Get practical tips to build your ecommerce site — with key features, FAQ, and more.
Lauren Wallace Editorial Lead, Commerce Cloud
Today, every company is an ecommerce company. Whether you own and operate a small business as a side hustle or you’re a large enterprise company that makes billions of dollars in profits every year, an ecommerce website is a critical sales tool. With an ecommerce site, you have a sales channel that is “always on,” without any of the overhead costs of a physical storefront, such as rent, utilities, and more.
We live in a digital-first world, and customers expect to be able to transact with any business online. But not all ecommerce websites are created equal. A successful site will include the right features and capabilities to make shopping intuitive, easy, and fast. Here’s everything you need to know if you want to build an ecommerce website that converts.
First things first: What is an ecommerce website?
An ecommerce website is more than just a landing page to display your business name and contact information. And it’s more than a promotional tool. An ecommerce website must have all the functionalities necessary to make it easy to buy and sell products online.
To launch an ecommerce website, you’ll need software that enables you to create a branded design and post high-quality images and videos that accurately represent your products. You’ll also need capabilities like navigation, product search, payments, order management, and more. All these elements combine to create an online shopping experience for your customers. The better your user experience, the better your site performs.
How to build an ecommerce website
To thrive in the highly competitive ecommerce landscape, it is absolutely essential for the functionality and design of your site to highlight your brand’s unique characteristics and qualities. Now more than ever, high-quality ecommerce website design is a nonnegotiable business asset. To build a site like this, businesses need an ecommerce platform that includes the right tools for impeccable website design and also allows for flexibility and customization.
Once you have an ecommerce platform and the building blocks to create a custom website design, you can integrate the key features that will drive success.
10 Key features of an ecommerce website
Content management capabilities: Ecommerce website content includes everything from images and video to product descriptions and promotional banners. You’ll want the ability to change content quickly to keep up with customer demand, industry trends, stock levels, and more.
Easy navigation and search: It goes without saying that a good ecommerce website should be easy to navigate. This includes an intuitive storefront search that allows shoppers to find relevant products as quickly as possible. Navigability and search are key to providing streamlined ecommerce experiences that maximize conversions.
Security: By definition, ecommerce deals with transactions during which there is inevitably an exchange of sensitive financial information. Most ecommerce transactions and one-touch mobile payments are made with credit or debit cards, although some may also be made directly from bank accounts linked to a payment service like PayPal. All personal and financial information shared by ecommerce users must be kept secure. To establish and maintain trust with customers, your platform should be equipped with advanced, modern security features, including layered security, SSL certificates, VPNs, and more.
Customer service: Shoppers don’t want to dial a call center every time they have a question. Your ecommerce website should have easily accessible customer service, whether that means automated chatbots for routine requests or a helpful knowledge center with videos and guides. This will enable customers to find answers quickly online while helping you cut costs by avoiding service center calls.
Payment options: From installment payments to crypto to digital wallets, new payment methods arise regularly and they’re adopted faster than ever. To keep up, businesses need the ability to implement them quickly. To avoid abandoned carts, an ecommerce website should also have easy, intuitive checkout experiences.
Reviews and a feedback loop: A stunning 93% of consumers say that online reviews impact their purchasing decisions. Positive reviews help you attract new customers, and critical reviews help you focus resources on the areas of improvement that would make the biggest impact.
Data collection and management: If you want to create personalized, compelling ecommerce experiences, you first need to understand your customers. And that requires data. Whether you’re a small or enterprise business, first-party data collection should be a key feature of your ecommerce website. Collecting data about your customers’ motivations, behaviors, engagement, and preferences will help you make better business decisions and drive success. Once you collect all that data, other tools (like a customer data platform and a customer relationship management platform) can help put it to good use.
Scalability: Every brand wants to grow. Your ecommerce website should be scalable so it fits your needs now and in the future. This means your site should always be available and fast, even during peak traffic. If you have plans to expand globally, your ecommerce site and payments system should have capabilities to localize by market.
Integration with physical retail: When shopping online, customers want to know whether they can find a given product at a nearby retail store. A good ecommerce platform will feature a “find-in-store” button linked to geolocation and brick-and-mortar inventory. This requires the right inventory management capabilities and tools to empower in-store service agents with access to digital inventory, seamless ordering, and speedy delivery.
Automation and AI: A good ecommerce platform will allow a brand to use secure customer data to personalize shopping experiences for site visitors across multiple channels. Artificial intelligence can power product recommendations that automatically appear and readjust to users’ preferences in real time, with every click. AI tools for commerce can also assist with writing product descriptions, tailoring promotions to each customer’s unique needs and preferences, and more. Built-in tools for automation and AI helps all your teams — from merchandising to marketing to commerce — work smarter and drive more conversions.
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Every company is an ecommerce company, but each business has its own unique needs when it comes to its ecommerce website. For example, a small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) in the retail industry might want to launch a templated storefront with simple product search capabilities and a checkout workflow. On the other hand, an enterprise-level manufacturing company that sells thousands of products at unique negotiated prices across many geographies will need more robust solutions for storefront search and navigation. Here are a few examples of other differences between ecommerce websites.
