The foundations of a great eCommerce site

A fellow developer asked the following question on a Facebook group this morning: “What features should an eCommerce store have?”

The most accurate answer is ‘it depends’.

It depends on the type of industry, the products that are being sold, the size of the business, and the customers. But I wanted to expand on a few things that I think mostly all eCommerce sites need to consider.

1. A good platform

Healthy or junk food choice. Beautiful woman thinking. Vector illustration.

I am a WordPress consultant, but have sometimes turned away clients if it isn’t the right platform for them.

For very small-scale projects, with one or two products and a limited budget, it is perfectly fine to create a simple site using Wix and a PayPal button.

For large-scale projects, where there are 10,000 products and lots of custom functionality such as integration with vendors, then a custom built solution may work better.

There are other platforms such as Shopify, Magento, as well as other 3rd party plugins that can be added to a static site to sell (e.g. Eventbrite widgets).

However in many cases, WordPress and it’s primary eCommerce add-on, WooCommerce work very well, especially with the available add-ons that enhance the functionality without costing a fortune.

Your developer should be able to help you determine which platform is right for you.

Make sure you’ve outlined your requirements in details, so you don’t end up regretting your choice, as it’s a lot more costly to change platform after it’s built.

2. A good host

I’ve learnt over the years that more often than not, the key to a website running smoothly, securely, and super fast is down to the host. No matter how well your site is optimised, if your server doesn’t have the power to handle extra bandwidth or has other sites on the server (i.e. a shared server) that you can’t control, then there are likely to be issues including speed, downtime – and even worse – hacks.

It’s better to pay for a good host rather than pay for someone to get a site back up and running (potentially losing hours or even days of business opportunities)

For eCommerce sites, we usually recommend WPEngine (WordPress only) or SiteGround (specifically their ‘Go Geek’ Package). Both of these have a staging area where you can test out changes to the site without affecting the live site so that making changes becomes easy.


Siteground Web Hosting

3. Different ways to navigate your online shop

People shop in different ways.

For example in a supermarket, some people prefer to ask the staff, and others like to find the items themselves.

Some like to go through each and every aisle, maybe buying something spontaneously, while others know exactly while aisle and row they need to look at to make their shopping super efficient.

Just like in a supermarket, people like to search online for items in different ways, and you have to cater to all types of users.

A site should have some or all of the following:

4. Keep it Simple

Don’t make the sales process confusing.

It goes without saying, but our attention spans are becoming smaller, and our patience is getting thinner when it comes to most things. Mainly when trying to buy an item, if it can be purchased from somewhere like Amazon where ordering is so simple.

I would suggest:

  1. focus on fast load times – this is linked to your host (see point 1) and how well your website is optimised.
  2. have a clear navigation – menus should be clear and visible (along with search) from any screen.
  3. utilise one-click checkouts – Amazon does this well – if I just want one item, I can buy it without needing to add it to cart.
  4. have the ability to add to cart from the products page, without needing to view a description of single items.
  5. enable user registrations (to save time having to re-enter the details each time – see below for more information).

5. Basket widget visibility

If you’ve got more than one product that people are looking to buy, it is possible they will add a product to the basket and not be ready to check out just yet.

One of the most frustrating things is when you’ve added an item to the basket and are still browsing other products but can’t seem to find out how to access the cart page or checkout.

Having a basket icon visible at all times, normally in the header of the site, is key to a good eCommerce design.

6) Integration with an excellent payment gateway

PayPal used to be the standard form of payment, but now there are many others, such as Stripe, GoCardless (great for subscription products) and many others.

It’s always good to find one that has a reasonable fee (Stripe charges 1.4% + 20p per transaction compared to PayPal’s 3.4% + 20p and keeps the user on your page), as well as makes it super easy for your users to use.

7) Making sure the processes and configurations are all set up

Often, designers are so fixated in getting the frontend site complete, they neglect the backend. Here are some of the things all eCommerce sites need to set up correctly.

8) Allowing users to create an account

Happy young businesswoman working from home in a new start-up business smiling with pleasure as she reads information on her computer monitor

Many websites have the option for a guest check out. This is perfectly fine, but there will be some instances where it will make sense to allow a user to create an account, so next time they can log in and avoid having to enter their billing, shipping and card details all over again.

You can also use this to find out valuable information such as your best customers, and offer them promotions over time.

9) Having an SSL Certificate


An SSL certificate is now a must as all major browsers are issuing a ‘not secure’ warning across sites that don’t have it. Besides, most payment gateways won’t work without an SSL installed. This may be down the list, but it’s probably one the main things to arrange – not just for an eCommerce website, but any site that collects information (read: pretty much all sites)

For more information read: Does my site need an SSL certificate?

10) Sharing is caring


This may not be an essential feature, but if people want to share your products and services, why stop them? You can add social share icons to your product pages to allow visitors and customers to share easily across social media, Whatsapp and email.

Of course, there are some cases where the product may be discreet, and something you may not want to share with the public.

What do you think?

Are there any other essential features that would apply to all eCommerce sites? Write your answers below.