The Role of Design in E-Commerce

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When you use form and function in Web design, there are multiple customer-centric factors to consider. How will the site appeal? Who is the target audience? What do they like and need? Design can influence whether customers return to a Web site or not. Function, however, might be the most critical factor because you want to facilitate the transaction and make it as easy as possible for customers to shop. Certain things are expected. There’s a typical look that follows the basic rules of navigation—shopping cart in the upper right-hand corner, a search engine—but overall the rule of thumb is make complexity look simple and balanced.


“Form and function pretty much describe the entire deal of the user’s experience with the site. It’s fundamental,” said Matt Kauffman, lead integrator, Iventa Corp., an e-commerce, marketing and Web management company headquartered in Hollywood, Calif. “Of the two, that is more important when it comes to an e-commerce site, I would fall on the side of function because a site that doesn’t function as users expect it to will lose too many users to efficiently convert sales. All things being equal functionality-wise, a pleasant form or good design will lead to more customer retention as people have better experiences with the site.”


“A lot of times our company has to steer and guide clients to the right conclusions. It’s more important that your customer finds what they’re looking for than you’re unique or have some kind of ‘wow’ factor,” said Jamison Stafford, CEO, Iventa. “A site should look attractive but also must look respectable and professional. Otherwise customers are less likely to buy. The ultimate goal of e-commerce is to get that customer to buy. The site must be well laid out. It must be clear, and you should look like a reputable company. Spending some money on design is a good thing for e-commerce. It adds that level of trust that a customer is more likely to get the product that they order.”


Furthermore, competition demands that your form and function be exactly what the customer expects and needs. There are tons of Web sites that offer the same thing. “If you don’t look like you’re one of the best sites in your particular market, why is someone going to be there?” Kaufmann said.


According Iventa’s research, customers will pay a little bit more if the site looks reputable because they have more confidence. Confidence means your customers believe the goods or products will be delivered in a timely fashion, all their credit-card information will be secure and the organization will be available if an item needs to be returned. It’s the difference between a Louis Vitton knock-off and the real thing. One comes with a receipt. The other? There are no guarantees. Users need to be able to manipulate your Web site to get what they need and want with minimum fuss and aggravation.


“It should look like an e-commerce site,” Stafford said. “When someone comes to that site, they are used to a certain look and feel. You’re used to seeing left navigation categories. You’re used to seeing an ‘add to cart’ button. You’re used to seeing a ‘shopping cart’ or a ‘my account’ type link. They’re not going to dig around to see if you’re selling something there or not.”


“We advise our clients to break Web conventions at their peril,” Kauffman said. “If you think you have a good idea, but it goes against the way 10 or 20,000 other e-commerce sites do things—even if it’s a good idea—you’re doing the wrong thing because you’re confusing users. That’s not going to help you make sales.”


–Kellye Whitney,

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