So what makes a good website? Maybe the high street shopping experience has left us some excellent clues.

I’ll be honest. When I go shopping for a new pair of jeans or a shirt, I head to town or Meadowhall and set out with every intention of spending the afternoon browsing the aisles, trying on as many pairs of similar coloured blue denim jeans as possible, along with a T-shirt or shirt with some variation on dark blue or bold pastel colours. 

What actually happens is I spend 15 minutes dashing in to Next or H&M and then spend the remainder of my time casually browsing HMV for the next addition to my music collection; a gap in the Stones albums or the latest Beatles reissue, or Waterstones for good business or marketing reads or celebrity cookbook (I know, I’m an easy sell!)

However, as I will continue to allude to, my shopping experience is made easier and less painful by the ability to navigate H&M to head directly where I want to go. As a male, it’s assumed I want to do what I need in as short a time as possible – for me this stands particularly true when I’m shopping for jeans or t-shirts. Music and books on the other hand, I want time to browse and inform myself on the topics of interest from a broader subject matter (Beatles within music, Marketing book within a bookstore)

Some great insights in to male and female shopping habits

Treat Your Website like your own real life mega store!

A simple high street experience

Truth is, I feel it is now a necessity, an expectation, that H&M and Next are easy to navigate. Even the best independent stores need to have an easy to read menu, obvious to find the toilets and made clear the process of the shopping experience. If Mrs T wanders into a clothing store and cannot find within minutes (or seconds) what she is looking for, her experience is diluted, frustration rises, and chances of walking out without purchase is increased.

As is customary with our joint visits to the high street, I end up spending much of my time looking at the latest advertising campaigns, assessing the customer service, how easy it was to park or how access to our Sheffield high street could be made easier; I can’t help it, it is a habit that is ingrained and to be honest I find it much more enjoyable than saying ‘yes love, that’s the dress for you!’ 

What can online learn from high street?

I speak of walking into a store an expecting to be able to navigate to my direct needs. An example. If I need some jeans and choose Next as my point of research I need to…

  • Find an outlet
  • Find the nearest or most convenient outlet to me
  • Enter the store
  • Find the department that is right for me
  • Be able to try or test the product and see what others think
  • Find an easy way to pay for my goods

The same stands true for my book shopping, though add in here the ability to browse my specific category….

Identify my need (the book) > Find the store most convenient to me > Walk in to store > Look for category or subject > Search for my title > Assess > Purchase.

My buying journey when looking for a book on the high street.

According to the the ONS, online sales of all purchases account for between 17% and 25% of purchases. This is only rising. In 2006, under 5% of purchases we made online. Of all web traffic in 2018, 52% of this was from mobile, again, a number set to rise. How many times do you look online for a decision based on an interest trigger? You need jeans, you can look on ASOS first. I want to buy an album, I look on Amazon. A whopping 87% of consumers are looking online when assessing their options for buying a product.

According to Forbes, 60% of Gen Z shoppers won’t use apps or websites that load slowly or are difficult to navigate. So what urgent lessons should we learn from our bricks and mortar stores that can apply to our own digital store fronts? The same report sourcing Retail Touchpoints suggests that 47% of generation Z shoppers are assessing online options for the same product whilst inside the physical shop! 

Start with the necessary…and keep it simple!

The two pictures here show the comparison of a real-life map drawing of the London Underground and the now-famous simplified design. Whilst going into mass detail on the ‘real’ map, we aren’t making a very accessible or usable piece of material for our intended end user. 

It isn’t necessary in this context to show the depth and detail of the map. What matter is functionality, ease of use and clarity of message.

How does your website compare? Have you created an inadvertent over-complicated London Underground map? Or is it a simple to understand, simple explanation of how to easily navigate your website?

Imagine walking in to your favourite high street clothing store or department store, picture this as your main website, the holder of all your information. Now think about when someone walks in to your store, how are they going to know where to go next? Where to go to find what is right for them?

Can your website directory resemble the equivalent of a bricks and mortar high street store like John Lewis?

You need better digital signage within your website, the same way you would a physical store! Sounds obvious right? But so many digital store fronts are infinitely difficult to work our way around. Can you easily add to basket, checkout, keep browsing and so on without getting lost and having to call for help?!

You wouldn’t let your real world store front be left to rack and ruin.

So don’t let your digital representation of you do the same! could your website do with the digital lick of paint? Are your digital window displays showing this season’s best goods for your target market? Think about M&S vs H&M vs Primark vs John Lewis. Each are clothing stores but each has a different target market that are immediately called out to at the storefront shop windows. How are you window dressing your website to relate to your best customers? How do your best customers know that you are the best choice for them?

The examples listed here show clarity in the direction from the main ‘departments’ or services on offer. Notice the drop-down menus make for ease of navigation, similar to that of a physical high street store.

The key elements of a useful website.

  1. Your home page and brand
  2. Your key ‘departments’ 
  3. Sub topics of your key departments
  4. Info & Contact
  5. Basket (if applicable)
  6. Blog / News (that must be updated!)

That’s it. You don’t structurally need more than is necessary, so don’t go over stuffing your website with information that could lead to confusion or a bad customer experience. 

You need a better website – right now!

Why don’t you value your website like you would a bricks and mortar store? Your website is a small business – and larger enterprise – best bet for building a presence for potential customers. But you need to have your shop in order to stand the best chance. Don’t leave the digital equivalent of unpacked boxes in the aisles. You will only end up confusing yourself, your customers, and Google.

A few starting points for a better website experience:

  1. Get reviews online
  2. Make it easy to navigate to and from your site, to and from other platforms (Social media etc)
  3. Brand your site as you would a high street store!
  4. Accept that there may be minimal costs to make your customers’ experience better
  5. Make shopping easy
  6. Make contact easy

Further Reading.

How you can start taking ownership of your marketing.
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