The Art of E-Commerce Web Design

(reprinted with permission from Your Virtual Insurance by Jan 31 2002 issue)

Before you can design a winning Web site you need a
comprehensive blueprint, and that begins with defining the purpose — as well as
prioritizing the various objectives — of your Web site. Over the last few years, too many
e-businesses have launched with unfocused goals and, as a consequence, awkwardly designed
Web sites that quickly falter.

  • Is the purpose of your Web site to brand and position your company online?

  • Do you want to impress customers with fancy design and flash?

  • Do you want Internet users to call you or visit your physical store?

  • Or do you want to generate high revenue with shortest sales cycle possible —
    � la pure e-commerce?

Sadly, in executing e-commerce Web design, many of these
goals have been conflated, misunderstood or poorly prioritized, in turn jeopardizing the
overarching sales objectives of a business Web site. In other words, when developing an
e-commerce Web site, it’s customer acquisition (read: revenue stream) that should remain
your top design priority. That means a sharp distinction needs to be drawn between the art
of Web design and the art of designing a marketing-driven e-commerce Web site.

Three Web Design Anchors for Smart E-Commerce To
efficiently reach e-commerce goals, a marketing-driven Web site is going to be your
vehicle. That means planning your Web site — and orienting your Web design — around
three guiding “design anchors.”

Design Anchor No. 1: Your “Value Proposition”

What’s your unique selling proposition? What benefits do
you offer that differentiate your business? What features or services do you offer that
unequivocally build value while giving you a definitive edge over the competition?
Distilling your unique value proposition and communicating it quickly and clearly on your
Web site is the first element of profitable e-commerce Web design.

Design Anchor No. 2: “Your Target Audience”

Understanding your market — and defining the needs of your
target demographic — is an essential part of any business enterprise. Online it’s no
different: Design not for yourself, but for you target audience. Articulate meaningful
benefits and situate your style and content in the context of your customers’ immediate needs and desires.

Design Anchor No. 3: Task-Analysis — Achieving a Defined Objective

Once your value proposition is being communicated
to your target customer, you need a clear, focused sales process. Here, analyze the
components of your sales channels, provide the necessary educational steps and requisite
product information, and design a Web site that optimizes action while eliminating
distraction. Make it easy for customers to buy from you.

Designing for the ‘One Second Principle’ On the Internet,
you only have one second. One second to make a powerful impression. One second to
establish your professionalism and start building trust. One second to generate the
interest of your target audience. One second to begin downloading your value proposition
and to initiate a compelling sales overture.

The three design guidelines above serve the one-second
principle well and provide a blueprint for effective Web site marketing and sales flow.

Most online shoppers have little time to waste on
brand-building Flash, sluggish multimedia plug-ins, overindulgent mission statements or
content that serves no end. As Gartner research suggests, convenience, usability and
marketing clarity are so important they rank even higher in importance than price for online shoppers.

Given these survey results, successful Web design means
having a tactical rationale for the placement of every graphic, every image and every
word. And that means knowing your customers, anticipating the needs of your customers and
answering their questions before questions are even asked.

While more abstract issues like branding are not entirely
inconsequential online, the process of “building a brand” should come only as an
after-impression, a coefficient of a powerful sales platform. Customer acquisition should
remain the primary goal, and nothing — neither Flash nor corporate branding — should
interfere with your marketing and sales agenda.

Does that mean that design and aesthetics are not
important? No, it only means that form should serve function on e-commerce Web sites, not
the other way around. Art rarely serves utility. In fact, authentic art usually struggles
to subvert it. That’s why art, by itself, won’t sell your products online.

These are the findings of the first-ever Web “Oscars” which rank
the UK’s top 100 companies by the quality of the Home Pages of their Web sites.

The research, carried out for Interactive Bureau, one of
the UK’s leading Web strategy and design companies, shows that Britain’s top companies are
“woefully inadequate” when it comes to their Web sites. And many of them treat
their key audience of shareholders appallingly, making it difficult to acquire information they need.