Designing your online shop – what comes first?

Designing your online shop – what comes first?

When you’re ready to start building your online shop, what do you need to consider when choosing a designer and design? Should you choose the content first and find the design to fit, or the design first and fill it with content?

In general, you should always understand exactly what you will be saying to your potential customers before starting any business venture, website project or online shop. If you don’t understand who your customers are, what motivates them, what they are looking for when buying the types of products that you sell, how your solution meets their need or use better than your competitors and what your point of difference in the market actually is, then it will not matter what shopping cart platform that you use because your business will fundamentally struggle to respond to your market environment. You are wasting your money jumping first and checking later – plan to succeed.

So if you are not having a website built for your business by a web designer from the ground up, then you should consider the content first in choosing your shopping cart provider and the base design that you go with. You should also think carefully about who you choose to do the customization of the online shop for your brand.

Website templates – good or bad?

Base templates can be a very cost-effective way of getting your website up and running but the big problem with them is that they are not personalised for your business. Many pre-built templates use “flashy” home page images which are designed to make their websites look great in thumbnail screenshots against a lot of other competing templates. The template designer therefore may not have considered how their design will best work with the cart technology that they are using, or how the design might be applied in different industries. They might only function in particular ways and not allow certain cart features to be turned on without throwing out the page or design. Then comes the issue of customizing them yourself – even if you have the skills to add your own images and change the colour scheme to suit your business, do you have the time to do it?

Templates can be a very powerful tool if you have the skills to customize them, have access to an in-house designer and builder to make the adjustments you need, or use a hosted e-commerce solution which includes your design personalisation paid for up front. The latter is the easiest way to get up and running fastest.

Smart startup businesses are realising that smart design is smart business, and that they don’t have to do everything themselves in order to run a successful online business. What is your time best spent on – customizing the design of your site, or on your marketing, inventory and creation of the product detail? Having a design completed by a specialist may cost you be considerably less when you take into account your time:

  • Your time in photoshopping home-page graphics to suit your business branding
  • Your time in learning the ins-and-outs of the design tool provided with the shopping cart software
  • The cost in fixing design bugs and making adjustments to the design in the event that things don’t work like they expect (a designer can talk to the build team directly if there’s a problem without you even having to be involved)
  • The time taken waiting for either community support or the next revision of the design template – in a hosted e-commerce solution with design included there’s less burden on you – if there’s a problem specific to the way the design works for your business, the designers and developers can work together to get it fixed quickly and easily for you

Think beyond your home page

Too often people new to e-commerce believe that they should design the home-page of their website in a art program like Photoshop and then it’s just a matter of getting a programmer to build it for the cart technology they want to use. It gets built, the builder fills in what the inner pages look like and you’re done, right? As there are even many companies dedicated to turning a Photoshop page into a working website template, this is a very tempting option for someone who has some design and Photoshop skills but has not run an online shop before. No matter how beautiful the home page looks, the question of whether this design take advantage of the technology platform being used to its maximum advantage remains. In many cases, this may fall short of the mark and the more competitive the industry you are in, the more this will matter.

It’s very important to think about more than just what words and graphics are on your home page. Buyers in online shops will often be looking for something particular and may not follow traditional search patterns of searching for a type of business, going to their home page and then looking through their site for the products that they want. This means that your home page may not be the first thing that your visitors see and it’s important that the design and content of the whole site is taken into account. You need to think about:

  • Your product images. People do read product descriptions but will often look at the imagery first to decide whether or not to read the description. Also, the level of detail that you may need for a particular product will vary depending on the buyer psychology behind the way that particular product is purchased.
  • Shipping costs and policies – how soon after purchase do your products ship from your website, how long does it take for your product to get to them? Who do you use to for shipping? How much will it cost? People are not always rational, and on a website will not necessarily just go with the option that is cheapest
  • Returns policies – what happens if a product they buy from you doesn’t work as expected? Consumers know their rights as consumers, but often want reassurance that they know that you as a seller respect those rights for a refund or exchange in the event that a product does not match it’s description or advertised purpose. Treat your customers with contempt and it will bite you back
  • Signals of trust – customers can’t see who you are, so need other cues to know that you’re trustworthy. Generally this is in the form of third party endorsements. Reviews on your website, a link to your Facebook page with a reasonable active following (not “purchased” followers), logos of recognised security companies, a SSL encryption padlock on your secure pages etc are all signs that your website is more likely to be able to be trusted.

Do you have the content to fill the space?

When you are choosing a base design from a third-party provider, the big temptation is to choose a design that makes your store look like one of the giant department store websites that you have shopped in. The demos sometimes have many products and categories, which may or may not reflect the actual structure of your business. If you don’t have the content or graphics skills to “fill” in a design, then it may be a flop for your products even if it looks great with the demo content in it.

Custom design with a hosted e-commerce solution

A hosted shopping cart solution like Ozcart brings everything together in one place. Choose from one of the base layouts that are in our collection (a sample of these is below), and our in-house graphics design and build team will brand that design to suit your business.

sample of Ozcart web design layouts

This includes inserting your logo, creating a home page slide show for your business, and re-colouring it to suit your needs.

If the branded design doesn’t quite fit your messages when you get it back and have been through any minor revisions by the build team if necessary, tweaking the design is made straightforward for you using the built in layout block manager, which allows you to put new pieces of content into your site (like banners, advertising, featured products etc.) where you want it, when you want it.

How long will it take you to get up and running?

Think about how long your website will take to get up and running? The answer depends on how much content you have to add, but when you have your design pre-done for your business then this means you will hit the ground running faster. You should also consider whether you will get adequate support for your needs from your provider. What is their track record in support? What are their turnaround times on support enquiries? Make sure you know how support will be delivered so that you can use it to the maximum benefit. Do they have any limits on the support that you can get, or will it cost you extra? Are you comfortable with the way that it’s delivered? Theme marketplaces often rely on public forums for support which can be slow and frustrating if you want to maintain your privacy as well.

Bringing it together….

There is a strong trend toward using hosted online shopping solutions because hosted e-commerce platforms like Ozcart mean:

  • There is no software to download or install
  • Your provider takes care of the hosting and security of your live site
  • Your design is branded for you – with design elements like your slideshow using the wording and marketing messages that you selected
  • You hit the ground running quicker

The argument against hosted solutions is that it makes changing providers hard to do, but almost all of the top e-commerce solutions on the market in Australia have an export facility, so if you outgrow your hosted shopping cart solution at a later time it is only your design and platform that you must surrender – you can take your data with you.

If you want your online shop to be successful, then it’s essential that you do your marketing planning up front so that you can take advantage of the design phase. Choose a shopping cart provider carefully that has the features you need to give your business the initial boost it needs and supports doing business in Australia out of the box. Choosing a solution with design built in means that you don’t have an editor to learn (even if you have the skills to do it, this will save you time) and the design and build team can use your marketing messages to brand your site from the first day you have it. It can be a win-win to getting your business online as quickly as possible.

View Ozcart base layout/theme choices.

Ozcart Ecommerce

Ozcart has been in business since 2006 and is an online, hosted shopping cart that you can use for your current or new online store. We offer so many features for the same low price. In fact, we are addicted to adding new ones to ensure that we remain one of the best choices for a shopping cart.

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