purchase.

  • Photos: Humans are visual creatures and high-quality photography is the key to showcasing your product. If you can only give them one photo, make sure the product has a distraction-free, neutral-colored background. If you do show your product in a lifestyle-oriented setting, make sure the product is overtly emphasized, so as not to confuse the shopper and take attention away from the product.

    If your design doesn’t allow you to display the photo at such a large size, make sure you give shoppers the option to view the photo in a modal window. Don’t offer them a zoom tool that limits them to a small quadrant of the photo. There’s no reason to not display a large photo in its entirety.

  • Price: Price is perhaps the biggest reason why a shopper will abandon your website and look elsewhere. While determining prices is outside the scope of this article, you can do a few things to help sweeten the deal. First, display the price boldly and clearly. Don’t make users register or add the item to their carts before showing them the price. This will certainly annoy users and cause them to leave in droves. If your price is discounted from the suggested retail price, show them the discount because everybody likes to know you are giving them a deal.
  • Reviews: Social influences have a profound effect on our shopping behaviors. You can tout the virtues of your product with fancy and elaborate prose, but shoppers won’t believe one word of it until it’s been confirmed by an independent customer. While positive reviews will motivate users to take the plunge and purchase an item, negative reviews give you a unique opportunity to either make product changes or respond to customer concerns publicly. This open and proactive approach to giving and receiving feedback ultimately gives your website more credibility, which translates into loyal customers and repeat sales.
  • Add to Cart: Because your call-to-action entices the user to click on the “Add to Cart” button, you must give plenty of attention to optimizing it for conversions. Try the following tips to increase your conversion rate.

    Use the words “Add to Cart.” This may seem like a no-brainer, but shoppers can either be apprehensive about the commitment of “Buy Now” or confused when they see “Add to Bag.” The convention of the words “Add to Cart” is non-committal, and leaves them comfortable to keep on shopping. It’s your most important button, so don’t hide it. Use bold colors that contrast well with your design and attract attention. Try choosing a color that is not used anywhere else in the design to really set it apart. By making the button plainly visible, shoppers won’t have to wonder how to add items to their shopping carts. Any time spent searching for the “Add to Cart” button is time in which the shopper will reconsider her motivation to purchase.

    When your shopper clicks on the “Add to Cart” button, make sure to show her some indication that the item has been added to the cart. Don’t take her to the shopping cart. If you take her away from the product page and force her to the shopping cart, you lose the opportunity to cross-sell, and the user will be less likely to keep shopping.

  • Related Products:Offering shoppers suggestions gives you the opportunity to feature items they wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise. Some shoppers might not be savvy in searching, but are more likely to wander through your website based on the suggestions they receive. Because the biggest reason for a lack of conversion on ecommerce websites is not being able to find the desired product, this feature gives you the unique opportunity to customize the products your customers see based on their browsing history.
  • Deals: Without a doubt, shoppers are responsive to deals and promotions, and the king of all deals is free shipping. Marketing guru Seth Godin dedicated a whole chapter of his book Free Prize Inside! to Amazon’s success with its free shipping model. In order to offer this and still make a profit, make a minimum purchase amount, but don’t make it too high. A minimum purchase amount will encourage shoppers to spend a little bit more just to get free shipping.

3. Sealing the Deal


So, you’ve gotten your shopper to add a cornucopia of products to his shopping cart, but it’s not time to break out the bubbly yet. One of the biggest hurdles a shopper must overcome is the often plagued and cumbersome checkout process, beautifully portrayed in this video.

While shopping is fun, spending money isn’t. Your job is to get customers through the payment as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’ll offer some helpful tips.

  • One-page checkouts increase conversions. Long forms with many steps require the browser to load a new page, proving detrimental to a shopper’s patience. One A/B Split Test study determined an improvement of more than 20% when users were able to checkout with one click of the submit button.
  • Provide instant chat. A study by BoldChat found that 76% of shoppers want to have instant access to a customer service rep during the checkout process. Instant chat not only lets you help your users with technical problems, but it also allows you to encourage them to complete their order.
  • Follow up. If you’ve been keen enough to capture a customer’s email address in the first steps of the checkout process, you have a unique ability to recover a lost sale if she decides to jump ship.
  • Don’t require registration. A Forrester Research study found that requiring users to register before checking out decreases ecommerce conversions by a staggering 23%. While registering users is a great tool for identifying repeat shoppers and making the checkout process more streamlined, make this an optional step. Also, consider using Facebook Connect or other social media sign-in widgets. These tools allow shoppers to register with your site without having to create a unique account.
  • Use cookies. A cookie is a small amount of information a website puts in a user’s web browser so that it can remember something about him/her at a later time. You can leverage this simple tool to remember a user’s shopping cart or shopping history, so when they do visit your website again, they can pick up where they left off.

