BIG UX lessons for small ecommerce sites

Ecommerce usage has exploded in the U.S! Even Black Friday crowds have opted to order through the internet, where Black Friday specials have also been introduced. But not all ecommerce sites, are worthy of Thanksgiving. Hard to find items, clunky and confusing checkout procedures, and confusing navigation kill the user experience and once that has been done, the offending site must scramble to regain customers while improving their UX.

Two powerhouse ecommerce sites

If you want to know how to best serve customers with an ecommerce site, look no further than ecommerce powerhouse, Amazon.


Welcome to the biggest online retailer! Over the cyber-years, Amazon has evolved into a brand of trust, superior service, vast shopping options and great user experience. Chances are, you’ve used Amazon to purchase something in the past year, and probably have returned. Once you’ve set up your account and start to express search preferences, the algorithm takes over to become your own personal shopper. Amazon is more than a branded ecommerce source – it has become a major hub of many independent sellers as well, which offers competition to Amazon itself, while it cleverly earns commission from every referred sale.


A simple search, in this case for an “iPhone”, brings up many different choices for the user. Some might say too many but if the search says “iPhone” then expect a thorough list. It’s helpful at least to be able to refine your results to a specific store category at this stage.


Your search will bring up a huge number of returns – almost 71 million in this case. At this point, Amazon leads the user into deeper layers of filtered returns. Had “iPhone charger” been the search instead of “iPhone”, the initial results would be started several layers in from this current search term.


Getting to your desired product doesn’t take long on Amazon. Even at what might be the end of the purchase, Amazon supplies you with other choices and, most of all, tries to upsell you – brilliantly, without sales pressure. Don’t forget to buy a phone case, Sir!


It’s not pressure, mind you, but Amazon wants to sell you more while you’re shopping – and they usually succeed. In 2006 they started the “customers who bought this also bought” tactic and sales increased by 35%.


The most important spot of the user experience is getting the user to click that button at this point. Amazon lays out as much information about the cost and shipping, it continues to build trust as a “humanized” website.

My second favorite example of an ecommerce website with great UX, is the lesser known Despair is an example of how a simple product site can use strong branding and humor to create a great user experience, without the budget of  Amazon.

UX-lessons7 specializes in a small line of humorous products they call “demotivators.” A spoof on the office poster of a kitten hanging by its paws and the motivational saying “Hang In There!” is replaced with images of natural beauty and a demotivational saying sure to depress any office worker.


The unique user experience about this small site is the brand. Sure, it’s powered by Shopify, but in every step, from the home page to receipt of the merchandise (including a paper tag that says in handwritten crayon, “inspected by Timmy”), Despair makes you part of the experience – part of playtime.


Naturally, Amazon – or most ecommerce sites could never carry off the fun and weird humor portrayed by the brand of They know their audience, albeit niche.


The checkout procedure is flawless, and like Amazon, contains the same principles of easy UI for the best user experience.

While both of these sites belong to extremely successful businesses, they both bring different and interesting angles to the user experience. Looking at those strengths, it helps to look at what users want, don’t want and what they really do need, despite the first two points.

What Do Users Want?

An ecommerce user wants 3 basic things:

  1. Find what I want
  2. Find it cheaper
  3. Get it ordered and done

These, however, are not the only needs an ecommerce site must give users. Looking at Amazon and Despair, consider these points as some basic needs for great UX:

Find what I want – Naturally users come to your ecommerce site with the intention of either shopping around for the best price on an item, or to continue on from the previous reason and make a purchase. Your search engines must be at peak operating levels, but, as we all see on the best ecommerce sites, having product suggestions allows the user to discover other items that also want, although they didn’t know it when going to your site.

It’s the cyber version of walking into a big retailer’s store and browsing around. In this case, the merchandise is presented to you on a silver platter, at arms reach.

Find it cheaper – While Amazon can show varied prices for new and used items, smaller ecommerce sites cannot compete for a variety of reasons. If you deal in merchandise that other ecommerce sites also sell, advertising and linking to their higher-priced items will show your item to be the lowest price. While this is not exactly ethical in some instances, with certain items/services, showing closely similar items that are priced higher is not unethical and will help convince the user that your items and prices are the best choice. It’s what you’ll see on a laundry detergent commercial where competitor A claims to be better or cheaper than competitor B. What they don’t mention is competitor C that is BETTER or CHEAPER than competitor A.

Despair doesn’t have any direct competitors, although similar items abound on the internet. They price their products fairly and most probably studied the competition as they all seem too high for a damned T-shirt or coffee mug!

Get it ordered and done – Any ecommerce site will fail if the user cannot place an order and exit the site. That sounds simple, but you must have run across one, most probably advertising on Facebook where you left the checkout, frustrated and orderless.

