What I’ve Learned From 3 Online Store Website Redesigns

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Over the past several years, our online wedding linens store website has undergone 3 major revisions. In the beginning, I was lazy, didn’t know what I was doing, and launched the store with more or less the stock OSCommerce shopping cart layout.

After several months of very few sales, I decided to redesign the entire site to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Finally during the 3rd revision, I redesigned the site based on customer behavior to maximize conversions and sales. Here are a few things I learned from all of these changes.

Don’t Use The Stock Template

Photo By The Fox And The Polar Bear

I repeat, do not use the stock, out of the box template for any shopping cart or website package that you choose to use, because it will suck.

You might think that the engineers designing the software did so with an optimal layout in mind. But remember, they are engineers and not marketers!

In the beginning, I was so eager to launch our online store and start earning money that I didn’t want to spend time designing and optimizing my website. Big mistake!

The truth is that there’s no such thing as an optimal out of the box layout. Your website is unique and you will need to make tweaks according to your customer base and traffic patterns.

Everywhere I look, I still see many online stores using out of the box templates and they all blend in. If you take the time to differentiate your store, you will sell more product. Don’t be lazy.

Make The Testimonials Stand Out

Especially when you are just starting out as a no name store, every customer is going to be wary of purchasing from you. Are you a real store? Are you reliable? Do you have happy customers?

You need to make new customers feel comfortable enough to purchase from you and that means more than just displaying a few security badges around your site.

When I redesigned the site, I added testimonials to our banner header right smack on the top of every single page of the online store. In addition, I created a big box to emphasize our customer service in the middle of the front page.

By displaying our testimonials more prominently, our shopping cart abandonment rate dropped dramatically. At first I didn’t think that people cared, but even today our testimonials link is among the highest clicked link on the front page of our online store.

Make An Appealing Checkout Page

Once a upon a time, we were losing 30% of our customers at the first step of the checkout process. When I say first step, I’m not even talking about the page where you enter in your address and payment information.

I’m referring to the page in which customers choose whether to check out without an account, create a new account or login to an existing account.

Once I changed the layout from the upper left format to that of the upper right above, the exit rate from this page decreased by about 25%.

Create A Bestsellers Page

I used to be under the impression that most customers find the products they want to buy by using our in store search or by browsing our product categories.

But much to my surprise, customers are much more likely to find the product they want to buy from our bestsellers page. In fact, the bestsellers link on our front page is by far the most clicked product link on the site.

The only thing I can conclude from this is that customers don’t always know what they want to buy. As a shop owner, you have to steer customers towards products you want to move and provide them with social proof that these products are popular.

For our store, customers who add items to their shopping cart from the bestsellers page are much more likely to complete their purchase.

As part of my 3rd redesign, I moved the bestsellers link all the way to the top of the products category and made a special button for it so it wouldn’t be missed.

Flaunt Your Press Page

If you are getting media love for your online store or business, make sure you let everyone know about it. At first, when we were mentioned in Brides and Real Simple magazine, I only had a single text link on the front page of our online store.

Probably no one saw it because it blended in with the rest of the text.

When I did the 3rd redesign, I made sure to put a picture of the cover of the magazine on the left hand sidebar so it would be displayed on every single page of the entire site.

When customers see the “As Seen on Brides Magazine” along with the cover, they know that we’re a legit business and are more inclined to buy from us. The other thing that I did was to create a special press page to display all of the publications that our store has been featured in.

People Rarely Click On Stuff On The Right Sidebar

For the first few iterations of the store, we ran a website with a standard 3 column layout. I wanted to be able to display product and navigation links on the left and show sale items and bestsellers on the right.

But after looking at the site overlays using Analytics, I discovered that hardly anyone ever clicked on the links on the right sidebar.

As it turns out, our customers gravitate towards the left when navigating through the store. So during one of the redesigns, I removed the 3rd column altogether and added buttons to specific products pages that I wanted customers to focus on.

In the end, customers were much more likely to click on these buttons rather than the links on the right sidebar.

The best way to get the customers attention for any product you want to move is to show a big picture right smack in the center of the page. We now have 2 fairly large product photos on the frontpage that we change from time to time depending on what we want to sell.

Summing It Up

These are just some of the major things I learned while redesigning our store. There are so many more tweaks that I’ve done these past years that I’ve either forgotten about or are too small to mention.

