When it’s time to step up your ecommerce game, you should steal from the best—and learn from their mistakes. Retail giants are innovating the features that customers want by using teams of researchers and website designers. And if you don’t keep an eye on them, they’ll run away with your customers.
Looking back at three of the biggest U.S. ecomm retailers from 2017 gave us deep insight into the best way to guide your customers on their journey from arriving at your website to checking out. Retailers are thinking about drawing their ideal customers in with CTAs and getting their shoppers to spend more in ways that we expect to show up across ecomm retailers in 2018.
From the good to the mediocre, here are the top tips to make your ecommerce site more attractive to customers this year.
Meet the Retailers
The three retailers that we’ll be analyzing today are heavy hitters in the ecommerce world. All three were top-20 ecommerce retailers, in terms of retail sales, from 2013 to 2017, and all of them saw steady growth in the ecommerce arena in 2017. Their demographics and approaches were different, but they each hit and missed different marks. Here are our subjects of investigation:
- Amazon. We all know Amazon—and for good reason. They’ve been at the top of the ecommerce game, well, forever. They’ve got great brand recognition and a huge inventory, which speak to their favor. But they also face the challenges of organizing how to sell almost everything on their website.
- Macy’s. Department-store mainstay Macy’s has an impressive online presence. That’s partially because they may be reducing the brick-and-mortar portion of their business to invest more heavily in ecommerce, an area from which they’ve seen good return. Macy’s strength as a retailer has been their low prices and seasonal sales, something they need to push on their website to maintain their coupon-savvy customer base.
- John Lewis. U.K.-based retailer John Lewis has some impressive ecommerce numbers, with more CAGR growth than Amazon from 2009 to 2015. They’re targeting a slightly wealthier customer than Macy’s or Amazon, so if you’re a luxury retailer, John Lewis provides a good template of dos and don’ts.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from these and other major ecommerce retailers, but today were going to focus on three areas that stand out as critical parts of the ecommerce customer’s journey: the homepage, search and navigation, and the product page.
Why? Because they will point us to features that are making a difference in every consumer’s journey and can be implemented with relative ease. So if your company is looking to upgrade, these things will leapfrog you quickly ahead.
Home pages for ecommerce companies act as an enticing launchpad for visitors to start shopping. For casual browsers, home pages offer an introduction to the company and a taste of what’s available. For return shoppers, home pages are a way to see what’s new and navigate to desired sections.
Out of the three retailers, Macy’s home page might be the best. It’s a pretty clean layout that features boldly colored graphics. Each has a small description, usually highlighting a sale, and a clear CTA:
Their use of bold colors for each graphic makes it fun and easy to scroll through to find different deals. The site is bright and inviting, with important text bolded or shown in contrast. The “shop” buttons entice shoppers to enter the rest of the site.
John Lewis also has a clean layout that’s heavily dependent on visuals. They rotate a header image to promote different products and utilize a lot of white space. This makes it pretty easy for customers to navigate directly to what they want.
White space is something that we see a lot of in “higher end” retailers—clean layouts, aesthetic photos, and more monochromatic color schemes are the order of the day for these companies. While aesthetics are a part of that, the layout is practical as well. It’s clear, and not overwhelming to browse through.
This is an area where Amazon isn’t doing quite as well. This is partially because the retailer has so many products to sell, so they can’t possibly offer a cohesive home-page experience. Where one shopper might be a hardcore metal fan looking for posters, another is a fashionista looking for a handbag.
But instead of trying to direct people to categories with a clear and easily readable home page, Amazon overwhelms us visually. They have an “EXPLORE” CTA at the top, a scrolling header, sidebar images, and unclear categories with pictures of items that don’t necessarily tell us what we’ll find if we click through. Pillows? Fans? Who knows!
This makes it difficult for casual shoppers to navigate from the home page to somewhere they’d like to go, discouraging browsing. Plugging too many items and deals into too many places makes for a jumbled and confusing experience. The shopper doesn’t know where to look, and the only hope of finding a path is through the drop-down navigation menu.
To avoid Amazon’s mistakes, keep your home page zeroed in on customer navigation. Make it easy for them to find different categories, and don’t put out so many visuals of products that it’s a sensory overload. See how Macy’s keeps their home page clean and clear, even while packing in the products?
Keep the bold text and clean lines of Macy’s and John Lewis, and put clear CTAs for different categories to get shoppers into your site.
Search and Navigation
Speaking of getting into a site—when your customers have an agenda, they want to be able to find what they’re looking for. Search and navigation in 2018 needs to be more than a customer just typing in what they’re looking for and trying to refine their search based on text autofills.
