On the World Wide Web, glitzy graphics do not necessarily guarantee sales. On the other hand, a well-designed site, in terms of content as well as presentation, can give your online store the edge you need to succeed.

In this report, the E-Commerce Times examines several successful online stores to determine what constitutes the perfect online selling machine.

Clarity and Ease of Navigation
Mega-selling Web sites, such as Amazon.con, Dell, QVC and Cisco (a multibillion-dollar communications equipment manufacturer) make clear to the shopper which categories of products are available, and provide easy site navigation links. From anywhere in these sites, the shopper can easily proceed to browse more products without having to waste time searching. It would seem fairly obvious that a good navigation system is required for a successful E-commerce site, but as you may have noticed, many sites on the Internet are sorely lacking in this regard.

Fast-Loading Pages
The vast majority of consumers connect to the Internet from their homes with relatively slow modems. This is especially true in the case of international shoppers. For this reason, the perfect online store would be fast-loading - not bogged down by overly long content or graphics. One strategy which is becoming commonplace is to show small product "thumbnails" with an initial product description, giving the shopper the option of clicking on the thumbnail for a larger graphic.

Shopper Privacy
When purchasing online, shoppers are often required to provide an entire host of personal information, including a mailing address, phone number, E-mail addresses and billing information. In general, requiring these disclosures can discourage shoppers from purchasing directly online. To alleviate shoppers' privacy concerns, the better-designed sites provide guarantees that shoppers' personal information will not be sold to other companies for mailing lists and other solicitation purposes. Boosting consumer confidence is essential for the perfect online store.

Technical Support
Often, online shoppers are leery of poor customer support, wondering if the merchant will respond to issues that may arise after the purchase has been made. The concern is whether the online merchant has the expertise or personnel required to resolve technical issues relating to the setup or use of the product. The perfect store would post its technical support policies clearly to address shoppers' potential concerns.

Return and Exchange Policies
Another factor affecting consumer confidence is a concern that they will be dissatisfied with the product purchased without the benefit of examining the product physically before purchase. Keep in mind that colors displayed on a computer monitor are sure to vary from their actual color. For example, the elegant royal blue shirt you just purchased online might turn out to be more purplish when it is delivered. Or, that big gold chain might turn out to be lighter in weight, or smaller than anticipated. The perfect online store would post an unconditional exchange or refund policy to boost consumer confidence.

The Right Look and Feel
Marketing is a crucial part of the sales process. Ultimately, the online store must entice potential shoppers to make a purchase. To a great extent, sites accomplish this with well-planned graphic design. The perfect site would feature a pleasant color scheme and tasteful design elements, which serve to highlight the products being offered without overshadowing or conflicting with them. Remember, graphics do not have to be overly large in file size or be flashy to be effective. As we mentioned previously, a quick-loading site is a must.

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