Let’s assume that you have taken Jennifer Matt’s advice on web-to-print. You have purchased a single print e-commerce solution only after you sorted out your strategy, purchased features based off product workflow needs, launched fast and fixed even faster, and figured out a marketing plan to get users to the site.
Now let’s look at a few areas where your site and software should be headed next. Most of these features and best practices can already be found at the big e-commerce sites like Amazon.
Responsive Web Design
The importance of mobile is growing. Within the past month the number of smartphone users in the US surpassed non-smartphone users. (Yes, we are all getting smarter.) Today we are far more likely to check e-mail, surf the web, use single purpose apps, and check-in to social media than we are to purchase something. But that is changing as consumers are getting more comfortable with the technology and as the apps and interfaces improve. According to the annual IMRG survey 38% of users have completed a purchase with their phones, up from 23% only two years earlier.
Targeting all the mobile devices, with their myriad screen sizes, has been difficult. Odds are you cannot, should not, and will not invest in the development too look good on the iPhone while ignoring all of the Android phones. With CSS3 and HTML5 you shouldn’t have to. Using media queries you can find out the information needed to have the page content scale to fit that devices resolution, orientation, and resolution. The pages and content can re-flow because each element is defined in relative instead of absolute size.
[Find more information on responsive design with the tutorials at Smashing Magazine.]
All Around WYSIWIG
E-commerce, especially for print service providers, needs to be user installable (if not a SaaS offering) and configurable. Creating pages, adding products, and configuring options should be simple enough not to require a programmer. The site design should be done through templates or a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor — more like using Illustrator, less like creating CSS. Extending and adapting the functionality of the storefront should also be as easy as installing/enabling a plug-ins or adding a widget. Have we not learned anything from the use of plug-ins and widgets for web browsers, WordPress, etc?
While most of these issues are found with self-hosted web-to-print software, the SaaS packages often have a slightly different problem. These cloud based solutions lack the flexibility and customization typically found with packages you install and host on your own hardware and network. The end result is that the cloud solutions need the sophistication self-hosted web-to-print systems while they need the simplicity of the former.
Follow the Customer’s Bread Crumbs
Unlike buying something in a store, e-commerce allows you to track the specific actions of your customers. Using Google Analytics (or something similar) you can track the basics from the number of unique visitors to the number of page views. The next step is to start using analytics in more advanced ways such as tracking user behavior and monitoring clicks-to-conversions to determine the value of specific marketing funnels like social media. The data is there. It is just a matter of using the proper tools in the proper way. This should be a discussion point with your vendor.