Selling online is as much an art as it is a science. You need the creative prowess of both a marketing and design genius to attract customers, and the keen eye of a usability guru to make conversions happen. However, implementing the suggestions provided above should help increase your conversion rate, and lead to happy and satisfied customers.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, MarsBars

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

There’s an unpleasant moment that occurs for entrepreneurs more often than it should. Someone asks for your business card, and you hand it over. They say, “Great, I’ll check out your site!” You say, “Excellent, but ignore the ‘Shop’ section — it’s out of date. And, oh yeah, the email newsletter link isn’t working, but I can add you manually to the list if you want. And … well the design is a little embarrassing …”

By this point, the person who was excited about your product just moments ago has finished the drink they were sipping and is looking for a polite way to exit the conversation — immediately.

It used to be the case that developing a robust web presence for your company was expensive and therefore often inaccessible to newer companies or those without large ecommerce or digital marketing budgets. Today, thanks to the ingenuity of fellow entrepreneurs, this is no longer the case. “You can operate at the same scalability and efficiency of a large company,” says Harley Finkelstein, chief platform officer of Shopify. “You may not know any angel investors — today it doesn’t really matter.”

Here are some of the tools that you can use to make your business seem as if you have a giant team — and bank account — behind your company’s online presence.


1. ReTargeter


Traditionally, running ad campaigns on large news sites in order to reach millions of potentially qualified leads is cost-prohibitive for anyone without a multimillion-dollar (or at least a many thousand-dollar) advertising budget. But what if you could narrow down the audience so that you were just reaching people who had actually expressed some kind of interest in your product?

ReTargeter allows you to do just that. By adding a simple snippet of code to whatever pages of your site you’d like to track (a similar process to implementing Google Analytics), ReTargeter’s system allows you to purchase advertising that shows up repeatedly for those people who have visited the aforementioned site pages. Voila — you look like a company that has the budget to wallpaper nytimes.com.

Furthermore, ReTargeter’s reach extends beyond the outlets that some small business owners might be accustomed to. “If they’re spending that sort of money on display, the real goal is to have access to more inventory than just the Google network,” says founder Arjun Dev Arora. “We’ve gone out and partnered with Glam, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and more.”


2. Shopify


Once upon a time, a few big players had a lock on the ecommerce market. If you wanted to sell your wares online, you had to play by whatever rules eBay or Etsy set. It’s obvious that today, any potential online store owner can buy a domain name. But, then what’s next?

Shopify was designed to answer that question. Their technology makes it easy to create a totally customized, extremely professional-looking storefront with little technical effort, thanks in large part to its database of pre-designed templates. Shopify also takes care of the back-end, providing analytics, the ability to create special promotions, and tools to accept payments and track your orders.

Finkelstein names iPad cover designer DODOcase as a business that’s leveraged Shopify’s resources well to make the company appear as if it’s created a much larger footprint than it actually has — and that illusion has helped the company grow its bottom line. “Today it’s a multimillion dollar business — and they still don’t have an office,” he says.


3. SinglePlatform


Restaurant owners are usually busy with their main objective — you know, making sure food gets to the table in a timely and delicious manner. But ignoring website upkeep and presence across social media channels is missing an opportunity to connect with and market to customers.

SinglePlatform allows business owners to upload offers, menus and photos to one, well, single platform, and they do the rest, populating the content across social media channels and the company’s own website. Though the company began by serving the restaurant community, it’s now expanded the offerings to all types of businesses — spas, daycare centers and even sky diving companies. With a few minutes of work a week, you end up looking like you have a dedicated web and social media staff.


4. Unbounce


Want to create a special offer for the holidays to run on your site? What about five different special offers, depending on where your users are coming from? This could be a nightmare for whatever graphic design resources you have on staff, but Unbounce allows you to create various pages without tapping into your tech team — it’s a system they say is just as easy to use as PowerPoint.


5. Grasshopper Group & Twilio


No matter how big your staff is, it’s simply impossible to always be manning the phones. The last thing you want to do, though, is miss a call that could have turned into a sale. Grasshopper Group enables you to create a professional phone system without the cost or hassle of an enterprise level solution. Add extensions, pre-recorded greetings and (an often necessary evil) hold music. When you do need to miss a call, you can receive your voicemails transcribed as emails for easier processing and forwarding around to stakeholders.

If you’d like to incorporate text messages — say, notifying a customer of a purchase they just made over the phone — Twilio is an incredibly robust tool for this very function. The API also allows for innovative integrations and customizations should your business need them.

Do you have any can’t-miss tools for making your website more thoughtful and robust? Let us know in the comments below.

More About: ecommerce, features, mashable, newsletters, open forum, shopify, website

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Brian Casel is the founder of CasJam Media, a web design shop that works with clients worldwide designing custom WordPress CMS sites. Connect with Brian on Twitter @CasJam.

Remember when WordPress was used only for blogging?

Even all of the talk about WordPress being a true CMS seems to be old news these days. Therefore, make way for latest phase of WordPress’ evolution: ecommerce.

If you’re selling products online, you need to take a serious look at WordPress as your platform for ecommerce. Third party shopping cart plugins for WordPress are not so new anymore. They’ve been slowly developing and evolving within the WordPress community for years. Today, ecommerce on WordPress is ready for prime time.

