Written by Emma Vetriano • Published 27th September 2011

It was recently revealed by researchers at digital agency Head London that poorly designed websites cost retailers hundreds of millions of pounds in lost sales. £500 million pounds to be exact. Based on information from Oxford Economics, the report named (and shamed) some retail giants for their poor websites.

The powers-that-be at Morrisons, Dixons and Phones 4 U will be kicking themselves for estimated sale losses of £314m, £32.6m and £17.5m respectively between 2007-2010. Tescos, on the other hand, were credited for gains of £255m thanks to their user-friendly online shopping system.

It clearly pays to take your virtual shop-front seriously. Web users take no prisoners when it comes to bad navigation on a website – they want specific results and fast. You can guarantee that – if they have once clicked away in frustration – they won’t be returning.

So what are the tools that make a website user-friendly and keep your customer on the page?

The key in my view is simplicity and logic. I want to be able to reach my chosen destination within – at the most – two clicks.

John Lewis have achieved a seamless website by thinking through every last detail of the user journey. Not only is their website foolproof to use, it is subtly laid out to maximise their sales opportunities.

When I hover over the tab labelled ‘Women’, not only can I easily click on ‘skirts’, it also shows me other related departments such as shoes.This is a mutually beneficial arrangement – I have the option to find some shoes to match the skirt I originally wanted to buy and John Lewis have taken me one step closer to another sale. The key to the success of this though is choice. It is bad online etiquette to take a user somewhere they haven’t asked directly to be. However, suggesting different, relevant options to them is helpful whilst still leaving the last call-up to the customer.

These basics are a good start to entice a user to browse your shop. However what if, once they arrive there, they want something more specific? A good search bar, optimised for an array of general and specific search terms is crucial. When I search ‘blue dresses’ on John Lewis, a helpful selection of blue dresses come up. I can even take this further and search ‘navy dresses’ if my tastes are more particular which still yields fruitful results.

The message for other brands to takeaway is clear. If you want to make a sale, direct people swiftly to the product they are looking for – in much the same way as a real-life shop assistant would. Hassle free shoppers equal happy shoppers.

Another very worthwhile website feature is an inbuilt memory system. Often a customer will take a few minutes, hours or even days to think about a product before they purchase. If they return for a second look, by remembering the details of their previous visit, you can give them one more (helpful) opportunity to buy. John Lewis online remembers the products you put in your shopping basket for weeks after you first added them.

This kind of tailored shopping experience is what gives online shopping that edge over trekking around Oxford Street on a Saturday. Shopping doesn’t get much more personal or convenient than this.

However, this online record of your user habits does have its disadvantages. After I leave the John Lewis website to watch a video on YouTube, I spy a John Lewis advert to the right of my video. It features the exact navy dresses I have just been lusting after – now that is a powerful advertisement. So it seems that with personalised shopping the inevitable result is personalised advertising. But that is another story for another blog post…