5 Tips to Stand Out in the Competitive Online Shopping Sphere

Due to lockdown restrictions, many people have shopped online more in the last few months than they have their whole lives. But even during non-pandemic times, the ease and convenience of online shopping is often just too good to give up — does anyone really like to scavenge through clothing racks or wait in line for hours at different stores?

But just because we’ve collectively been hitting the “Place Order” button more frequently than normal, by no means are all online shopping experiences created equal. Certain companies set the bar high — Amazon Prime for its nearly instant checkout process, H&M for its 15 different product filters and Nordstrom for its options to either save products for later or place them on a wishlist. These features may not seem like much, but the time and frustration they save means everything, especially for consumers who can bounce around sites in an increasingly crowded e-commerce environment.

So whether your business has long been established on the digital sphere, or you’re slowly making the transition, here are five best practices to ensure you provide the best online retail shopping experience for your customers:

1) Include a guest checkout option

Having a guest checkout option is especially important for consumers who are interacting with your brand and site for the first or second time. Consumers are often hesitant at first to provide companies with their personal information. Forcing them to create an account before completing the checkout process is time-consuming and signals long-term commitment, leading to shopping cart abandonment. In fact, it accounts for why about 35% of consumers don’t complete their online purchases.

You can provide the option of creating an account after the checkout process has been completed. If customers want to create an account at the start, that option will always be available. It’s for those who don’t that the guest checkout path is so vital.

Urban Outfitters’ guest checkout option

2) Highlight sales and promotions

Many customers, especially if they’re browsing slightly more expensive product collections, are likely to peruse the sale section first. Ensure the sale section is easy for consumers to find, whether that’s by making the header a different color or separating it from other product sections. Include filters within the sale section so it’s easy to navigate. 

If there are any special promotions, display them on the site homepage, so consumers don’t have to search for the best deals. And calculate any applicable discounts in the shopping cart itself, so consumers are confident they won’t be overcharged for something during checkout. The easier such information is to find, the more likely it is that consumers will complete their purchases.

Zara’s sale/ special prices section

3) Include an FAQ page

In brick-and-mortar stores, it’s easy for consumers to clarify any questions they have salespeople, but the same doesn’t apply for e-commerce, especially since most live chat features are extremely limited in their capabilities. And because conversion rates decrease when consumers don’t have all the information they need, FAQ pages are especially important. 

FAQ pages often include information about returns and exchanges, shipping, gift cards and sometimes link to customer service hotlines. Some companies also offer separate pages for each topic but group them together at the bottom of the site. 

An up-to-date and informative FAQ page serves to make the customer service process more efficient for companies and more importantly, the shopping experience quicker and less stressful for consumers.

A portion of Nordstrom’s Returns and Exchanges FAQ page

4) Increase filtration options

Online apparel sites are crowded — there are men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, shoes and everything in between — making it hard for customers to quickly find specific products. So just having filtration options of gender, size and color isn’t going to cut it anymore. Instead, consider adding specifics such as pattern, neckline, occasion, sleeve type and collar — H&M does a great job of this. It makes it a breeze to narrow down choices, and when there are a few hundred clothing options on a site, that’s a godsend. 

If customers run out of time or patience before they find what they were looking for, then they’ll leave the site without completing a purchase and are less likely to return again — increased filter options save them time and energy.

A few of H&M’s more unique filtration options

5) Reinvent size guides

Size guides are crucial across-the-board for online shopping, but there’s a wide disparity in how helpful they actually are. A pair of pants that are a size 6 at Everlane won’t fit nearly the same as a size 6 at Madewell. And having guides where a size 4 is equivalent to specific waist and hip measurements places undue burden on the consumer to take a tape out and measure themselves. When size guides aren’t easy to navigate, consumers have to rely on other testimonials, but they’re more likely to return products or not purchase items at all, especially if the return policy is stringent.

Many companies have started including a detailed size guide that does cross-brand size conversions for the consumer. For example, if they’re looking to purchase a pair of jeans from Brand A but they’ve previously bought jeans at Brand B, they would input the size they bought from Brand B, their age, body shape, and how they want the jeans to fit — and the guide would calculate what size they would be at Brand A. When the customer shops online at Brand A again, their accurate size automatically shows up.

Personalized, in-depth size guides ensure customers leave the site more satisfied and confident with their purchases, and therefore more likely to shop from your site again.

Madewell uses True Fit for a more personalized size guide

These five additions or changes to your online shopping platform are easy to execute but make a world of difference to your consumers’ e-commerce experiences. If there are any other online retail UX tips you have, please share them in the comments below!