What puts great ecommerce sites above others is the customer experience they extend. After enabling a super fast one-click checkout option, Amazon will send you confirmation of the order, a notice of shipping and then a request for a customer review. Despair does the same and continues their “in-your-face” brand right to the very end. In fact, once registered, if you place something in your cart but click off the site without proceeding to checkout to complete the order, expect an email from Despair, reminding you the item is awaiting checkout and then rambling on for 800 words about who knows what. It’s wonderfully weird and professionally efficient! This is what you’ll receive if you don’t complete the checkout process:

Normally, we advocate procrastination, BUT…

…not when it comes to BUYING THINGS FROM US.

Seriously… you recently started shopping at but did not complete your purchase. Yet when it comes to buying things from us, the time for action is NOW.

Of course, maybe you were just testing the store? Maybe you put things in your shopping cart, then remembered you were late making that mortgage payment and probably couldn’t justify an impulse purchase from an online retailer?

Yet I am here to tell you, indeed, PAID to tell you that while laziness is usually its own reward, in this particular instance, it just might prove your undoing.

Have you even considered what might happen if you leave your order incomplete, and deny yourself the opportunity, nay, the privilege of receipt of Despair’s life-changing Demotivational® tools?

Rather than availing yourself of the liberating enlightenment of pessimistic thinking at your next rendezvous with adversity, why, you very well just might find yourself looking on the bright side yet AGAIN, whistling some inane little show tune, and (I’m shuddering as I type this) hoping for the best!

And when calamity inevitably overwhelms you, rather than dismissing it with a grim, knowing chuckle, you’ll be desperately grasping for every platitude in reach, sputtering nonsense like “Tough times don’t last- tough people do…Right?” like an chump and basically consigning yourself to the humiliating agony of YET ANOTHER LENGTHY TRIP to the Denial phase of the 5 Stages of Grief!

Please don’t let that happen. By letting our products crush your hope now, you’ll be rendered unsmushable by future calamities. You will sludge like dark dank water around them, never standing taller, content to slowly erode an ever deepening path into the soil that is your life.


For the sake of your future dignity, sanity and lucidity, your shopping cart at Despair, Inc. has been reserved and is awaits your return. Grimly anticipating the day when it will leave our warehouse, ride bumpily across hundreds of miles in darkness to your door, and live its final days on earth serving as your spiritual and psychological ballast.

In your cart, you left:

1x Made In USA By Robots – Men / 2XL / black

It’s not too late. Yet.

To complete your purchase, click this link: <link>

Help us help you to the helpful freedom of learned helplessness.

Despair, Inc.


Make it Personal – Although not one of the three basics, number four in the list should be to make the user experience personal, fun and helpful. The biggest complaint about shopping in a store is you can’t find a store associate for help or information. Amazon makes it personal right at their home page, welcoming you by name and suggesting products you might like based on past purchases. Information is plentiful but the UI is organized and easily interactive.

A site such as Despair uses a personal humor to create a fun user experience. Even the much maligned, which is a textbook trainwreck of web design, actually has a damned good UX, as odd as it may be.


What Do Users NOT Want?

While creating great UX for a site, can designers go overboard? Can there be “too much”? Well, most critics say that Ling’s is WAY too much. Unless the site is for kids or a circus, then a “fun stuff” section spells trouble. The “fun stuff” is always what gets a brand into trouble when a segment of users don’t find something “fun” in your content.

Despair gets away with the negative humor because it’s part of the brand and expected by users, sort of like what one would expect from a Three Stooges website but not at Chase Bank.

Ecommerce users often panic when they’ve checked out and are awaiting delivery. That period of waiting is filled with anxiety, even with tracking information. Emails and SMS notices can be appreciated by users. Part of the user experience is building trust and an eagerness for the user to return. Explore your post-checkout experience, do shoppers know what’s happening after they’ve parted with their cash?


The CEO of your company is a Ling. He/she wants flashing lights, prancing glitter unicorns, and tons of buttons. While this article spotlighted three websites to make a point, presenting examples of best practices is your best method to ensure that the UX/UI of the finished website is helpful and uncluttered.

Ponder these questions when reviewing your website UX:

  • Does your website represent your brand’s tone of voice and ideal customer experience?
  • Are you personalizing the shopping experience to fit your customer?
  • Does your search make it quick and easy to find all your products?
  • Can shoppers filter results to get to the product they’re looking for?
  • Are you providing enough detailed information about the products?
  • Are you up-selling useful accessories and add-ons?
  • Is your checkout long, clunky and frustrating?
  • Are shipping options and costs presented plainly and upfront?
  • What happens post-checkout? Are you keeping shoppers informed and happy?
  • Are you encouraging shoppers to come back again?

Is over 70 million returns for one product on Amazon too much? Most users never click through more than three pages. Still, having full access to as much information as possible is what the internet is all about. Somewhere between and…, there is the perfect mix for your targeted user. Now it’s up to you to figure out what that is.

Beginners guide to eCommerce

  • Fred Schulman

    Thanks for posting about UX lessons. I really want to learn about this for my upcoming eCommerce project.