Online shoppers arrive at your virtual storefront with just as many—if not more—expectations than a brick-and-mortar location. While many factors influence how shoppers’ expectations are met, the design you select for your store plays a major role. So, how can you, as a business owner, better leverage intuitive design to satisfy online shoppers’ expectations? Today, we’ll discuss the answer to that question, and reveal some reasons why it is essential to do so.

Common Online Shopping Design Expectations

When referring to “expectations,” we first need to make a definitive distinction from “consistency.” While brands use language, colors, fonts, and tone to provide a consistent image, shoppers’ expectations are linked more to the interactions with the site that helps them reach their goals.  

To illustrate, here are some very basic online shopping expectations:

  • A shopper who clicks on a shopping cart or shopping bag icon expects to open their cart or the checkout screen.
  • By clicking on the logo at the top of any page, a user expects to return to the site’s home page.
  • A customer who clicks a magnifying glass icon expects to open a search bar, have the availability to type something in, and press “enter” on the keyboard to find an item.

However, not all online expectations are quite so easy to decipher. UX design involves a hefty understanding of user psychology. A designer needs to predict and anticipate a user’s every move and create an experience that flows easily, quickly, and successfully without much conscious reasoning. Meeting shoppers’ expectations online requires much more than simply piecing together a pretty website—the site design must be intuitive.        

Why it is Important to Meet Online Shoppers’ Expectations

Though simple, the examples listed above are actions that users rely on when shopping. Imagine how difficult it would be to navigate the above store if the shopping cart icon linked to the categories page, the logo in the header linked to checkout, and the magnifying glass icon was just a filler image with no link at all. The experience would be frustrating, and you’d likely not continue shopping on the site for very long.

Similarly, shoppers don’t want to struggle their way through a confusing online store. If your shoppers’ expectations aren’t met within a few seconds of landing at your virtual doorstep, they’ll become confused and irritated, and will likely leave your store more quickly than they arrived at it. Ultra-popular Airbnb credits its successful comeback (from almost failure) to good UX. In the same vein, Elon Musk firmly believes “any product that needs a manual is broken.” Ample proof indicates that if you want any chance of building a profitable, loyal customer base, you need to start with an intuitive design that meets your shoppers’ expectations. Let’s find out how you can do just that.

How to Meet Online Shoppers’ Expectations with Intuitive Design

Creating or updating your store to utilize a more intuitive design doesn’t necessarily require earning your Ph.D. Here are some simple design principles you can implement in a variety of ways to more effectively meet your shoppers’ expectations.

Accept and Use Industry Standards

Industry “standards” are titled as such for a reason—customers have come to accept these qualities as the “norm” and expect their use to remain consistent in other scenarios. Though it may be tempting to get creative and design unique icons for every action, resist the urge. Rather, recognize the common standards among online shopping navigation and implement them in a way that your customers will anticipate without even having to think about it.

For example, mobile navigation commonly uses the “hamburger” icon (the three, stacked, horizontal lines) to indicate a menu. This is a standard utilized among a majority of mobile websites because it is easily and quickly recognized.  

Conduct the “Is it Useful or Just Pretty?” Test

With limited valuable screen space, you must provide only what the shopper needs—anything else is a dangerous distraction. This applies to content details, images, videos, overall layout design, links, menus, and pretty much anything else on your site.

Ask yourself the difficult question: “Is [this feature/design] useful, or just pretty?” If your honest answer is the latter, UX psychology recommends removing it or redesigning it to better accommodate your—and your customers’— goals.

Provide Appropriate Context…

It’s important to make it very clear to shoppers which buttons will result in which actions. Icons are great for certain standard links, but, usually, brief text is more helpful. A proper balance between identifiable icons and contextual buttons/links helps shoppers to know exactly where to click.

Titling buttons with quick, witty prompts may be on-brand, but “Shop Seasonal Favorites” is a lot more decisive than “Let’s Go.” Labels like “Women’s Apparel,” “Best-Selling Shoes,” and “Gifts Under $30” set customers’ expectations appropriately. On the other hand, using too many vague phrases in too close proximity to one another can cause unnecessary confusion.  

…But Don’t Force Shoppers in a Direction

While on the topic of language, pay attention to the verbiage of your buttons and text links. Though you want to nudge your shoppers in a certain direction, if you have to say, “Click this blue button right here to shop purses on sale!” perhaps your site design flow could use revamping.

Make sure that your graphics and text are laid out in a cohesive, balanced way, one that helps explain the context of the other with minimal effort. Remember, the point is to make the process feel intuitive—your customers should automatically know within a few seconds the function of every piece of your site.

Often, photos without any context at all can seem distracting; “Should I click the photo? Should I swipe? Is this photo a link, or just a placeholder?” Your customer might wonder many questions, all of which counteract intuition. Adding a brief bit of helpful context (like a small, recognizable icon or a short, descriptive button or caption) will automatically nudge your shoppers in the direction they want to go, rather than forcing them to do so.    

Design with Intention

Take a moment to consider your ideal customer’s journey, the “path” they need to take to reach the intended goal. Then, look at your site. Does your design make it easy for the shopper to navigate through your sales funnel, or do they have to scroll for miles, click several buttons, and swipe until their fingers are tired just to find an item?

The flow and content of your online store should feel natural; use larger, bolder headings sparingly, only to catch a shopper’s attention. Then, gently direct them to a clear CTA, whether that is a broad category that leads to narrower ones, or another strategy you’ve decided upon. Carefully place other helpful navigational links in easy-to-find, yet inconspicuous areas. In this manner, the shopping process feels more natural to the user, flowing intuitively through your site, rather than just popping around the page aimlessly for minutes on end.

Intuitive Design Helps You Meet Online Shoppers’ Expectations

As active participants in a modern world, we’ve all learned to effectively navigate a very vast technological landscape—the internet. Without consciously realizing it, past internet experiences and common, widely-utilized contexts enable each one of us to construct a collection of expectations regarding online behavior, helping us to anticipate the desired results of the actions we take.

As a business owner, you have the opportunity to leverage this interesting psychology. You well-know the value of a shopper, and you know what your shopper wants. Considering all the effort you spend urging customers to shop from your site, don’t deter them with unfulfilled expectations. Implement these intuitive design principles to satisfy your shoppers and scale your brand beyond your wildest dreams.