Before we get into which WordPress shopping carts you should consider using, let’s talk about why it’s a good idea to integrate your CMS and shopping cart together under one roof (WordPress).


Clean Integration of Your CMS and Your Shopping Cart


Gone are the days of running two separate systems on your website: one for your marketing site/blog and another for your online store. By fully integrating your shopping cart with your WordPress CMS, you have complete control to cross-promote your products with other site content.

For example, your homepage might be used to promote “hot” products as well as your latest blog headlines. You might want to announce a flash sale in your homepage slider and carry that callout through the rest of your site using global WordPress widgets.

From an administration standpoint, you (or your client) only need to use one login for one system to manage everything in the operation. Plus, it’s easier to view and measure your sales funnel when your analytics tool tracks a single website.


Seamless User Experience for Your Customers (and Your Developer)


How many times have you experienced this? You land on the beautiful homepage of some business. They have an appealing design, strategic and friendly marketing copy and an overall positive user experience. So far, you like what you see, so you click the link labeled “Store.”

Suddenly, you’re taken to what seems to be a completely different website, with an outdated design and clunky customer experience. Your impression of the website, and in turn, your opinion of this brand, has taken a turn for the worse. Now you’re not so sure about buying its product.

A fully integrated shopping cart system built into your WordPress site ensures that customers experience the same design and quality from homepage to checkout.

For developers, it means not having to fiddle around with two different systems, “faking” integration by closely matching two stylesheets, or making updates in two places each time. Integration means one codebase, centralized functionality and easy maintenance.


Top 4 Ecommerce Tools for WordPress


The following are just a few of the more popular systems out there, and new ones are popping up all the time, particularly as the WordPress community continues to expand.

As you can see, the ability to sell products on a WordPress site has come a very long way. With all of the amazing plugins and frameworks that have been developed in this space, ecommerce on WordPress certainly deserves real consideration for any new online store project.

1. WooCommerce

Mac, iPhone and iPad


SEO for e-commerce sites is like playing on a teeter-totter with all the kids at the playground, and search engines are the fulcrum. Whether the site is geared toward lead generation or B2C sales, the goal of most e-commerce SEO campaigns is to stomp the competition in organic search rankings. Emerging technologies have brought forth microdata with the release of HTML5.

The concept of microdata is a new for SEO professionals, which may give e-commerce clients the edge over competition. This little-known practice will give search engines an explanation of certain elements on a webpage, building trust for that page.

Microdata is a very simple HTML markup that can be used to define dates, prices, locations, descriptions, products, etc … Google, Bing and Yahoo partnered to create Schema.org – a mutually developed resource defining accepted practices in regards to microdata. According to the Bing Webmaster Center Blog, Bing places a lot of weight on the presence of microdata in search engine results. Rumor also has it that Google may eventually replace Google Base with microdata for product searches. Whether the purpose of your website is to sell work gloves to consumers or generate B2B leads for moisture wicking shirts, microdata is something that should be implemented for all product pages on e-commerce websites.

Microdata Compatibility:

Setting up pages to be microdata-compatible is very easy. In most cases, it will only require changing the doctype to support HTML5. Depending on the size of your e-commerce site, this could take anywhere from two minutes to two days. There might be some problems that occur as a result of changing the doctype. This is a rare circumstance, but it is very possible. The doctype for HTML5 is . The doctype markup will be located on the first line of each html file. After changing the doctype, test the page in different browsers to make sure none of the page elements were affected by the alteration.

Product Page Elements:

Now that the compatibility is set up for the pages, you will need to do an audit on product pages to ensure all the product elements are present. Inserting product information elements is not only beneficial for SEO, but also for usability purposes. Each product page should include: product name, brand, model, description, price, availability, aggregate review score and quantity, related products, and product reviews. Microdata can be added to each of these elements, making them more visible and understandable to search engines.

Wireframing and Element Placement on Product Pages:

Product page layouts have an immeasurable influence on conversion rates. Before spending countless hours on page designs, create a few wireframes, depicting possible layouts for product pages. A suitable product page should be easy for consumers to gather all the information needed to make an informed purchase. Meanwhile, the pages also must possess the proper hierarchal content structure for search engines to understand the importance of each element on the page. If you run a large e-commerce site, it may be beneficial to try a few different page designs, and run conversion testing to identify the best-performing layout.

Product names should always be contained within an h1 tag at the top of the page. Images of the product should always be located under the product name. Remember to practice image optimization for all product images. Somewhere near the image, include the brand name, product description, price, availability and aggregate product reviews. Toward the bottom of the page, add a “featured products” and “product reviews” sections.

Markup Declarations:

Prior to marking up any product elements, you will need to define that everything contained in marked up html blocks is product information. Itemscope and itemtype declarations are required on each product page because they define that everything within each designated html block relates to the product. Both declarations are an HTML5 feature, which is why changing the doctype is required. This will tell search engines to parse out the markup as product information. The following markup demonstrates how to set up declarations.

