Online shopping plays a key role in retail success. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 2014 marked the first time e-commerce retail sales exceeded $300 billion, or a 15.4 percent increase from 2013's total of $264.28 billion. For the past five years, Web sales have grown to or above 15 percent, and they don't show signs of stopping.


Accounting for about 6.5 percent of retail sales, online shopping is a crucial element for businesses to keep up with competition and grow their brand. However, just posting merchandise online with a run-of-the-mill payment processing plan won't cut it. Between design and usability, small businesses need to plan their e-commerce strategy to maximize sales.


Here are three tips for building an effective e-commerce website:


1. Make it easy to find the product
Visual merchandising strategies play a key role in helping the shopper see your products, and your website design should do the same. Since shoppers don't have that same one-on-one access to helpful staff or retail displays to point out specific items, the design must compensate for the lack of those typical brick-and-mortar retail store features.


Just as consumers may leave your retail store when the merchandise is too cluttered to navigate, having your products hidden within your website may cause you to lose sales. To make sure Web page users can easily find the products; provide tools to help them navigate. Incorporate a search bar for shoppers who know what they want. Position it in the top right-hand corner or for mobile websites the middle of the page so consumers can easily spot the conventional location for this tool. The easier it is to find a product, the more likely a shopper will buy it.


2. Appropriately showcase the product
In a brick-and-mortar location, shoppers can pick up the item, feel it, read the tag and look around your store to see what other products are associated with it. Provide this same experience on your e-commerce website. Smashing Magazine contributor Cameron Chapman advises listing pertinent information such as the size, weight, dimensions and materials of an item. Every item should have a high quality image; demonstrating the product being used in its natural setting. For example, someone is wearing a clothing item in the picture shows the product in its natural setting while being put into action.
Another way to show off your products is by including a video demonstration of the product in its natural setting. Since the product isn't tangible, both of those elements help customers better visualize what they're about to buy.


Additionally, you may want to include suggested offers that pair well with the product consumers are looking at. This is one of the best ways to incorporate an upselling strategy in an online format. By providing an effective product description, posting high-quality images and showcasing similar or coordinating products, your website can bring in even more sales.


3. Have a convenient checkout process
Having a great and easy to navigate website design with a reliable payment gateway allows for a fast and easy transaction making customers happy about what they buy. Not only will your customers be happy with the transaction process, they’ll be more apt to return to your store thus increasing your sales.