What do potential customers look for once they land on the homepage

Online shoppers who regularly navigate the shoposphere are used to seeing certain elements or design layouts on eCommerce enabled shops. Users who buy Online often are typically more savvy, more aware and better informed about what to expect once they land on a Web store they are thinking of purchasing from. Once a new visitor enters an eCommerce store they automatically become a potential customer of that store. If merchants can provide their visitors with what they expect during their first visit to the homepage, that merchant has a greater chance of turning a potential customer into a new buyer.

Online retail shoppers are really no different than traditional brick and mortar retail shoppers in that they expect to see the same things upon entering a store for the first time, whether Online or not. Brick and mortar consumers want to see a safe and secure shopping environment, names or brands they use, a store that is accessible and easy to shop in, convenience, item displays, price tags, in-stock merchandise, flexible policies related to returns or exchanges and that their questions or concerns will be addressed quickly and efficiently. The same general rules will hold true for consumers who shop Online.

Secure Shopping Environment:

One of the first things potential customers look for on any eCommerce homepage is that the shopping environment is secure and they have a safe place to enter in their personal billing and payment information. Be sure to include an active SSL certificate in addition to trust badges to display that you offer a secure place for visitors to shop. Any other information you can provide on the homepage related to security and trust are good, just be sure it’s kept to a minimum and doesn’t look out of place within your design theme and layout.

Brand Names & Trust Logos:

In addition to security certificates, many Online shoppers want to see a brand name they can trust and a store logo they recognize. eBusiness branding is a very important step towards getting new potential customers in the door and to help retain existing customers or repeat buyers. Design a unique logo that is easy to recognize and sticks within the customers’ mind. Try to pick out and purchase a domain name that is short, easy to remember and ends with the .com extension. Brand recognition is one of the major reasons why consumers buy Online. If you don’t have a recognizable brand name or a logo that your store visitors trust you risk the chance of missing out on many new potential customers.

Simple & Easy to Use Design:

Many of the homepage elements users look for upon entering an eCommerce enabled site include the way the site is designed, themed, laid out and built initially. eCommerce store users do not want to use or figure out a complex shopping process, they expect to see an easy to use, simple to figure out store that gives them the ability to buy electronically. Many merchants initially setup their stores the way they would want to use it themselves and end up changing layouts later. I do not recommend building your store in that manner, instead, you must concentrate on eCommerce usability for your customers, not yourself. Use intelligent navigation and category structures, keep things organized, group products together and offer a site search feature, use large fonts and make it easy for users to follow along through each step of the check out process. If your users cannot easily navigate to find the items they are looking for and eventually buy, it will greatly reduce any eBussiness owners chances for immediate success.

Convenient Shopping Experience:

Online consumers have certain expectations upon entering an eCommerce enabled store with the anticipation of finding the item(s) they are looking for. One of the main factors of a homepage is the convenience and ease of use it offers the customer who land there for the first time. If you do not offer links to the main sections of your shop in the places customers are used to seeing them you will have a more difficult time of making your store successful. If there is not a clear route for the customer to take once they find your homepage they will be less likely to return. If the store does not seem simple and easy to navigate there will be less sales, less retained users and a higher chance your visitors will bounce off the homepage or click back in their browser. If you can make the shopping process as convenient as possible you will find that your eBusiness will have a much higher chance of success than one that does not consider any kind of convenience factors within their homepage design. Remember, the goal is to offer as many ways for the customers to find what they are looking for, in as few steps as possible without cluttering up or diluting the effectiveness of your design.

Quality Images & Price Tags:

Another important aspect in eCommerce design are the images of your products and a display price next to each of the items you offer in your catalog. eCommerce shoppers typically look for product images and price immediately upon entering a store. Potential customers who enter a shop on the homepage are no different. They expect to see images of popular items, new products or discounts and specials with a price clearly marked next to each one. It is best to limit the items on your homepage to the most popular ones so you do not create too much distraction from the main sections or other important parts of the homepage. Make sure the images are high resolution, easy to enlarge and displayed from as many angles as possible so the customer can clearly see what it is they will be paying for if they happen to add the item to their shopping cart for check out.

Flexible Return & Exchange Policies:

Online commerce has certain benefits to the consumer, however many of the regular shoppers expect that they will be able to return or exchange any items they have bought in the event they are unhappy with the purchase for any reason. Being able to offer your customers a flexible return/exchange policy is important for customer service and helps merchants to retain more users and can also increase the amount of repeat buyers. If you do offer flexible policies it is best to display them on the homepage and throughout the shop, near the footer, so customers who land there can be assured that the items they buy are returnable or can be exchanged for an item of equal value. Many eCommerce merchants found that by simply offering and displaying their flexible policies they were able to increase the rate at which their visitors converted.

In-stock Merchandise & Backorders:

Online consumers do not like to wait for their orders to be processed and shipped. eCommerce shoppers typically will not backorder an item unless it is a rare item, specialty item or it’s the only place that item is offered on the Web. If you offer items on your site that go in and out of stock regularly it is best to display that somewhere on your homepage and the individual product page for the backordered items. Some merchants choose to de-activate out of stock items from view so potential customers cannot see or add them to the shopping cart for purchase. Once the item is back in stock they activate it again. No matter which way you decide to handle out of stock items or backordered merchandise it is important to clearly relay that message to visitors who enter your store looking for something to buy.

Customer Service & Help Support:

In addition to having a security certificate, a recognizable logo or brand, simple design layout, adding links to important sections, adding images with the prices displayed, flexible policies and merchandise that’s in-stock you have to be able to show the customer that you will help or support them during their shopping experience or after an order is completed. If you do not display important contact information including phone numers, email addresses, feedback forms or offer a live support option you greatly risk the chance of loosing business as your potential customers may feel like you do not offer enough support. By clearly displaying the options for support on your homepage and throughout the rest of your site you will be assuring each of your visitors or potential customers that you will be there for them in the event they need customer support or help with their purchase during any phase of the shopping process.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts:

Keep in mind that the rules mentioned above are general and do not relate to a specific market, niche or industry. If you are looking for more specific market information or niche design elements to include within your homepage, I recommend you go straight to the source, the customer. Use Online polls, surveys, feedback forms, face-to-face interaction and as many other methods you can think of to get direct input from your current customer base. If you do not currently have a customer base to gain constructive feedback from, you can optionally look at competitors homepages to see what they offer.

At the very least, be sure to include as many of the general methods as possible within your eCommerce site design and layout. By including the basic elements you should find that you retain more customers and increase the rate at which your potential customers covert into buyers.