3 Ways to Ensure Intuitive and User-Friendly Navigation for Your Ecommerce Store

3386312246_c5f1bae8b3_z

We know what you’re thinking: how hard could it be to make a website user-friendly and intuitive? After all, just stick a search bar somewhere at the top and some clickable tabs somewhere on the home page, and you’re good to go, right? Wrong.

Did you know search bars are not a more clear navigation tool than well-organized categories? In fact, if your product groupings are clearly named and your site is indeed intuitive, there’s no need for a search bar. What many people don’t realize when they’re thinking about how to set up their ecommerce website is that search bars are only effective for those who come to your store knowing what they’re looking for; search bars don’t directly encourage people to browse more or comb through your categories.

Therefore, the ultimate goal with intuitive navigation is well-organized tabs and categories that lead to clearly established product pages. A well-designed, user-friendly online store effortlessly guides consumers through the entire process of shopping, from searching to purchasing. At no point should customers be confused or not know what their next step is. Convoluting the path to purchase leads to abandoned shopping carts and low conversion rates. So, in this post, we’ll go into further detail about what you can do to ensure that your ecommerce store is intuitive and user friendly, and guides your customers along as they shop.

1. “Preconceived Knowledge”

Intuitive design for an ecommerce website is invisible and has no learning curve. What do these big, general, all-encompassing words mean? Basically, that anyone––be it your precocious seven-year-old nephew or geriatric but sprightly grandmother––can pull up your online store and instantly be able shop your products.

In order to achieve this seamless user interface and navigation, you have to consider something we’ll called “preconceived knowledge”. Preconceived knowledge is the information and habits visitors of your site bring with them as they enter your online store. This can be information picked up from using other competitor websites, from real world and virtual experiences, or just from intuition. Basically, it’s all the different ways that a visitor on your site thinks your website should work based on past experiences.

For example, if you run a real estate company and your homepage is comprised of a large image of a house that prompts visitors to click and enter your website––it makes sense to make the door of the house the hot spot, or clickable entrance, onto the next landing page. Intuitively, users know that doors lead to rooms so making the door of the house image a hot spot makes sense. The same can not be said for making the middle of the roof a hot spot however. The majority of your clients will never figure out that the passage to the next page is through the center of the house’s roof, and it is likely they’ll never venture beyond your homepage resulting in loss of traffic and no sales.

Therefore, when you design your website, consider the common everyday uses, imagery, and direction that everyone encounters. Though unusual designs may be appealing for their unique factor, featuring a counterintuitive element on your website does not bode well for business––as intriguing as avant-garde right aligned text––that is written to be read from right to left––is, it’s not the conventional understanding of reading text and therefore will not be accessible to the majority of consumers.

For the adventurous, if you so insist to stand out from the crowd, you can remedy the obscure design by adding directions or explanations acting as a bridge between visitors preconceived knowledge and the innovative feature. Going back to our real estate company example from above, if you’re particularly attached to having the hot spot be the roof of the house, then by all means, do so; but communicate via a popup or “click here” text. Use an additional element to explain to your consumers your concept; lead your customers through the operation and to their objective: making purchases.

2. Uniform navigation across all pages

There are many pages with ecommerce sites; you have your homepage, product pages, landing pages, about us page, contact forms, etc. When purchases are involved, there’s a lot of information to share and a lot of information that potential buyers will be looking for. Ensure easy navigation between all the exchange of information by keeping everything uniform––that means tabs, buttons, commands, menus, everything.

The process of navigation needs to be standardized, as does the icons, imagery, and buttons. To avoid confusion and abandoned carts, make sure that moving through your online store doesn’t change from page to page. How jarring would it be if the category menu on the homepage of your store was flush on the left hand side, but after you entered one of the category pages, the menu was suddenly moved to the right hand side. Though it may seem comical in this isolated example, from the customers perspective it can be quite a frustrating shopping experience––not only to not know where to find a function but never being able to pin down where it will be next.

Images, including buttons, need to be standardized as well. When a customer uses the “view cart” button for example, it should never be redesigned or different on any of the other pages at all and for many reasons:

(1) Professionalism: If your entire website, buttons included, is a hodgepodge of different images, fonts, and colors, the website will scream unofficial, thrown together, and likely not legitimate. It needs to look cohesive all throughout.

(2) Confusing customers: If buttons, which are directive, are constantly changing, your customers will be confused. Two differently designed buttons, even if they’re in the same place from page to page, would signify change to a customer. They may be hesitant to click it because the function of it has appeared to change with its new design.

(3) Off-putting: And similarly, if the same button is constantly moving from page to page, customers will not know where to click as they browse through the different categories. If your “view cart” button is in the top right hand corner of one page, make sure it’s there for all the others; otherwise, how will a visitor know where to click for their cart if it depends on what page they’re on.

Consistency and clear directive achieved through standardizing your navigation will ensure a user-friendly ecommerce site and will certainly be more intuitive for your customers.

3. Breadcrumbs

Perhaps the most effective way to ensure intuitive and organized navigation throughout an online store is by employing a system called breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs is a text-based navigation system that keeps track of your movement throughout a website, chronicling the pages you visit, and showing where, within the different categories, your current page is located.

Not only does it give your consumers a sense of direction within the site, but it provides shortcuts for your visitors to instantly navigate back and forth within the categories. For example, a breadcrumb––usually found at the top of website––for an online department store’s boots product page would look like this: Home > Apparel > Shoes > Boots. And customers can click on the different categories and search within those pages without having to consult the original menu.

While breadcrumbs largely increase usability for your ecommerce website, this is only the case if they’re done well. Take the time to really think about your categories and the organization behind them. Having breadcrumb navigation on your website negates its benefits if your groupings don’t make sense or don’t lead a customer where they’re expecting to go. Can you imagine the frustration and definite turn off of this breadcrumb path: Home > Apparel > Furniture > Books > Make Up. There is no logical flow to this path, and it certainly wouldn’t take someone, who is looking for boots, to the right place.

And here’s a secret, the nice part about investing in well-planned breadcrumb navigation is that it also takes care of your category organization. The breadcrumbs link to your product pages, so if your breadcrumbs are all in a row, so should be your categories! Neat breadcrumbs means neat categories. It’s like slicing two carrots with one knife––a little organization and intuitive navigation for consumers saves you a lot of time and effort, all while increasing your ecommerce’s conversion rates.

Published by

Joseph Yi

Since he was a freshman in college, Joseph has worked in several internet startup companies and has developed campaigns and digital strategies for Fortune 500 companies and brands including the Los Angeles Lakers, Manchester City FC, the Oakland Raiders, Sephora, and Whole Foods. Follow Joseph on Twitter.