October 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Clear signs for shoppers make for a friendly web site design, expert says

Some web retailers focus too much on cart abandonment rates and begin-checkout rates, when they could better win over customers with clear headlines and labels that direct them to the products they’re looking for, design consultant Larry Becker says.

Some web retailers focus too much on cart abandonment rates and begin-checkout rates, when they could better win over customers with clear headlines and labels that direct them to the products they’re looking for, web design consultant Larry Becker says.

Becker, a former e-commerce executive at consumer electronics retailer Crutchfield Corp. who now is principal of web site design consultancy Larry Becker Web, says some retailers devote a lot of web page space to displaying multiple payment types and oversized “Continue to Checkout” buttons without providing useful and clearly marked information that can help shoppers decide if the site offers the products and service they need to make a purchase decision.

“The shopper may be looking in vain for quick reassurances like item availability and return policies,” says Becker, who will speak on effective site navigation at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2010 Conference in Orlando, FL, in February. “Clear labeling for such things can make or break the decision to move toward a purchase.”

During his Web Design Conference presentation, Becker will note that effective retail site navigation involves mastering the three primary types of navigation: online product organization, product selection and page signage.

Regarding product organization, Becker advises web designers to share information with merchants, copy writers, customer-facing staff and customers themselves to better understand the category names, labels and headlines that can help shoppers find what they want on a site. “Once you’ve mastered these basic buckets, it’s essential to serve multiple types of shoppers looking to discover products in different ways,” he says. “For example, you can offer alternative organizational schemes like vendor brand name or seasonal boutiques.”

For product selection, Becker advises designers to let shoppers choose among multiple ways to find products without forcing them to use any particular search or navigation tools. “This is where navigation helps the customer choose, and choose the way she wants to choose,” he says. “Skilled designers can make shop-by-feature and guided navigation elements easy to find and use. Here again, clear labeling will help.”

And when it comes the actual signage designers use, the critical thing is clarity, Becker says. “Designers who put clarity first are among the unsung heroes of the web,” he says. “If a page doesn’t quickly orient the user with a readable headline, the user may be too distracted by the question, ‘Where am I?’ and lose the critical scent of the path that could lead to a purchase.”

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