Marking Up Product Pages:

Once you are satisfied with a page layout, you will need to mark up all the elements with microdata. Below is an example of all seven basic product page elements, as well as the Google interpretation. “Product review” and “featured product” markup will be covered later in this article.

Testing Microdata:

Testing the pages after changing the markup is obligatory to ensure that the microdata interprets properly. Google recently came out with this handy rich snippets testing tool to test the interpretation of microdata snippets. Run a test on each page to make sure Google parses the markup properly. The Google Rich Snippets interpretation of this markup looks like this:

Featured Products Markup:

A must-have for improving conversion rates of an e-commerce site is to have a “featured products” section on each product page. Depending on how the website has this section set up, the markup may require alterations. Many websites do featured products in javascript rather than html. Here’s an example of a basic html version of the featured products section.

Product Review Markup:

Providing consumer reviews is essential for helping potential customers make informed decisions when purchasing from an e-commerce site. If you recently launched a new line of FR workwear, you will probably want to monitor customer feedback to see if the product needs improvement. In addition to individual product reviews, you will also want to provide an aggregate review rating and total count. This will give consumers an indication of how well other customers rated the product without having to spend time reading all of the reviews. Below is a snippet for individual reviews and aggregate reviews.

Category Page Markup:

Depending on how the website is set up, you may choose to mark up category pages. If you list product information on the category pages, you will want to omit any microdata markup as it may cause a confliction with the product pages. After all, the goal for conversions usually starts with the product pages, so you will want the product page to be the landing page rather than a category page. For a simple category page that lists category names, place each category name in an h1 tag and add the following microdata markup.

Special thanks to Dave Ross of Straight North for providing the microdata markup snippets.

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

UK retailers are losing more than £8 billion ($12.6 million USD) per year due to website inefficiencies, according to research by data and analytics firm QuBit.

Using its Exit Feedback technology, QuBit collected more than 18,000 comments about a range of UK retail websites and analyzed the data to discover the major issues that these sites face.

Mashable spoke with QuBit CEO Graham Cooke about the company’s research, and what it means for businesses. We looked at the top 10 reasons website visitors don’t convert to paying customers on retail websites and offer a few tips for businesses that face these problems.


Top 10 Problem Areas for Conversion


Here are the top 10 website issues that hinder retail website visitors from converting to customers, according to QuBit’s research:

  • Pricing: Pricing was the leading issue for consumers in their online purchase decisions. Transparency and accessibility are key for the online retail world, since comparative shopping is drastically easier on the Internet as compared with shopping in the real world. QuBit recommends crossing out previous prices or focusing on a “deal of the week” to satisfy price-conscious consumers.
  • Product descriptions: More than 12% of feedback was related to the lack of clear and complete product descriptions. Descriptions must be thorough enough to replace the knowledge of a sales associate. This is especially important for fashion retailers, as “the vast proportion of feedback found on fashion retail sites blames lack of sizing information as a primary reason for exiting the site,” the report reads. Materials used, origin of goods and sizing information are just a few details that retailers should consider listing.
  • Stock information: It is important that availability of products be communicated to website visitors early on in the purchasing process. If a product is out of stock, timely information about when it will be available is also important. Otherwise, users should be given the option to be notified once the product becomes available, or the site should recommend related goods that are in stock.
  • Site functionality: Users are frustrated when they enter a site with expectations of how it should function and are utterly disappointed. Key missing functionalities cited in this research included wish lists, in-store pick-up, personalized recommendations, guest checkout and product filters.
  • Shipping information: Shipping prices and times should be readily available. Lack of this information is likely to cause checkout drop-offs and complete abandonment of the site, the report explained. Offering international shipping and displaying shipping prices in destination currencies are two features likely to improve this problem area.
  • Images: People like to see what they’re buying before they make a purchase. High quality photography from multiple angles and with zoom capabilities is important for converting shoppers into buyers.
  • Discounts: Commenters point to not being able to find where to enter discount codes as a big problem when shopping online. Likewise, consumers seemed confused as to whether offline discounts could be applied online, and if so, whether the discounts applied to their demographic or purchase. We’ve all been there — exclusion lists are lengthy and can include details on countries, states, brands and even particular items.
  • Navigation: Consumers are accustomed to visiting large commerce websites, such as Amazon, that feature clear navigation — and they expect that same level of quality across all retail websites. Broken links within the shopping cart, lack of category pages in the main navigation and broken browser functionalities (such as the back button) were key issues cited by consumers.
  • Video: Product videos can add flare to a product page, and apparently consumers expect them, as the lack of videos was expressed as a major problem area on retail websites. QuBit pointed to Burberry as being a trendsetter in this area, as the retailer’s website presents a seamless experience of videos and photos.
  • Website speed: Slow loading times are of huge concern to retailers, as consumers simply hate waiting around for a website to finally show up. Retailers should benchmark their load times against those of their competitors and act accordingly.

