How to Set Up an Online Store With Great UX

This is a guest post by Patrick Foster whose author bio will be at the end of the article.


Not factoring user experience (UX) into a web build is an expensive, rookie mistake. Online stores that offer great experiences (as well as great products) are much more competitive. But what does great E-Commerce user experience actually look like?

How can you ensure that your store is built for delighting customers, driving conversions, and making sales? Here are some key UX considerations that will help you design a store that will take your customers into account from day one.

Customers, journey, action!

A sale only comes at the end of a long customer journey.

It’s important to understand all the micro-decisions and micro-actions that contribute to making a sale. Smaller decisions like deciding to click on a certain banner, adding an item to a wishlist, and conducting a product search are all part of a larger customer journey. Ensure that all those tiny decisions inch customers closer to conversions and sales. Here’s how:

  • Map out what actions you are asking people to take, and investigate whether maybe you are getting people to do too much (or too little)? You have to strike a balance between making things frictionless for the user; and making it too easy for them to just jump ship and abandon the sale altogether.

    Small scale usability tests will help you determine whether customers find your store easy to use. Low on budget? Opt for purse-friendly remote usability testing where the software does the hard work for you.

Amazon opt for clarity over aesthetics– granular product categories get people to where they need to be fast, avoiding any double clicking. Do the same – get people to the product pages as fast as humanly possible.

  • Is there a key moment of friction that is going to cause people to drop off? In E-Commerce, before a sale is even made, you have to get people to the products. Look at your menus and product categories  – can users easily identify with how you’ve organized your site?

    Investigate the language you’ve used – is it user-friendly and clear? Trying to be too clever can be dangerous – big E-Commerce players like Amazon have got clear menu categorization down to a T.

  • When mapping a user journey, don’t forget that a multitude of customers leads to multiple ways of using your site. People rarely behave in the ways that you predict, so you have to be flexible, rather than rigid.

    Drive traffic to core landing pages from a variety of different places (footer, header, menu, banner etc.) so that you can capture as many people as you can. Vary your call to actions slightly to avoid too much repetition.

  • If you are using an out-of-the-box E-Commerce solution then a lot of UX refinement comes down to final tweaks from you. Don’t get too caught up in fancy terminology – focus on core metrics like conversions and make sure that the site is easy to use.

    Ensure that each page has a call to action or next step so that users don’t get ‘stuck; a recommended products bar is always welcome on product pages, and always prompt people to go back to shop some more during checkout.

Persuasive content

Does your store actually say something? Content is your product packaging – make it an experience people will remember.

Prioritize persuasive copy and visuals that are going to engage and inspire, and step away from search engine churn or bland pronouncements. Even microcopy can make a big difference to brand perception – don’t get sloppy.

  • Keep your products center stage, but don’t be afraid to have engaging copy in and around product pages. Better copy can help you improve conversion rates (and will make you popular with search engines).

    Develop a fun brand personality or tone of voice - being different with your copy will make you stand out from the competition who just upload product descriptions and leave it at that.

  • Give users content in multiple formats – factor in visual users with graphics and diagrams. Want to explain product dimensions? Do it visually in your product photography – people find mapping out measurements hard.

  • Make sure you have a good blog that’s aligned with your content strategy. Publish fresh articles that offer information and guidance; don’t just keep plugging your products in hyped up sales ‘advertorials’. The best E-Commerce blogs focus on stories and content that comes from their customers – not themselves.

Menstruation brand The Diva Cup get users to submit their stories via a simple online form – a great way to make confessional content part of your strategy.

These user-generated stories are then used on their blog or in other marketing materials. Not only is using data like this for marketing a smart move – the very act of collecting these stories helps users engage with the brand.


Websites are becoming more pared down – don’t opt for a flashy and gimmicky design to the detriment of clarity and purpose.

Simple doesn’t mean boring – just that you don’t need fancy tricks to entice customers.  A simpler framework is often easier to maintain and will make your brand look slick.

  • Simple isn’t always cheap – you can spend a lot on getting the basics right. Whatever you do, don’t compromise on speed. You’re going to rely on a speedy website to deliver a great customer experience (especially on mobile).

Harrods sell luxury items and their store design lets the products do all the talking – this is a strategy all E-Commerce merchants can adopt. Don’t clutter your store with loads of products and flashy banners – it will make your stock look cheap.

Focus on a few high quality images instead and drive traffic to your main category pages. Change up your home page every now and then to keep things fresh, but keep the elements roughly the same so you don’t confuse the returning user.

  • Make sure you have the ideal text to white space ratio so that you’re not overloading the user’s eyes. A fancy font might seem like a great idea at first, but if no one can read it; it’s not very clever. Make sure your website is easy to read, and that your color combinations keep your text prominent.

  • A proper website color palette will help you choose the right elements and tones for your brand. Don’t go for colors that clash – glaring colors tend to get outdated fast.

  • Have a website that is intuitive and user-friendly, not a portfolio piece for a wacky design idea. It’s OK to inject personality into the site, but not at the expense of users.

Market research

It’s impossible to offer a great experience if you don’t know who you are talking to.

Quite simply, who is your audience? What is your audience up to? What do they care about?

  • Be where they are. Contextual shopping is on the rise. New tech and software mean that merchants can return ever more relevant product recommendations.

    Embrace data-backed E-Commerce strategies that focus on personalization and retargeting to increase sales. Don’t sell to everyone – sell to your ideal target audience via ads, email, and social media.

  • On the other hand, don’t reduce customers to faceless data and retail behaviors – delve deeper into what they care about and why. Align your store, delivery options, products, and content with your core buyer personas.

    If your audience cares about speed – give it to them. If they want to hear all about your eco credentials – make them prominent. Don’t put the burden on the customer to ‘discover’ you.

  • Market research also means getting to know the competition. Learn from your competitors and big E-Commerce sites – what usability decisions are they making (and why)?

Experience doesn’t end at your store

It’s important to think about the broader context of retail customer experience. Don’t get so obsessed with website usability that you forget about what your customers care about (which isn’t servers and a fancy website footer).

Your customer experience extends way beyond the boundaries of your store – what about social media, ads, emails?

ASOS use the hashtag #AsSeenOnMe to pull in customer outfits to their store. It’s a great way to embed real customer images and experiences on your site. Using social media like this will keep people talking about your brand long after they click ‘buy’ (and means plenty of free advertising for you).

What happens when someone has a question?

Make sure that your store is ready to handle the challenges of customer service with forms, FAQs, live chat, emails, and call center numbers. Customers often come looking for you on social media if they can’t find an answer to their queries.

  • Polite customer service emails, comprehensive order confirmations, triggered emails – it’s the little things that add up to good email marketing. The way you conduct yourself in email is an extension of your store.

  • Advertising? Keep the ads user-focused and make sure that they represent your brand in the right way. Don't disappoint the user with misleading offers.

  • SEO considerations will need to be factored into your web build too – a great UX won’t save you alone.‚Äč


Great user experience is a bit more than just selecting a good theme and uploading products. It pays off to really think about your customers. A poorly laid out page or a confusing menu could end up costing you in lost sales. What are the current user experience challenges you want to solve for your brand?


Patrick Foster, E-Commerce entrepreneur & writer.

EcommerceTips is my personal blog where I write about the challenges (and joys) of E-Commerce. Connect with me on Twitter.

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