In my last post we discussed 5 Ways to Master Online Merchandising for Your Online Store. Now it’s time to focus even more closely on the buying experience. When a visitor enters your online store, how easy is it for them to find a product and make a purchase? Online consumers have high expectations and can be impatient with a less-than-ideal online user experience. In order for you to meet these high demands and grow website sales, you need to help facilitate the visitor’s decision-making process and provide the necessary product information while reducing both the cognitive and physical steps to purchase.

Here are seven important elements of a smooth path to purchase.


In addition to a visually appealing design and clear value proposition, an ecommerce site should influence buyer behavior by strategic placement of the following must-have elements: well-tuned Site Search tool, intuitive navigation, strong product recommendations, and easily referenced shopping cart and customer service tools such as phone, email and online chat.


Navigation is a critical element and should never be an afterthought. Navigation has two major purposes. First, to help visitors quickly and easily find products they are actively searching for. Second, to provide visitors that are not searching for something specific with easy options for further exploration.

Navigation should be simple and designed to require the least amount of clicks as possible. Remember, complexity hurts conversions. Also, navigation should be intuitive and organized into categories and subcategories based on how a typical customer would think about and organize your products. For example, do you have a discount or clearance section? This is a necessary part of your website since 62% of shoppers will specifically look for a sales section.

Take Haggar Clothing for example…

Navigation should be consistent. The homepage is not the only site entrance page; therefore no matter where visitors land, site navigation can help them easily find their way around. Don’t allow your site’s visitors to become lost and confused. Use breadcrumb navigation to make sure they always know where they are and where they’ve been. Not only does breadcrumb navigation lead visitors down the path to purchase, it also helps boost SEO and lower bounce rates.

CB2 is a great example of simple, consistent navigation that is unique to the site and brand. They do not use top navigation. Instead, the site-wide left bar navigation is intuitive and aided by breadcrumb navigation at the top of each interior page.

Category Pages

Category Pages play the part of aisles in a brick and mortar store. As such, these pages tend to get more traffic than individual product pages, so it’s important to optimize these critical landing pages.

Optimized Category Pages Will Include These 5 Elements:

  • Good imagery at top that matches the category.
  • Clear and visible headings and descriptions, which also positively contribute to SEO.
  • Similar search results pages, category pages should include product images and details.
  • Options to filter and sort.
  • Strong calls to action.

Duluth Trading Company’s category pages are easy for customers to use and do a great job promoting products. Impactful imagery in the banner image lends visual interest and strengthens the page textual content. User-friendly filter and sort options, along with prominent product badges, also help customers quickly make product selections.

Product Pages

To continue our brick and mortar store analogy, if category pages are store aisles, then product pages are specific items on the shelf. To convert product page visits into sales, every product page should be clearly laid out, with strong calls to action above the fold. A product page should also include detailed product description and specifications, high-quality images, easy-to-select product attributes, stock status and price.

When a product has limited stock available, showcase it! People become motivated to buy when they think they will miss out. Likewise, if an item becomes out of stock, message this clearly on the product page. Don’t frustrate customers by making them wait until checkout (or after) to discover a product is no longer available. Savvy retailers will provide customers an option to enter their email address to receive automatic notification when an out of stock item becomes available again.

Mini Cart

Another important step in converting shoppers into buyers is the mini cart. While allowing customers to remain on the product page, the mini cart provides visitors with these 3 things:

  1. Visual confirmation of the item just added.
  2. Summary of the cart contents and total.
  3. Easy pathway to checkout.

The mini cart should have a simple, clean design. It should showcase the recently-added product and highlight item prices and the total. There should be two calls to action: Continue Shopping and Checkout Now. The Checkout button, as the primary call to action, should be the most visually prominent.

Under Armour has their mini cart pop up after adding an item, as well as having a drop down under the cart button.

Shopping Cart

The shopping cart is a crucial step in the path to purchase. It is here that customers review their product selections before making the purchase. The shopping cart should have a clean layout, clearly display all items in the cart and be easy to update (quantity, product removal, etc.).

Well-designed cart pages also include shipping cost information (even if it is estimated at this point), and allow the option to add a promotional code. And last but not least, the cart page should have a call to action (Proceed to Checkout) that can’t be missed.


Keep the checkout process simple. Consider these 6 ways to optimize checkout for conversion:

  1. Include a guest checkout option.
  2. Put the steps to purchase in a logical order (review cart, select shipping, enter payment info, confirm order).
  3. Display a checkout progress bar as a visual reference to purchasers.
  4. Request only the information required to make the purchase.
  5. Since 48% of consumers said the trust seal is a deciding factor for making a purchase, ensure checkout is SSL secure and showcase trust icons to reassure purchasers.
  6. Offer third-party payment options, such as PayPal.
  7. Avoid adding costs to the end of the checkout process. 56% of shoppers abandon a cart when presented with unexpected costs. It’s wise to be upfront and honest with the final costs, including shipping and taxes.

Remember that single-page checkouts have the highest conversion rates. In addition, the best way to improve conversion is to test. One way to improve is to look at your cart and checkout abandonment rates to examine your checkout process. You may determine your site is easy to use and customers add products to their cart, but something during checkout is making it difficult to convert.