Tips for Improvement


QuBit CEO and ex-Googler Graham Cooke told us that there are three main things that a retail website owner needs to look at in order to improve conversions:

  • Product information: “Are the descriptions on your site clear, concise and engaging? Do they tell the user what they need to know about a product? Have you got great images on the site and do you let people zoom in so they can really get the detail? The product information on a website plays the role of the store assistant in an offline store, so you want to make sure its performing at its best.”
  • Payment processes: “The checkout is one of the most likely areas where you’re going to lose customers, and there are some really simple things you can do to make this work better. Lots of retailers ignore really simple things, like enabling the display of payment information in multiple currencies or making sure that people have clear information about shipping costs.”
  • User experience: “We’ve all known for years that user experience is key to successful online retail, but it still pops up all the time as a major issue. Again, this can be [narrowed] down to relatively simple issues such as slow page loading speeds or site search, but they’re all costing you valuable sales.”

How does your business optimize its website for conversions? Let us know your strategies in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Flickr, turtlemom4bacon & Images of Money

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Have you ever contemplated the expansion of your small business through the launch of an online store?

The first phases of any new venture, big or small, is to generate initial ideas and scope out what’s already out there.

Having a good vision of your soon-to-be e-store at hand will help you communicate better with your designer. Knowing what’s possible will also allow you to determine your desired outcomes.

When it comes to website design, one of the best and easiest ways to get ideas and inspiration is simply to browse through web design galleries, which are sites that aggregate and present beautiful websites.

Below, you will find seven web design galleries that feature excellent, high-quality e-commerce website designs. At the end, you will also discover a brief list of articles and papers about e-commerce design that you should read to equip yourself with some fundamental knowledge, should you choose to pursue the creation of your very own online store.

1. ecommr

CartFrenzy is a website gallery that only features first-class ecommerce web designs. To help visitors navigate and browse through the site, web designs are conveniently categorized into industries like Fashion/Clothing, Office Supplies and Travel. The site is maintained by top web design blogger Steven Snell of Vandelay Design Blog.

3. Cart Craze

Cart Craze, a web design gallery that’s been in existence for less than a year, is steadily building a big collection of beautiful ecommerce web designs. They regularly update their collection, posting 14 to 23 new designs a month. Look at the site’s top rated ecommerce sites, a gallery view of websites that have garnered the most user votes.

4. eCommerce Gallery

This site, which has been up since 2008 (a millennium in Internet time), presents top-quality ecommerce web designs to help get your creative juices flowing. The website is managed and owned by James Paden, an ecommerce specialist with more than ten years of web design and development experience.

5. Shop websites (siteInspire)

SiteInspire, a web design gallery site, has a special section that features only beautiful and high-quality online stores. The site is operated by Kulor, a small web design and development consultancy firm located in London.

On the right sidebar, you can select a category (greyscale, organic, etc.), type (corporate site, promotional, etc.), or theme (architecture, education, etc.) to locate ecommerce examples that will be most relevant to you.

6. eCommerce Collection (Pattern Tap)

Pattern Tap, an interface design gallery website, has a collection featuring ecommerce-related designs contributed by the site’s users. Inspirational items in the collection include specific ecommerce interface components, such as site navigation and buttons to full screenshots of excellently designed product pages.

7. E-Commerce CSS Gallery (StyleTheWeb)

This section on CSS web design gallery site StyleTheWeb has a few wonderful ecommerce web designs. Online ecommerce websites that have made it into this design gallery range from web hosting services to email marketing web apps.

Here are five articles and papers related to ecommerce design that could help you design and build an excellent ecommerce site:


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On this day in 1974, Clyde Dawson made history as the first consumer to buy a product that had been scanned into a till by its Universal Product Code. The product was a $0.67 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum purchased at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The UPC went on to become more commonly known as a “bar code.”

Now ubiquitous in the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, the bar code has not changed visibly in the past three decades — a boring monotone patch around which packaging designers must maneuver. Many don’t realize, however, that as long as a bar code is still scannable, you can have tons of fun with creative designs. Although popular in Japan, custom bar codes for product packaging haven’t gone significantly mainstream in the west, except for a few notable examples, such as Amazon’s Kindle packaging.

We’d like to see more bar code creativity, so to celebrate the UPC’s birthday, we’re taking a look at 10 brilliant designs from experts in the designer bar code field — Japanese company Design Barcode and New Jersey-based branding and packaging design agency Miller Creative‘s Vanity Barcodes.

1. Beer Pouring

In this design, we especially love the numbers pouring out of the bottle.

2. Piano

Noodles

This would make a great graphic for photography product packaging.

5. Sneakers

This gorgeous design imagines the bars as rain.

7. Surfer

The iconic tape cassette becomes a music-themed bar code.

9. Cup

Umbrella

Mac, iPhone and iPad

There’s no doubt that WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms and content management systems on the Internet. It’s widely supported, relatively easy for the end user to learn, and is easily extensible. For the average user, the WordPress theme engine makes it easy to customize the look and feel of your site. It features a robust plug-in system, and with an expansive ecosphere of existing plug-ins, you can add new features with ease.