In any case, the key to making any website optimization is to try new things and take down accurate data. Nothing is permanent so I’m positive that there will be another redesign at some point in the future for both this blog and our online store.

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23 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned From 3 Online Store Website Redesigns”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the great info. I think it is really important to stress the purpose of the store. We often work on things (like websites) and never stop to think about the reason that we are doing it. The great point you make is that the purpose of the store is not to look nice (although that might have some importance), but to make sales.

    I think that is one of the problems of “organizations”. Each person has their own idea about what is important. The programmer thinks it has to be fast. The designer thinks it has to look nice. The HTML coder might think it has to look the same on different browsers. But actually, none of that necessarily matters. Those things are only important if they help the site make sales.

    That’s one of the benefits of having no staff and running the business ourselves. We can focus on what is important (making sales), and get less distracted by the details of a single role.

    1. @George
      Thanks George. You are correct. It’s important to note that the changes that I’ve made only apply to my store and demographic. Who knows, everything that I did might have the complete opposite effect on a different business. The key is to act based on data and not on one’s opinion.

  2. What I like is how you treat your online store like an offline. Retail is retail and the presentation and visual appeal of the establishment, as well as ease of buying, are as important online as they are in your local store.

    1. @Tyler
      That is very true. The only problem when dealing with aesthetics is that it is hard to quantify. The only real way to test it is by doing AB testing of the page and seeing what falls out.

      Our online store is located at http://www.bumblebeelinens.com. I’m not sure why people never clicked on the right sidebar of our store. It could have something to do with our demographic or ad blindness as you have suggested. It’s hard to know for sure.

  3. Very insightful article. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I wanted to take a look at your online wedding linens store, but I didn’t see a link in the article for it.

    Do you think people rarely click the right sidebar, because advertisements are typically on the right?

    Best wishes with your store.

  4. Steve, another great post exemplifying why I think you’re so great. Thank you for taking to the time to share your learnings.

    @Mike Kypros, you may be right re: advertising positioning. As I understand from reading behaviours, people tend to look at pages from left to right in an F pattern = diminished focus on the right side.

    1. @Alexa
      Thanks for the kind words. It’s good to see you on a regular basis now:)

  5. Shilpa R. says:

    Steve, I agree with the “No template” look for your e-commerce website. Being an avid eShopper, I quit the website just by the very first look at its “templatie” look. I think its necessary to stand out from the rest to tell customer that you are unique and offer a quality products. The small details and efforts sure do pay-off. Hey, also thanks for the insight on the Testimonial experience! I wasn’t sure about that as much and thought, what customer might think, they are all just made up! But i suppose it helps and leaves an effect! Good to know that! :) ~S

    1. @Shilpa
      Real testimonials work. For me, it’s really easy to tell a real testimonial from a fake one. For example, the testimonials on our online store are pretty random and it’s clear that they are written by different people. I generally get suspicious if the style of all of the testimonials are similar or if they are all grammatically correct.

  6. Online shopping store has become very popular in recent years. I like “create a best seller page ” where customer get the facility to choice their quality products online. Customer should get branded products from online shopping store.

    1. @David
      I think that people require social proof that what they are buying is popular.

  7. This is really good advice for me. I have some customer testimonials, but I need to put them on my website. Its also a great idea to have a “best seller” page/banner.

    In terms of the web design, I did see an improvement when I changes things up a bit. You’re right, stock templates sucks!

    Thanks for the tips!

  8. @Steve
    Thanks for the link to your site. It’s very nice by the way. I can see how adding your mention in Brides magazine would be reassuring for a shopper, and the picture of the magazine cover really makes it noticeable.

    Thanks for reminding me of the F pattern. Here is a link to a short summary of the F shaped pattern for reading web content http://bit.ly/18Zl1I

  9. Thanks for giving suggestion regarding which feature you should include and which you should not for making your online shopping store most successful and attractive to the consumers.

  10. Love the title and banner on this site. I totally agree that you should really never use the standard template. It’s probably used elsewhere and is the default for a reason. If it was a person it would have no personality!

  11. Thanks for sharing details of online shopping stores and the services they are providing. It is important to create a best seller pages which is helpful for online stores.

  12. Business is hard these days. It seems as if only the hardest will survive in 2012. Thanks for this post. Keep up the good work.

  13. I can still your links and ads on right side bar. How it is different from your business site where left links attracted visitors?

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