Between John Lewis, Macy’s, and Amazon, Macy’s offers the best search experience—by far. Macy’s search involves text, but instead of forcing you to go off of autofills or keep loading different search pages, it gives you an image pop-up right in the search bar. When you hover over autofill options, new items fill in to show you what to expect. This means you can start shopping items right from the search bar itself, rather than waiting for a page to load. Take this search “patterned sh,” which first autofills to sheets:
But changes to show shirts when you scroll over the autofill “slim fit patterned dress shirts”:
This is a great way to get customers from text to visuals quickly. If you’re going to use text in your search, this is the way to do it.
In terms of top-bar navigation, Amazon’s is pretty good. Although all three websites have extensive options in their top bar and submenus, Amazon’s is the cleanest and has the least clutter in their subcategorizations. They also add images and graphic sales notifications in the navigation space, which is a great visual touch:
John Lewis and Amazon both rely on text search exclusively. They don’t even have the image in the search bar, like Macy’s does. This is a lost opportunity to make things easier for customers by using image-to-image search.
In addition, both John Lewis and Macy’s have overwhelming submenus. They sort by subcategory but also by brand or material—it’s unwieldy. Those types of specific categorizations are best used as search filters in a sidebar rather than as the main point of entrance for a visitor.
All three companies should be using image-to-image search but haven’t implemented it yet. Although it wouldn’t be useful for every area of Amazon’s inventory, anyone who’s tried to find a specific item of clothing on the site knows it would be worth it for that alone.
And if you’re looking to easily upgrade your site, image-to-image search is a great way to do it. Not only do consumers want to search visually, but you can also outsource your image-to-image search needs to instantly upgrade your site without having to develop anything yourself.
A visual search can help customers find what they’re looking for when they arrive at your site and when they browse. (Source)
As for submenus—they’re a mainstay of ecommerce and should be organized to help people get around. But keep in mind that shoppers are never going to get to exactly where they want to go from a submenu alone. Designations like material, brand, color, and price should be left to filters that shoppers can use when they’re in the right category. An overcluttered submenu will actually hinder navigation.
Once shoppers are on product pages, ecommerce retailers take the opportunity to keep shoppers on their site by making continuous shopping more enticing. One way they do this is by prompting customers to look at other items that are related to what they’re already looking at. This could be an SD-card reader to go with an SD card, or it could be a similar purse, in case the customer wanted options.
John Lewis’s “customer also bought” feature stands out because the recommendations given are often complementary to the product being viewed. So if you’re looking at a workout shirt, you’ll see workout leggings to complete your outfit—not another workout shirt:
This is a great way to entice people to shop more, because it taps into their interests—say, sports clothing—and gets them thinking about buying additional items in that category instead of just redirecting them to more shirts when they only wanted one.
Macy’s has two places where they redirect customers: a sidebar that shows similar items, and a bottom bar that shows items that customers also browsed. This is an easy way to separate the categories and gives customers the option to browse similar items alongside what they’ve clicked on, which works well:
Amazon misses the mark here because of sheer volume. They’re giving people too many options for ways to continue shopping, and it makes for a confusing experience.
All this from a page for one jacket . . .
While it’s good to keep customers thinking about what else is available on your site, when they’re on a product page, they’ve already navigated to where they need to go. Keeping recommendations focused will help them get their task—purchasing—done, while too many options can pull customers away from purchasing and push them back into idle browsing.
We like all the visuals of these sections and think that a “you may also like” section that’s focused on product pictures is a solid page element that will continue to grace ecommerce pages through the end of 2018. But if these sites are any indication, it means that there’s innovation happening.
Take Best Buy, another big online retailer. They push John Lewis’s idea a step further by allowing you to instantly add complementary accessories into your cart, right from a product page. Take a look at this full rundown of tech that you can add to your shopping bag just from the Fitbit smartwatch page:
Although this feature may need a bit of work—they recommend an additional smartwatch here—this low-friction method of showing customers what they might like is a great way to revamp the “customers also bought” idea.
Where on the page your elements are, what exactly you’re recommending, and how you’re getting customers to shop those items is still evolving for product pages. So keep an eye on this space.
Keep the Ball Rolling
Whether you’re making a cosmetic upgrade to your home page or installing image-to-image search on your site, now is the time to start making changes on your ecommerce site. Even giants like Amazon don’t have it all figured out, and there’s a lot of space in the ecommerce industry for retailers to stake out their piece of the pie with new features. Whether you’re selling gardening wares or sports apparel, you can benefit from some visual feature upgrades.