It stands to reason that many a small business would turn to WordPress to establish its online presence. So we’ve put together a collection of great ecommerce plug-ins to add catalog, cart and sales functionality to your WordPress site. They range from basic to complex, from free to commercial, but each provides tools that allow you to easily sell your wares on a WordPress-powered website.

WP e-Commerce

WP e-Commerce is one of the most popular ecommerce plug-ins for WordPress. For a free plug-in, WP e-Commerce doesn’t skimp on features. It supports multiple payment gateways such as PayPal, Authorize.net and Google Checkout. The plug-in comes with a variety of ready-made themes, but still fully supports the creation of your own custom themes. You can also customize your order forms, share products via social networking integration, organize products into multiple categories, provide product variations (e.g. size, color) and much more.

For all its features, WP e-Commerce installation keeps it simple, requiring no more effort than other WordPress plug-ins – simply upload to the plug-ins directory and install from within WP Admin. If you’re looking to quickly launch an ecommerce site while avoiding a large time commitment or financial investment, WP e-Commerce is a fast and free, yet feature-rich solution.

Price: FREE

Jigoshop

Jigoshop is another great, free WordPress plug-in that looks quite promising. Boasting a lengthy set of features, Jigoshop gives you complete control over managing your inventory, coupon codes and shipping rates. The plug-in also supports multiple currencies, tax collection and various localization options. While the list of supported payment gateways isn’t quite as extensive as WP e-Commerce, PayPal is supported. Jigoshop also includes a couple of handy sidebar widgets for product search and filtering.

Though a few more supported payment gateways would be nice, we’re still impressed with the features of this free plug-in, and definitely think it’s worth trying out.

Price: FREE

ShopperPress

ShopperPress is meant to act as a one-stop solution for ecommerce in WordPress. With over 20 ready-made themes, you simply install the plug-in, select your desired look, add products and start selling. ShopperPress supports both physical and digital goods, custom order forms, multiple languages and over 20 payment gateways. You can also easily integrate Google Analytics, as well as your own advertising. It’s not entirely clear how easily you can customize the storefront beyond the 20 or so included templates, but if you need a drop-in solution for ecommerce, ShopperPress may be just what you’re looking for. Furthermore, the $79 price tag includes technical support from the ShopperPress team.

Price: $79

Cart66

Formerly PHPurchase, Cart66 is a WordPress ecommerce solution for selling physical and digital goods as well as subscriptions. The plug-in includes Amazon S3 integration so you can easily and reliably deliver digital downloads to your customers. PayPal integration allows for Instant Payment Notification and delivery. Cart66 also lets you set up your own merchant accounts and gateway services.

It has all the features you’d expect from a commercial ecommerce solution, including inventory tracking, support for promotional codes and multiple product variations. Unlike some of the other plug-ins we’ve discussed, Cart66 doesn’t have a storefront, per se, but rather allows you to drop products into any WordPress page or post on your site. While this may be a hindrance to some, this level of flexibility is great for vendors selling only a few products, or for those who wish to place some products behind a registration page or member area.

Price: $89-$399

Shopp

Shopp is an SEO-friendly, powerful and popular ecommerce plug-in. Shopp claims to work out of the box with any WordPress theme, so integration into an existing site should be simple. Other WordPress-centric features include dashboard widgets to easily view sales and product history, short codes and theme widgets to allow you to quickly drop Shopp elements and products into your pages.

Shopp also has a host over other standard ecommerce features: multi-category inventory management, payment history, multiple product images and variations, email notifications and a shipping calculator. The software also includes a number of promotional tools and supports a large variety of payment gateways, either natively or via plug-ins (PayPal, Google Checkout, 2Checkout, First Data, Authorize.net and more).

Price: $55-$299

eShop

Free plug-in eShop is another economical solution for rapid ecommerce integration into your WordPress site. eShop supports both physical and digital product sales, integrates Authorize.net and PayPal gateways (as well as a few others) and is compatible with the WP affiliate plug-in. Some basic features include stock management, configurable email templates, a variety of shipping methods, basic statistics, downloadable sales data, and much more. Like Cart66, eShop uses WordPress pages and posts, so you can easily integrate your products into any section of the site.

Price: FREE

WP Secure Downloads

This premium WordPress plug-in is designed specifically for managing and selling digital goods online and is perfect for selling software, music, artwork, documents, and anything else to be delivered as downloadable content. The plug-in installs just like any other WordPress plug-in, with no outside configuration necessary, and boasts features such as automatic theme integration, a built-in shopping cart and subscription-based purchases.

If your sales are limited strictly to digital products and you don’t want the overhead of a large ecommerce package, but desire the flexibility of simple product management and sales, WP Secure Downloads is the ideal solution.