Design differences between B2C and B2B ecommerce sites
Depending on the type of buyers your business serves, there are a few key design differences to keep in mind. For example, the purchase processes look very different for B2B buyers and consumers. If you operate B2B ecommerce, you will likely need to make design considerations that encompass different pricing models and other purchasing steps like evaluation of proposals and approvals. B2B buyers also demand highly intuitive self-service options that make routine interactions (like reordering of large purchases) easier.
B2B website content will likely need to include much more information about complex products than an ecommerce website for consumers. You’ll need product demos, detailed descriptions on product pages, testimonials from customers, and long-form content that highlights the unique differentiators of your products along with their features and benefits.
For all the differences between B2B and B2C ecommerce sites, one thing is the same: Both demand stellar usability, visual design, and UX. In fact, a whopping 90% of B2B buyers expect a similar shopping experience on a B2B ecommerce website as they do on a consumer site.
A whopping 90% of B2B buyers expect a similar shopping experience on a B2B ecommerce website as they do on a consumer site.
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Mobile functionality: Shoppers should have the same experience across every channel, on every device. Today, most people interact with brands for the first time on their mobile devices, and mobile shoppers account for more than 60% of all site visits. This means mobile functionality and responsive design are essential.
Optimizing your site for mobile commerce is no longer an added bonus or afterthought; it should be your main priority. It is imperative that your site works across every major device and operating system, ensuring you are not automatically ruling out a large portion of shoppers. A good way to prevent problems across devices is to use a platform that prioritizes responsive design.
When it comes to designing mobile experiences, it is also important to embrace the latest innovations that respond to today’s consumer demands, like one-touch mobile payments and integrations with social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and TikTok.
Personalized content: Personalization puts customers at the heart of your ecommerce website, allowing you to build a unique relationship with every shopper and tailor experiences at every click. Personalization techniques include serving up different designs tailored to different target audiences, tailoring search results to each user’s individual shopping behavior, and providing hyper-relevant product recommendations through the power of AI.
Real-time, harmonized customer data is the fuel that drives these experiences. By uncovering insights about your shoppers and their preferences, you can create intelligent, personalized designs that convert.
Streamlined checkout: Not everyone who browses your site and fills an online shopping cart will complete their transaction. In fact, the average cart abandonment rate is nearly 70%. Why? While many factors can affect this rate, the most likely explanation is that the checkout process is too complicated.
To keep things simple, cut out any unnecessary obstacles in your payment workflow. Request only the information you need and allow buyers to make purchases without having to set up an account. Offer multiple payment options. Make errors easy to fix, without forcing customers to restart the purchase or payment process.
Simple click paths: With every click, you lose a large percentage of your audience. Make sure the journey to purchase is quick by minimizing the number of steps it takes to find a product and complete a transaction. It is also essential to make sure your main call to action is featured prominently near the top of the page, with a clear purpose and destination. Try not to drown the page with links and buttons that compete for attention. Use thoughtful design to visually prioritize the clicks that are most important to both you and your customers.
FAQ for ecommerce websites
What is ecommerce website design? Ecommerce website design is the process of creating a website optimized specifically for the online sale of goods and services. Unique features of ecommerce website design include product pages, shopping carts, and checkout processes. To ensure happy customers and good conversion rates, designers must use best practices to make the user experience feel intuitive, simple, and easy to navigate.
How much does it cost to design an ecommerce website? The cost of the design and build of an ecommerce website varies depending on the kinds of capabilities and features you need to run your business. For example, a small retail business with relatively low traffic might only need a few product pages, basic search functionality, a simple shopping cart and checkout. On the other hand, an enterprise company that sells a larger catalog of more complex products at varying price points in different regions will need more robust options.
How can I improve my ecommerce website performance? Both before and after the initial launch of your site, your web developers should constantly monitor and update it to keep things running smoothly. These are just a few of the tasks required:
Track key metrics to monitor checkout flow and identify the most common places on the site where users stop shopping, bounce from the site, or abandon their carts. There are many tools and programs that can help you track these vital behaviors and inform future design decisions.
Regular audits and analysis of your competitors are essential. Review sites, social media, customer experiences, pricing, and market positions regularly to stay up to date with the market.
Regular audits are also important for your own site. For example, don’t forget the importance of SEO audits and functionality reviews. For example, just a one-second delay in page load time can decrease your conversion rate by up to 7%. Make sure everything is working smoothly and any problems with functionality are corrected as soon as possible.
How can I improve ecommerce site speed? The highest ecommerce conversion rates occur on pages with load times between 0–2 seconds. Ultimately, this means every millisecond you can shave off your page load times can potentially boost your revenue. Here’s where to start:
Perform website speed testing to identify any issues that might be affecting your performance. Image size is a common one, so make sure your image optimization process is up to date — and your content team is trained on it.
Pay special attention to metrics for product listing pages and product detail pages. Avoid too many products on a page (a best practice is to ensure that the total number of hit tiles per page does not exceed 24).
Regularly test your site (along with third-party systems) to see how it holds up under peak visits, searches, and orders, all the way through to checkout.
Build your ecommerce website and boost conversions — fast
In a digital-first world, it’s becoming increasingly important to design a website that sets your brand apart. Providing each customer with a seamless, personalized journey that leads them effortlessly to final purchase is one of the best ways to do just that. To craft an exceptional digital journey across every channel and realize a quick time to value, prioritize scalable, flexible tools that give you access to first-party data and automation.