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How to Design an E-Commerce Experience Your Shoppers Adore

With more bookselling moving online as brick and mortar bookstores disappear, selling directly to the consumer presents a tremendous opportunity for publishers. Advantages include: (1) Retaining more control over the publishing process by getting your book discovered. (2) The pricing strategy will now be yours – you will set the selling price and decide when to discount (if at all). (3) Increased margins by retaining the 50 to 55% fee required by online sellers. (4) You will be building a mailing list of potential buyers for the new books to be launched at a later date.

Developing a successful e-commerce cart is not that different than developing a successful website – many of the same rules still apply. Content is king and ensuring a positive user experience is crucial to gaining customer loyalty. Here are the steps I believe are necessary:

  • Design
  • Discoverability
  • Customer experience on the website
  • Shopping cart payment and security issues
  • Order Fulfillment and reinforcing your brand


Developing an effective web store and cart is about more than great design. It must be seamlessly integrated with a publisher’s existing website, interactive and engaging for customers – all the while letting the customer know they are making a secure transaction.

Choosing a cart that fits your business model is key. When deciding on a cart, you will want to research how popular that cart product is. If the platform is used by many other e-retailers, then some of your customers may already be familiar with how it works and how to use it. Double check to make sure it supports common payment gateways, which will help avoid exorbitant fees. You will want a modular API (Application Programming Interface) so you have the ability to customize the cart, both in layout and functionality. Another benefit to choosing a popular cart is there’s a good chance that developers who offer solutions, add-ons and plug-ins are already available.

From a good design stand point you will want to include (1) open and airy site layout (2) easy-to-navigate menus (3) tools of engagement such as social media feeds, offering product blogs, genre lists, best sellers list, new releases and special offers for loyal customers.

Remember – Content is king. Good e-commerce sites will include content that helps complete the design and helps the site be found.  This includes all Meta data for the books along with compelling descriptions of the books, e-books or other items. These descriptions should speak to the consumer and tell them why they want to buy the product and how they can use it. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words, so use quality photos of your product.


Discoverability is the most critical part of this process. If your readers do not find you or your product, you cannot make a sale. In a recent survey by Hubspot, inbound marketing costs 61% less than traditional outbound marketing.

By discoverability, I mean how a customer, and the general internet public, finds you online – how you get found as a publisher and for the books and e-books you are selling. When building any website, or e-commerce site, there are basic search engine optimization (SEO) steps that should be taken to help your site get found.

Again, the content that you include with your products is extremely important. Some carts will pull the book title and use that for the page title, and use the first 150 characters of your book description for the Meta description. So you need to ensure that you are using those text areas to your advantage. Plus, accuracy with your metadata makes it easy to find more information about every title.

Basic SEO elements include: Meta Descriptions, Page Titles, H1 Tags, Search-Friendly Images, Anchor Text of Links and Calls-to-Action.

Every page of your web store should have a meta description. Meta descriptions are short summaries of what can be found on that page. They show up in search results along with a link to that page. Meta descriptions should be 150 characters and loaded with good keywords to give customers a sense of what they’ll find on that page. Each Meta description should be unique and should not contain the page title again – it should be used to elaborate on the promise of your page title. Again, some carts will use the first 150 characters of your item description – which means once you’ve written a compelling item description, it will automatically be truncated for your Meta description.

Page titles are among the main cues a search engine gets about the content and quality of a particular web page. They show up when the page appears in search results and in the browser tab associated with it. Page titles should be unique, 70 characters or less and should not include the domain name. Some carts will use the title of your item as a default page title.

The H1 tag is the most important headline within a web page. You should stick to one H1 tag on each page and should include the keyword(s) that you want the page to rank for in search. This would be a great place to use your book or e-book title.

As we mentioned earlier, images add greatly to the quality of your web pages, especially in a web store, where consumers are searching for details on a specific book or product. Including alt text to ensure you have search-friendly images is very important. Alt text is a written version of what appears in the image that displays and should incorporate keywords.

Anchor text is the text that is hyperlinked within your page content. Rather than linking the words “click here”, you should be hyperlinking the phrase that is being searched for, such as the book or e-book title, author or topic.

While calls-to-action and attention-getting buttons may not be the first things you think of when optimizing your web store, they should be on the list. Including appropriate calls-to-action to buy, shop or explore make your site more interactive and engaging and promote the customer to take action. And why spend all that time and effort on generating traffic if you’re not asking customers to act?

Customer Experience on the Website

Shoppers want to be able to find the book, e-book or product they need, go through a simple, secure purchasing process and receive their order in a very timely manner. Making complete and organized product information easily accessible is crucial to the success of any publisher’s e-commerce site. Give the customer the option of saving their personal information and login into your website or the option to purchase as a guest without login requirements. Some clients will want to buy your product and move on while other will want their information saved. Yes, it is better for your buyers list and their future shopping to establish a login with your site, but providing the option for guest checkout will ensure you don’t lose the sale today.

