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The rise of online shopping and the importance of a user-friendly website

Thanks to COVID-19, there are many unfamiliar concepts that have become our new ‘normal’. Social distancing. PPE. Staggered entry into supermarkets. However, one habit that’s comfortingly familiar is online shopping.

An increasing part of the UK population is ‘going digital’ for day-to-day activities: paying bills, transferring money, streaming entertainment, consuming news, communicating with loved ones, conducting business. Online shopping is part of this trend, rising in popularity over the past decade as consumers are magnetically attracted by its convenience, its rapidity, and its wide range of products. Currently, almost a third of consumers buy products online weekly or more frequently, and this number is set to increase.

Although shops are starting to open their doors again, there’s a possibility that this pandemic could permanently change shopping habits. Those on wavering between the online and face-to-face experience could have, over the past few months, been won over by the ease of e-commerce.

As consumer habits change, so must those of retailers. If you’re a retailer, now’s the time to reflect on your web presence and the effectiveness of your e-commerce platform. The appearance and usability of a website attracts consumers in the same way as a shop front, so it’s important that retailers keep their online platforms updated and in line with current buying habits.

We take a look at these online buying habits and how, based on these findings, a retailer can adapt their platform to better meet consumer needs.


Computers versus mobile phones

With its small screen, buying on a mobile phone seems like a fiddly business. The assumption, therefore, is that more people wait until they’re at home (or sneaking a break at work) to purchase products on their laptops or desktop computers.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. According to a PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2019, more people use mobile phones to shop online than computers, while nearly half of consumers won’t come back to a website if it doesn’t load quickly on their mobiles.

It’s therefore not enough for e-commerce websites to be navigable via desktop; it’s also important that they’re mobile friendly.

Without a mobile-friendly website, Google won’t be your friend, decreasing the search engine ranking of websites that aren’t easy to use.

Google has shared some helpful advice on what a retailer can do to make their website more mobile-friendly:

  • Avoid software that is not common on mobiles, like Flash.
  • Use text that a user can read without zooming in.
  • Make the page content-aware, that is, the website page fits to the screen automatically without the user having to scroll horizontally or zoom.
  • Keep links far apart so the user can tap the correct one.

Even more helpfully, Google has created a tool to test whether a website is user friendly or not.

Plus, don’t forget that there’s technology beyond mobiles and computers. People also buy products via smartwatches and digital assistants, so retailers need to have web content that is responsive to these devices too.


Creating a ‘frictionless experience’

While mobile is one aspect, retailers need to reflect on the overall usability of their e-commerce platform.

PwC’s survey suggests that “the less friction in the purchase journey, the more often consumers will shop and the more they’ll spend.”

A big pull of online shopping is that it’s easy and quick. A real-life shopping experience bristles with barriers between the customer and their purchase: traffic jams, parking metres, crowds, queues, heavy bags, fellow customers. Online shopping removes all of these – and it shouldn’t add any other problems that will push the customer away.

If your website is impossible to navigate and takes ages to load, your customer will look somewhere else – and think how easy it is to click out of a webpage. You want your customer to leave your site full of purchases instead of irritation and frustration.

Smooth out the bumps in your website by simplifying the purchase journey. For example, the loading time should be quick, the search function and product categorisation clear with good metadata and keywords, and guest checkout an option.

Above all, understand your audience’s needs, what they want to purchase, and why they would come to your online shop. If you build or develop a website from the viewpoint of the buyer and not the seller, navigability will fall into place.


A culture of trust

Trust is always important with any business transaction. Breaking trust between customer and retailer ends loyalty to a brand or product, which can lead to a loss in sales.

Creating and maintaining trust is even more important for online shopping. According to an Amazon Pay survey, more than 90% of consumers said that trust was an important factor in their purchase decision process.

A natural consumer concern with online shopping is the lack of human contact. Websites are faceless interfaces. It takes a certain element of trust to even click onto one, so it’s important that retailers don’t scare away customers with doubt in their reputability.

Reviews are an obvious way retailers can increase trust in their online brand and product. Many consumers will even read reviews before the product description, so make sure they’re easy to access. In fact, any user-generated content creates that much-needed stamp of approval that, yes, this company is trustworthy. Reviews are the online equivalent of word-of-mouth.

Introducing the element of the human can also increase trust. For example, many e-commerce sites offer a live chat for customer queries, with either a real person or a bot at the other end. If this isn’t an option, make sure contact information or forms are easy to find.

Professional product descriptions and photography can further reassure consumers, as well as secure payment options and delivery tracking.

Just because people want to shop online doesn’t mean they want to buy products from a robot. A personalised and trustworthy shopping experience is still desirable, so retailers need to turn to technological tools to mimic the human.


Enhancing customer experience

Whether traditional or digital, the world of commerce must always prioritize the customer experience. The customer, as the old adage goes, is always right. It’s the customer, ultimately, that wields the power, and their satisfaction can make a huge impact on sales.

As YOOX Net-a-Porter Group reported to PwC in its survey: “By enhancing the customer experience at the layer that allows interactions with consumers – the web store, the mobile interface – YNAO finds that customers spend more time and money shopping with them.”

Understand how to enhance customer experience by researching how competitors build their websites – Amazon is the most used online platform – or use methods such as A/B testing or customer satisfaction surveys.


Most importantly, retailers need to prioritize their e-commerce platforms as much as the products themselves. Building or developing a website is a weighty task but it can make all the difference to sales.

A website isn’t just a platform for selling the product. It’s a tool. Your website is your salesperson. If it’s not up for the job, it needs to improve.

So, no more excuses. No more pushing your website to the bottom of the to-do pile.

It all starts with a click.