Price: $37-$179

MarketPress

This BuddyPress and WPMU-compatible ecommerce plug-in allows you to quickly and easily create an entire network of ecommerce sites (of course, you can use it for single storefronts as well). If you’ve got a lot of products to sell across a number of websites, or want to create a network of hosted ecommerce sites, this is definitely the plug-in to consider.

MarketPress keeps your database tables clean by using custom post types and fields for product data; new products are added simply by creating a new post. Other features include multiple product images, coupon codes, custom email templates, multiple currency support and customizable widgets. The plug-in also features a powerful API for extending functionality – for example, to create your own custom payment modules or collect a percentage of sales from network stores.

Price: $39-$209


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HOW TO: Make Your WordPress Blog More Like Tumblr
8 of the Best Premium WordPress Themes


More About: business, ecommerce, List, Lists, shopping carts, small business, Web Development, WordPress, WordPress plugins

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wordpress image

Brian Casel is a web designer and business owner who works with WordPress every day. He’s the co-host of Freelance Jam, a live web show for freelance web designers. Connect with Brian on Twitter @CasJam.

It’s no secret that WordPress is the fastest growing content management system (CMS) platform on the web. As of this writing, WordPress has a 54% market share of all websites that use a CMS. As users continue to flock to WordPress, we in turn see massive demand for WordPress’ products and services.

If you’re a WordPress expert, your products and/or services are part of a rapidly growing market. In fact, over the past few years, we’ve seen the launch and success of businesses that are built entirely around WordPress.

In this article, we’ll look at various business models that have proved successful in the ever expanding WordPress arena. We’ll look at the mechanics of each model and how they differ in terms of craft, operation, benefits and downsides. If you’re a designer or developer looking to leverage your expertise in WordPress to build a business, let’s just say you have quite a few options to consider.


1. WordPress Design/Development Consultancy


The most common way for a web designer/developer to build a business around WordPress is to offer web design services specializing in WordPress CMS sites. Your client base would be businesses, organizations and individuals looking to establish a web presence with a user-friendly way to update and manage their site content.

Like any consultancy, this business model is time-based. Either you charge an hourly rate or quote flat project fees that are derived by estimating the amount of time a project will take. While a time-based model may be more difficult to scale, there are two factors that allow you to gradually raise your rates: your skill level and the demand for your services. Both should improve naturally as your consultancy progresses.

Plus, the fact that you use WordPress speeds up your development process by providing amazing base functionality, a strong community to support your craft, and a user-friendly platform to build on top of. Using WordPress is a highly efficient way to capitalize on your time-based business model.

There is a vast abundance of WordPress consultancies out there. CodePoet maintains a worldwide directory of WordPress specialists. FreelanceSwitch is always a good place to find freelancers as well.

WordPress Theme Customization

WordPress themes have become wildly popular among both users and web developers. One of the most common requests from clients is to have their WordPress theme customized to fully suit their needs. Freelance web designers who are just starting out may find this to be a great market to serve.

You might specialize in customizing themes from one particular theme provider. For example, WooThemes has a listing of “Affiliated Woo Workers.” Or theme customizations may fall into the general mix of WordPress services you offer. We’ve also seen specialized shops like TweakMyTheme that exclusively offer theme customization services.

Subcontracting

If your skills are more specialized, you may find steady work as a subcontractor for agencies and other consultants. For example, if you’re a WordPress plugin developer who lacks design skills, you can offer your PHP expertise to designers or agencies looking for specific functionality built into a larger WordPress site.

One benefit of subcontracting is that all of your jobs are collaborations with design/dev professionals rather than the end client. There tends to be less stress and easier communication when the people you work with “speak the language.” You can generally expect more professionalism this way as well.


2. Web Design/Development Agency


After working for several years as a freelance consultant, you may reach a point when you want to grow your business beyond just raising your rates. The logical next step is to hire full-time employees or subcontractors and transition to an agency operation.

WordPress can play a central role at the agency level. Not only can it serve as your primary web development platform, but you can look to the vast WordPress community to find new hires and collaborators.

Having a team allows you to multiply your earnings per hour or take on more projects simultaneously. You can also deliver a better final product since it was built by a team of specialists.

If you’re making the transition from being a solo consultant to agency, your personal job description will change quite a bit. Expect to spend less time in Photoshop and code and more time in calls, meetings, reviewing portfolios and juggling the many responsibilities of a business owner. Some find this transition exciting while others prefer to focus on their craft. That’s something you need to consider before growing your operation.


3. WordPress Themes Sales


Among the most prominent business models in the world of WordPress is theme sales. Today’s market is flooded with WordPress theme shops and the competition is fierce. The massive growth of the WordPress user-base means thousands of new users are entering the market every month.

Selling WordPress themes is a product business, which offers the benefit of being detached from time-based revenue. But don’t think that running a themes shop doesn’t require tons of time and work. You’ll be busy creating and maintaining themes as well as handling ongoing customer support.