Others suggestions would be to keep the required information simple and short. The fewer fields you require a visitor to fill out, the better. Set your forms up in a logical flow. For example, contact information, shipping information, billing information. Call attention to mistakes quickly and clearly. Let the customer review their purchase before the order is placed.

At the end of any shopping experience, you want customers to walk away thinking 2 things – that it just works and that it feels good to buy from your web store. Consumers want the entire shopping experience, from browsing for new titles to the receipt after the purchase, to go smoothly and quickly, be easy to understand and have an intuitive interface. If it works simply, without hassle and quickly, you will have a customer who will readily return.

That is why it is also important to include elements on your e-commerce site that are engaging, attention-getting and informative. Blogs, new titles lists, a featured e-book and social media feeds are all great ways to engage with your customers and find out what really makes them tick – what achieves their loyalty. Giving them the ability to leave reviews about your titles is another wonderful way to start conversation and spread word of mouth online. And the best part of reviews is that they are searchable and they help with SEO and discoverability – as mentioned above.

Shopping Cart Payment and Security Issues

When developing an e-commerce cart, you will want to ensure that you are offering customers a secure shopping experience.

A shopper will know that a site is secure when they enter their shopping cart and proceed to checkout and see a URL that begins with https, rather than the standard http. Some sites will also place an icon on their site that shows the level of security being offered on the cart.

Some of the items you will need to do this are:

  • Cover your technical bases: SSL Certificate, Private IP Address, Secure Payment Gateway (such as Authorize.net)
  • Post your Terms of Use or Terms of Service on your website
  • Post your Privacy Policy on your website

Offering your website visitors a positive user experience is always important
– but it is critical when it comes to an e-commerce site or web store. Whenever you are asking customers to make purchases online through your website, they want to know that they are safe and secure during the buying process. Reassure the customer that they are safe in making the purchase by posting third-party seals of approval (BBB, Trustwave, Authorize.Net, Shopper Guard, Comodo Secure). Be sure to provide a link to your privacy policy.

Payment Methods:
There are many ways to receive payment through your web store. Accepting payments only through Paypal may not cost you much, but it may also not be the most effective option for customers. Choosing a payment gateway that allows you to accept major credit cards offers added convenience and credibility. Which credit cards you accept is certainly up to you, but you will want to choose a payment gateway that will be flexible to your needs, competitive in terms of pricing and fees and offer multiple options to enhance the customer experience.

Order Fulfillment and Reinforcing Your Brand

From the warehouse perspective, first order of business is developing links between the website and the fulfillment center so that information is easily transferred: (1) Current inventory records need to update daily so the website knows if the product is available for sale. The website should decrease the inventory as the sale occurs so that if there are only 5 items in the warehouse, the website only sells those 5 items. (2) Order file containing order information such as items ordered, shipping address, shipping method.

Speed of fulfillment is very important – especially when people order online. People have grown accustom to receiving product 2 to 3 days after placing the order. Internet orders should ship the same day or no later than 24 hours after placement.

Consider your shipping methods:  (1) Media Mail – USPS (2) Mail Innovations (3) USPS  (4) UPS – FedEx (5) Overnight. For example, when shipping 1 pound from Chicago to Las Vegas ground, the range in cost is $2.27 to $11.73. The shipping method matters!

Branding of the product can be reinforced with accuracy and speed of the shipment. Additionally, logo cartons and packing lists enhance the professional image of the publisher.

Email confirmation with the tracking number and links to the delivering carrier sent to the customer when shipment is completed gives another opportunity for brand messaging. The confirmation can contain marketing information, new release information, or other branding news.

Another area of concern is shipping and handling charges. We have seen a number of different methods: (1) Base rate for shipping of say $5.99 and add $X for each additional item; (2) Base rate that increases as a percentage as sales increase; (3) Base rate plus $X per pound; (4) Flat rate per product type.

Returns need to be spelled out. How will you handle them? Who pays the return postage? Under what condition will you accept them?

As the World Goes Mobile
One area that I have not touched on is mobile devices. It is very important that your website is mobile ready. 79% of U.S. smart phone and tablet owners have used their mobile device for shopping related activities. The average impact of a one-second delay means a 7% reduction in e-commerce conversions.

And Finally… Work in Stages

Do it in stages. Don’t just cut Amazon off. They may represent a large percentage of your sales. Ease into this by launching your website while still working with both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Entice clients to use your site with special offers. You can offer bonus clips from parts of chapters that were not included in the book (much the same as movies do with DVD). Or offer readers sample pages so they can “get to know” your writing style. Bundling of your products is another way to boost sales. For example – buy the book and get the e-version for $3.00 or by two books for x dollars. Another thing to consider is that in many studies, consumers have responded very favorably to free shipping. If you choose to offer free shipping, it can be a big consideration when setting the price of the book.

Get closer to your customer, build your list of potential book buyers, enjoy more control over you business and reap the rewards of higher margins.

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