Rethinking Your Website? Five Lessons from a Top Online Retailer

Having spent several years in the e-commerce space, I’ve come to appreciate how online retailers live or die by their ability to convert site visits to sales. And who better to learn from when designing (or redesigning) your website than those whose business depends on it?

As a busy working mom of two, I rarely have a lot of free time to shop, for myself or my family, so I do a significant amount of my shopping online. USPS, FedEx and UPS are no strangers to our front porch. And, yes, I admit it, even some of our groceries and household staples are ordered online (thank you, Amazon Prime Now, Instacart and Jet).

That said, my recent experience with Tieks was better than any online shopping experience I’ve ever had. Tieks occupies an unusual space in the upscale, online shoe market, and they get it right when it comes to a well-designed website that lets customers browse and buy easily, with confidence.

Let’s look at five best practices that Tieks executes perfectly and how these same practices can help businesses across virtually any industry.

1. Draw Visitors In and Make It Easy

Tieks has a very simple, clean, creatively designed online storefront. Everything a shopper needs to know is “above the fold,” even when viewing on a small screen. A prominent “Shop Our Boutiek” tab is in the top navigation and another “Shop” button is located within the image, where the eyes can’t help but be drawn. The “Shop” tab persists as you navigate the site and “Shop” buttons are always prominently displayed wherever a visitor may be looking.

The image shown here is part of a scrolling header which showcases Tieks’ top products and messages. Links to log into my account or to raise a question or issue are intuitive and easy to find.

Wait – before you zone out, thinking that your business is so different from Tieks that none of this can apply, there are several things anyone in any business can take away from this design:

  • Keep it simple. Take the time to truly define and understand your audience and the reasons they come to your site; then make those areas prominent. Use Google Analytics or another tool to explore what people are doing most on your site, and make sure it’s easy to do those things. You can put everything else in less-prominent areas.
  • Invest in imagery. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Invest in powerful imagery to make what you do very clear up front and hold your audience’s attention. Whether it’s your work, your office, your employees or even a metaphor for the results you deliver – pictures often speak louder than words.
  • Call to action. Even if your site doesn’t include online checkout, you need at least one clear call to action. What do you want site visitors to do? Contact you to learn more? Visit your physical location? Sign up for your newsletter? Make those actions clear and easy to follow. No one should wonder what they should do next, or their next step may be to leave.
2. Think Mobile 

We hit a major milestone last year in October. Did you miss it? For the first time, mobile and tablet devices accounted for 51.3% of worldwide internet usage while only 48.7% came from desktops and laptops. This is huge! If you aren’t catering to mobile users, you’re probably missing out on most of your audience.

Online retailers are already responding to this trend, making their sites highly responsive on mobile devices and building their own mobile apps for consumers. Tieks’ mobile design is very simple, which makes it super easy to shop from a phone. The imagery is consistent, and the call to action remains very clear without scrolling. Tieks knows the limitations of my small screen, so their most prominent menu items are the most common things visitors will need. I can easily narrow in on what I want so I don’t have to scroll past the 55 different colors and fabrics they offer (even though I want to!)

Do you have to do all that to achieve business results in today’s mobile-centric world? Remember those three things that make it easier to engage with your site; in the mobile world, each one of them is especially important. You may need to rethink your main navigational areas, resize or change out images and streamline your content to keep it simple and get rid of clutter. Make your imagery choices count. And remember to keep that call to action where people can see it.

3. Build Trust

To make consumers feel comfortable buying online, retailers need to convey the quality of their products, that payment information is secure, and, most importantly, that if there’s ever a problem, they’ll fix it. Period.

Businesses in non-retail industries can demonstrate trust in other ways. No one tells the story of your trustworthiness better than the people who have trusted you with their business and are happy with the result. Customer quotes, case studies and videos can reinforce your trustworthiness, showing prospects that you know their business and can help solve their problems.

Showcasing your work reinforces that you do what you say you do. And don’t be too modest when you receive recognition and industry awards. Show them off to your audience!

4. Engage Socially

Everybody knows: social media has changed the way we find and connect with our customers. I found Tieks, or I should say, Tieks found me one day as I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed. They wowed me with a beautiful shoe on a day that I felt like treating myself. And their array of colors and patterns were also on Instagram and Pinterest, two highly visual social media platforms.

Whether your product or service comes in a rainbow of colors or not, your brand has a voice and a personality, be it professional, creative, witty or even quirky. That voice needs to be prominent throughout your messaging and your website, and social media is where it can truly shine.

Of course, not all social media channels will be right for every business. Identify which platforms your customers use – as well as where, when and why they use them. At the same time, don’t feel like you have to be everywhere. Focus your attention on the platforms that make sense for your business. After all, nothing says “stale” like a social page that hasn’t been updated in months.

Once you choose your platforms, take a look at which social posts generate the best engagement. Are customers commenting, liking or sharing? If they are, you want more posts like that. And don’t be afraid to invest in advertising. Social media ads can be a low-risk, cost-effective way to expand your audience, test offers and messaging, and get the word out overall. With a modest budget, you can test ideas on the fly – and get more performance data than on other advertising media.

5. Delight with the Unexpected

The best online experiences are the ones that follow site visitors into the real world. Not only did Tieks meet my expectations with their on-time delivery and the quality of their shoes, they also delighted me when I opened the box. Look at what came inside:

The bow around the signature blue box made me feel like I was opening a gift. The attractive, high-quality box itself confirmed that this was a premium brand, which confirmed I’d made a smart investment. The cute blue tote and pouch were unexpected bonuses that also reinforced product features (Tieks are foldable!). Finally, a personal, handwritten thank you card gave me a sense of personal connection to real people.

How does this translate to the business-to-business and professional services fields? I’m a big proponent of items that people will use because you get double the benefit – a nice thank you AND an easy way to promote your brand! Consider what you can deliver above and beyond customer expectations. If you’re an accountant, perhaps your clients’ returns are delivered in a high-quality folder and presented in a way that underscores the time and expertise you put into preparing their taxes. If someone signs up for your newsletter, can you also offer them a valuable thought leadership piece that demonstrates your appreciation, as well as your experience and ability to deliver fresh insights? Even the right, small, post-sale gift can put a little smile on your customer’s face.

The bottom line

Whether you sell products or services, are B2B or B2C, you can learn a lot when you step out of your comfort zone and industry. Find companies that have nothing to do with your own business but are doing something right. Figure out what they are doing and why. Then look at how you can achieve similar results with your own business.


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