In the world of WordPress themes, there are quite a few options to consider as you plan your business:

Independent Theme Shops

One way to enter th
e themes business is to start up your own independent ecommerce website to sell your themes. There is a lot to consider before diving in. First, building an effective ecommerce site is a tough task in and of itself. You’re also responsible for all of the marketing costs and customer database infrastructure. Of course, the benefit is you get to keep 100% of the revenue from your themes.

Another benefit to selling WordPress themes independently is the freedom to try out various pricing models, such as simple one-time theme sales, membership to access all themes (a recurring revenue model), or free themes with premium support.

WooThemes, Press75, and StudioPress are a few examples of the big players in the independent theme shop arena. Smaller shops have followed suit.

WordPress Theme Marketplaces

For those interested in designing and selling WordPress themes, but aren’t ready to build and market your own independent ecommerce website, joining a popular marketplace could be the way to go.

The benefits of selling on a marketplace is that you get to focus on designing and supporting themes while the marketplace handles the bulk of your marketing and traffic generation. The downside is most marketplaces take a significant commission on sales and usually don’t give you control over theme pricing. Another potential downside is your themes are listed right alongside many competitors so it can be easy to get lost in the mix. But with great products shown on a high-traffic stage, the pros can certainly outweigh the cons.

Theme Forest, Mojo Themes, and Theme Garden, are all thriving and reputable WordPress theme marketplaces worth consideration.


4. Plugin Development & Support


Premium plugins may offer more of an opportunity for newcomers than theme sales. While they are very popular with users, there are simply less plugin developers in the space. But the market is growing rapidly.

If you or your team have the development chops to create awesome functionality built on top of WordPress, plugins could be the business to look at. Like WordPress themes, one route is to independently sell your plugin through your own ecommerce site. Gravity Forms, Plugin Buddy, and Cart66 have shown that this business model can be successful. You can also release your plugins on marketplaces such as CodeCanyon, WP Plugins, and Mojo Themes (they also have plugins).

One potential challenge in a plugins business might be customer support. This can prove to be even more difficult than supporting themes since there are so many compatibility variables. But with the right support team in place and a great, carefully developed product, the customer support challenge can be overcome.


5. WordPress Web Hosting


These days, recurring revenue is among the most sought after pricing models for new startups. The power of a recurring revenue stream is tremendous when you think of the growing potential lifetime value of each of your customers. Looking for a recurring revenue model in the WordPress space? WordPress hosting may be worth consideration.

Every user on a self-hosted WordPress site needs some kind of web hosting. Popular and low-cost web hosts like Godaddy, Dreamhost, MediaTemple and others all offer WordPress compatability and one-click installation. But this seems to be the extent to which their services go in respect to WordPress.

Other hosting companies have positioned themselves as WordPress hosting specialists, with an extended set of WordPress services attached to their hosting, like theme installation and WordPress support and optimization. A few examples include Page.ly, WP Engine, and ZippyKid.

Getting into the hosting business is no easy task. You’d better have an intimate knowledge of server technology and scaling issues. It also requires a significant investment in infrastructure, customer support staff, and marketing. And don’t forget the potential firestorms that will arise when your servers inevitably go down and every one of your customers flames you on Twitter. That said, the recurring revenue is a powerful benefit not to be understated. If you make it work, it can be a very lucrative business model.


6. WordPress Community Content


Creating valuable WordPress-related content is a great way to build a long-term brand and audience, which in turn can be leveraged to build a strong business. The WordPress community provides an abundance of helpful information. With just a few Google searches, you can find anything you want to know from a WordPress user.

You can start a blog with focused content in a sub-niche within the WordPress world. WPCandy covers all news related to WordPress. WP Beginner provides helpful tutorials to developers starting out with WordPress. WP Engineer tackles more advanced topics for developers. There are also podcasts like WordPress Weekly. The possibilities are endless.

The primary revenue source for content-driven models is advertising. However, building a strong readership can also be a great launching pad for a products and/or services business.

The challenge with a content-driven approach is the lengthy period of time and unwavering effort required before you start to see results. It can take months of posting several blog posts per week before you build enough traffic to attract advertisers. And don’t forget about the time involved in creating all of that content, or the cost of hiring writers.


7. Premium WordPress Support


This is an interesting and innovative business model that has popped up in recent years. Since WordPress is an open source community-driven project, there really isn’t a centralized location where you can get instant and reliable general customer support. That’s not to say there aren’t amazingly supportive community forums like those on WordPress.org. But sometimes people or companies seek more substantial support options.

One company that comes to mind is WP Help Center, which offers monthly subscriptions to on-call WordPress customer support and development. Another innovative startup is WP Questions, where anyone can ask or answer questions related to WordPress. Those who offer the best answer win a monetary prize paid by the asker, with a portion going to WP Questions.


The Possibilities Are Endless


These business models are just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of innovative approaches popping up all around the WordPress platform. It’s truly an exciting time for WordPress and the larger community of those who build the web.

Are there any other WordPress focused business models worth noting? Untapped opportunities in the WordPress space? Let us know in
the comments.


Image courtesy of Flickr, Titanas

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