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May 31, 2016 /UX/UI Design /

Standing Out From the Crowd Without Confusing Your Users

How Shopify’s principles of UX have helped them grow to support more than 243,000 merchants in 150 countries.

When was the last time you bought something online? If you’re like two thirds of Americans, chances are it was sometime within the last 30 days.

With so much potential business online, a growing number of companies are turning to ecommerce solutions. But for many smaller businesses in particular, the idea of starting an online shop can be intimidating. There are numerous ecommerce solutions to choose from, each with its own set of offerings. Plus, there’s also inventory, reporting and shipping to consider, not to mention setting up the online shop itself.

“There are huge learning curves in the logistics of running a business,” said Helen Tran, product design lead at Shopify, one of the leading ecommerce platforms on the market. “I think people underestimate how difficult it can be—and how complex.”

So how does a company like Shopify convince merchants to set up shop in its digital shopping mall versus the others? In their minds, it all comes down to user experience.

Understanding Users, or as Shopify calls them, Merchants

“We operate with a huge amount of empathy and we always put merchants and their needs first,” said Tran. “That involves doing a lot of user research so we can really understand their background.”

Shopify is constantly doing research, user interviews and testing to better understand how the usability and features offered can enhance the selling experience for merchants in various industries. They understand there’s money to be made—for both merchants and ecommerce solutions.

Though Shopify counts Tesla Motors, Red Bull and the LA Lakers among its merchants, the platform caters more to small to medium-sized businesses looking to claim their space in the booming ecommerce industry. Online sales totaled an estimated $92.8 billion in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2016 alone, according to the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, an increase of 15.2 percent from the same period last year. This represents 7.8 percent of total sales this year, a number that is projected to only increase going forward.

Shopify’s 3 UX Principles

With so much potential revenue on the line, Shopify knows a sleek user interface that quickly gets merchants where they need to be is key to growing their business.

“We really strive for simplicity and approachability. Anybody can set up a Shopify shop in under an hour,” Tran said.

This desire to make ecommerce simple fuels what Shopify calls its three principles of user experience.

1. Knowledge

Shopify’s definition of UX broadens to include content. They want to empower merchants to make informed decisions, and they use the blog as a tool to do so.

“We have a really strong merchant community and we put a lot of effort into merchant education. I think a lot of merchants are initially very attracted to that,” Tran said.

The blog features information on ecommerce trends, business and sales tips, podcasts, video tutorials and more, including content that caters to the unique challenges of merchants in niche verticals. A separate blog is catered at enterprise clients to address issues specific to handling larger volumes, and a third is for Shopify’s partners.

“We’re there to help merchants make the best decisions for their business—not just their online store, but their business overall,” Tran said.

2. Confidence

Shopify aims to take the “complexities of ecommerce” and make them “friendly and accessible” to merchants. Part of this includes having a team that is dedicated to customer service 24/7. They make this available through phone, email and live chat, all of which merchants can find through a dedicated support page and have access to at anytime.

3. Do more with less effort.

Shopify wants to keep things easy for merchants, so they try to make creating an online storefront an almost effortless experience. Last year, Shopify rolled out new features designed to put merchants where their customers are online—in their feeds and on their phones.

“Starting an online store has some difficulty on the business side in that it’s really difficult to get customers to find you,” Tran said. “We removed that complexity and allowed merchants to find their customers where they are everyday, which is on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.”

Partnerships with these social media platforms as well as Amazon and Uber combined with the launch of a mobile SDK that enables merchants to sell products through their apps contributed to a massive year for Shopify stores in 2015. Shopify merchants grossed $7.7 billion in sales, representing more than half of the $14.3 billion Shopify stores have made overall.

While Shopify may not be the biggest ecommerce platform out there, its focus on user experience and designing a simple platform that is easy to use is certainly helping it standout among its competitors.

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