Designing ecommerce storefronts and retail platforms has never been more relevant to the world of web design and app development.

Since 2020, the new rules governing our personal and professional lives drastically accelerated the growth of the online retail sector, which in turn has pushed businesses to invest in their online storefronts to ensure that they aren’t losing customers to competitors who already made the investment.

This in turn has led to huge growth in storefront builders like Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, as well as marketplace-style platforms like Ebay, Etsy, and, of course, Amazon. Small scale retailers who may have only used ecommerce as a garnish alongside their physical storefront sales have found themselves thrust into the online marketplace. Once again, the promise of the internet as ‘the great leveller’ has given way to systems that give natural advantages to big players with more resources who can capitalise on economies of scale. This advantage extends to discoverability through SEO, as well as the established benefits to operating at scale in the retail space.

That said, it’s always more than just a numbers game – consumer choices are more complex than a simple race to the bottom on price, and don’t always accept the first option that comes their way just because it’s convenient.

So let’s take a look at how a retailer of any size can level-up their storefront to be as competitive as possible in an increasingly crowded space…

Pick the right tool for the job: finding your ecommerce builder

There are a wealth of options out there available to a retailer looking to take their business online. If you’ve already got a storefront, but you feel like you could benefit from an upgrade, then this should help you make a decision based on what’s available.

The first determining factor for choosing your storefront of choice will be a question of scale. Sites like Etsy and Ebay cater to the smaller end of the spectrum, with the latter having been the go-to for highstreet retailers looking for a way to shift their stock online with the lowest barrier to entry in terms of setup. If you’re serious about taking your business online however, you’ll find that being forced to run transactions through PayPal will eat through a significant chunk of your earnings before you can pocket what’s yours.

Thankfully, DIY storefront builders like Shopify have their own transaction systems that take significantly smaller cuts of your earnings overall. They require more effort to set up, and come with their own fees for hosting, but the ability to tailor your website to your exact needs make them a worthwhile investment.

As the market currently stands, these storefront builders are the best option for SMBs. Yet there is a wide range of options available within this bracket that can be further refined to enable you to get the right fit.

Key design decisions to make-or-break your ecommerce website

The language of web design is one that we’re all becoming increasingly fluent in. Online shoppers in particular have developed a keen sense of what styles speak to a trustworthy seller in much the same way as shopping in-person. Is the retailer presentable? Do they speak with authority and expertise on the product they’re selling? Would I trust them with my money? Getting this right is key to getting customers in the door.

Design that speaks to your demographic

When browsing online, customers filter what’s presented to them when they click through a link on their list of search results. These filters will set alarm bells ringing when a ropey-looking website asks you for your details, or a dodgy link pops up in a window. People read a websites design first and foremost to judge if it can be trusted with their card details, address, and so on.

It’s important therefore to ensure that your storefront’s design looks professional – even if it’s just a surface level impression, that initial introduction is make-or-break. Luckily, most website builders come with ‘themes’ that provide a soft guarantee of trustworthiness by avoiding the trappings of outdated designs that could put people’s backs up, even if the website in question is offering exactly what they’re looking for.

Out-of-the box website themes have the obvious advantage of being quick and easy to use whilst also delivering a clean and aesthetic look to your storefront. Unfortunately, these can end up having a somewhat ‘copy ‘n’ paste’ feel to them once you’ve spent enough time browsing online, so be mindful of ways in which you can make yours stand out.

The first and most obvious box to tick is the product images you take to display your items. It’s worth investing here to not only make your product as visually appealing on the page as possible, but also to fully utilise the potential to showcase your product in use, particularly if it’s a lifestyle product or something that one or several practical uses for your intended customer base.

All other cosmetic considerations; fonts, colour palette, graphics etc should be kept plain enough to not distract from what’s important. Minimalist design makes it easier to draw the eye, but also cuts down on how long it takes to get your website up and running.

Finally, your website’s layout and navigation should be as user-friendly as possible. Keep the number of pages to a minimum, and make sure everything is clearly signposted to make browsing as intuitive as possible.

Tailor your website’s copy to give you an SEO boost

You don’t need to be on the cutting edge of the latest SEO techniques to help Google push your store to the right customers. Ultimately, a quick and efficient SEO plan boils down to word association. With a firm grasp on who your customers are and how they’re likely to come across you, you should break down your roster of products on offer and match them with keywords that will help your storefront in getting in front of relevant users.

You’ll want to start with broad categories; clothing, kitchenware, gardening etc, and then quickly narrow it down to the unique attributes of your products. This includes descriptive qualities like ‘homemade’, ‘retro’, ‘organically sourced’, and so on.

If you’ve never dealt with SEO tools before, Semrush’s keyword search function is a good starting point, as it lays out the data in a way that clearly translates to how it can impact your rankings. On top of that, the free trial period should give you all the time you need to get the metrics on your targeted search terms, provided you’ve thought them out well enough in advance.

A small snippet of the keyword analytics offered by Semrush’s keyword overview

Once you’ve built yourself a roster of keywords both broad and niche, you’ll be in a good position to start weaving them into the copy on your website, from your ‘About Us’ page to your product descriptions. All of this text will help Google understand what your store is selling, and present it to buyers in the relevant markets.

Hopefully these pointers will give you some key starting points for building your first online storefront, or upgrading an existing one. Be sure to stick around for more web design and marketing tips and tricks from the Angle team!

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