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With South African online spending forecasted to grow to over R53bn by 2018, and a recent Forbes report predicting that the e-commerce industry will surpass a $2 trillion annual haul in this year, it’s clear that eCommerce is big  business these days.

It’s thus not surprising that many businesses are looking to take advantage of the always-on, borderless retail environment which eCommerce provides.

But it’s not quite as simple as registering a domain, advertising some products and putting a big ‘Buy Here!’ button on the site – there are many aspects of the store which need careful attention in order to maximize customer conversion.


It should go without saying that appearance is a key component in your eCommerce store. In an increasingly design-led and time-strapped world, visual information is an extremely important way to communicate brand identity clearly and consistently.

High Quality Images

You should want to show off your store products in the best light possible – and this means paying attention to the image quality. Products should be displayed at a size which provides a comfortable viewing experience and not so small that the viewer has to squint or can’t see relevant detail. The images should be high-res and crisp, and if possible, mood lighting should be used to show off the products to their best effect.


Apple is famous for using beautiful, high-res product images.

Product Descriptions

Another obvious attribute is ensuring that the product descriptions are comprehensive and relevant. Unable to handle and view a physical product, site visitors are seeking comprehensive product information to confirm that the item is in fact what they are looking for (or not).

Mobile Optimized

With a large amount of web traffic and eCommerce transactions now coming via mobile, it makes sense to ensure that your eCommerce site is optimized to run smoothly and display correctly on mobile devices. Site ergonomics and user experience are a key factor in the buying process, and nothing will turn a prospective customer off a website quicker than a poorly configured
mobile experience.


In a time-pressured world, people want to be able to find what they’re looking for without delay. In the same way that product aisles should be clearly displayed and store information clearly marked in a physical store, so the same goes for an eCommerce environment. Correctly instituted site navigation can not only help people find what they’re seeking, but can also be intelligently used for cross and up-sell as well.

Product Categories

An eCommerce site should be organized via logical product categories, allowing viewers to quickly recognize the site-wide system, and navigate to their destination with no confusion or ambiguity.


Makro has clear product categories on its website.

Sales and Special Deals

As with any piece of physical or virtual real-estate, you’ll want to display your specials and sales prominently and in a way which grabs the attention of prospective customers, without being overbearing or too pushy about it.

New Arrivals

Human are wired for newness and novelty, and displaying your new arrivals clearly is a good strategy for drawing people in and taking a closer look at ‘what’s available now’.


Nike displays new product releases prominently.

Most Popular

People don’t like to be left out, and a clever marketer appeals to this drive by displaying the most popular items on sale, usually done via an in-system ranking mechanism.

Related Products

A golden opportunity to engage in some cross-sell activity is showing people products related in some way to what they viewed or bought. This can be done via logically linking items (eg. displaying some coffee beans for people viewing a coffee grinder) and/or picking up on what other people also bought when they purchased the same item.


Whilst products need to be organized via categories, the site should also make use of a site-wide search function for those prospective customers who know exactly what they’re looking for and are not interested in browsing or navigating product categories to get where they’re going.


With the number of viruses, malware and ransomware applications on the rise, security has become an ever-increasing worry in the minds of those who shop and conduct payments online. You may have the nicest looking eCommerce site on the internet, but if customers don’t trust your products, reputation or website payment gateways, it’s unlikely that they’ll buy your products. It’s thus vitally important to pay attention to the trust aspect of your eCommerce site.

Trustmarks and Security Logos

Trustmarks are those visual identifiers which signify that a website is secure and that customer data and transactions are encrypted and/or protected. These should be prominently displayed on or around payment gateways so that customers can have peace of mind when transacting. Essentially, you’re removing one more barrier to sale by eliminating doubt in the consumer’s mind. Well-known examples of these types of logos include VeriSign, Thawte and RapidSSL.


A selection of trustmarks designed to instill consumer confidence.

Returns Policy

Your returns policy should be clear, logical, concise, unambigous and give the benefit of the doubt to the customer.

Customer Reviews

Shoppers on your eCommerce website are looking for validation in the purchase of their goods, and publishing user reviews can be a powerful tool in this regard. People are more likely to trust other people who have bought the same or similar product, and often take their reviews into account when making their purchasing decision. Publishing user reviews can not only influence buyer decisions, but lend the website an air of honesty and transparency as well.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Another way to foster trust is by including a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on your eCommerce site. It’s likely that people will ask many of the same questions, and if the answer is already laid out and waiting on the website, it tends to instill further confidence in the purchasing process for the consumer.


This is what it all boils down to – optimizing the appearance, navigation and trust aspects of your eCommerce website are all in support of the main goal – facilitating a sale. Without a simple, logical and secure payment process, all other site-wide efforts are facing an uphill struggle to convert the customer into a sale. Conversely, a well-thought out payment process is enhanced by good site-wide practices. As such, paying attention to this area is crucial.

Checkout Process

Make sure that the checkout process is a simple, logical and unambiguous affair. The customer should be informed of what is happening at every step of the process, and be sure to display the abovementioned trustmarks prominently to inspire customer confidence in the process.

Shipping Info

Once the customer has bought an item, it makes sense that they will want to know the various details about how and when they will be receiving the item which they purchased. Make sure that all this information is clearly visible upfront before actual purchase process, as it may influence whether the customer decides to purchase or not.

Returns Policy

As with the Shipping Info, you want to be transparent and upfront regarding how you handle customer returns and what the various options are that exist for customers in this situation.


Barnes and Noble has comprehensive information available on its refund policy.


An understated yet vital area for any eCommerce website, contact details not only provide your customers with a way to get in touch with your company, but is also linked to the trust component of the purchase process as well. You are always going to feel more trusting of a company which provides multiple ways to easily contact them, as opposed to one where contact details are non-existent, or hard to find.

Some of the ways to think about listing contact methods include:

Company Details

The usual telephone and email details are a good starting point. Some companies make use of a contact form to counter spambots harvesting their email address.


Bigger companies may have a dedicated callcenter to field and deal with customer enquiries.

Online Help

Another popular contact method is to have consultants who are available on-line to help in real-time, usually via a small, on-screen pop-up box.

Social Media 

With so many people being online via social media, it’s no wonder that many use it as a primary form of communication and interaction with companies. It therefore makes sense to display logos and links to your company social media profiles such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook so that customers can not only see what you’re about, but also provide another mechanism to get in contact with you.


Zara displays links to its social media channels.

Physical Storefinder

In the event of an item being unavailable online, people will alternatively want to know whether there is a physical store where they can find the good which they’re looking for. And some people just prefer to shop in a physical environment instead of a virtual one. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to include a list on your eCommerce website where customers can find your physical store locations, should you have them.

When designing an eCommerce website, as with many things in life, attention to detail is important and can payoff handsomely if correctly implemented. The focus areas listed above are not intended to serve as a prescriptive website brief, but rather as a general guide to elements of a well thought-out virtual gateway to your business and products.