How to Create a User-Friendly E-Commerce Website

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Your guide to creating a beautiful, user-friendly website for your online business.

[Featured Image] A woman works on a laptop in a small store.

When launching an e-commerce business, your website is a virtual “storefront” for your customers. Your landing page must clearly articulate what products or services you offer and be functional and user-friendly. Good user experience (UX) design is simple and intuitive.

With the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, there is ample opportunity for emerging brands to participate in the e-commerce space. Business owners need a website that displays their product offering and promotes brand identity, linking to social media and other digital content to boost sales.

This article will offer a guide for creating an e-commerce website, including its costs and tips to make it user-friendly.

Your guide to creating an e-commerce website

Imagine walking into a shop where the ceiling lights are flickering, the shelves are unstocked, and the cashier is nowhere to be found. The equivalent for an e-commerce store would be buttons that don’t click, products without descriptions, and a checkout page that only accepts PayPal. From entering your site to purchasing items, your customer’s e-commerce experience should be seamless and keep up with the latest user-friendly tools and interface.

1. Define your business and choose an e-commerce model.

Consider your business type. Perhaps you’re pivoting from brick and mortar. What do you sell? Who is your target market? What is your brand strategy? Ideally, your website will emulate your company’s ethos and deliver an enjoyable customer experience.

If you’ve already defined your e-commerce business model or have been selling offline, proceed to Step 2.

Defining your business and its needs will help you choose the right e-commerce model:

  • Business-to-customer (B2C): This is the most common model in which a business sells products or services to consumers. 

  • Business-to-business (B2B): Businesses sell products or services to other businesses.

  • Customer-to-customer (C2C): Online marketplaces that connect consumers to exchange and sell goods or services. 

  • Customer-to-business (C2B): Individuals sell their goods or services to companies. 

And it can help you determine your delivery method:

  • Direct-to-consumer (D2C): Sell your products directly to customers without the help of wholesalers or retailers.

  • Drop shipping: Set up a storefront (website) so customers can pay by credit card or PayPal, sourcing from a supplier that manages inventory and packaging. Drop ship businesses are quick and inexpensive to start.

  • Wholesale: Purchase products in bulk at a discounted rate from a retailer.

  • White label: Put your name and brand on a generic product you purchase from a distributor.

  • Private label: Hire a manufacturer to create a product sold exclusively by you.

  • Subscription: Deliver products, such as pet food or fresh vegetable boxes, monthly or weekly to loyal customers who prioritize convenience.

2. Choose an e-commerce platform.

There are three main types of e-commerce platform models to consider for your online business. First, decide whether you’d like it to be hosted, meaning it is software that provides the service of storing your information on a server or self-hosted, meaning you find an external server or use open-source hosting.

Here are the three types of platforms:

  • SaaS (software as a service): As the name suggests, this is an all-inclusive software experience that allows users to customize the website’s structure and overall look and feel using a drag-and-drop editor. 

    • Shopify and website builders like Squarespace and Wix

  • Open source: An option that delivers infinite customization because everything must be designed and coded from scratch, often by a developer.

    • Magento, which lacks a theme editor

    • WooCommerce, a plug-in that attaches to WordPress sites

  • Headless commerce: This platform’s front end is separated from its back end so that you can change your platform anytime. Headless commerce is flexible but more complicated to figure out on your own.

    • BigCommerce enables headless commerce.

For business owners starting out, Shopify is the best overall option because of its convenient and robust all-inclusive platform. Its customizable features and plug-ins are more than enough for most of your business needs, including options for direct selling, multi-channel selling, drop shipping, free themes, payment processing, and unlimited online storage. 

Companies that use Shopify

Fun fact, Shopify’s platform is both user- and creator-friendly. It is used by some of the world’s leading companies for their e-commerce websites.

Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla’s website was initially built by CEO Elon Musk. PepsiCo’s subsidiary brands Pantry Shop and Snacks are also hosted on Shopify, along with Nestlé’s Nescafé and LVMH’s beauty emporium Sephora.


3. Select a template and start customizing your website.

Once you’ve chosen an e-commerce platform, it’s time to select a template (or design a wireframe) for your website. Different template styles, colours, and font styles will alter the virtual store environment, so keep this in mind as you design your customer experience.

A good tactic is to first browse your platform's available templates and themes for an idea of your options. Then, take a pen and paper to draw out your wireframe or a detailed overview of your website’s navigation. You’ll want to include the following common elements in your roadmap:

  • Homepage (what customers will see first)

  • Category pages, including a product page for browsing and selecting

  • Shopping cart and checkout pages

  • About us (who you are, what you sell, your brand’s mission)

  • Contact information

  • Search engine within your site

  • Email subscription form

  • Legal information, such as terms and conditions and privacy policy

Take a peek at other e-commerce websites that sell similar products to similar audiences for inspiration. You can start playing with the platform to customize your online store when you feel comfortable. You’ll want to ensure users can navigate through your virtual store as easily as they would in a brick-and-mortar shop as they click buttons, register for an account, and purchase items with their credit cards.

4. Set up your online store.

Next, it’s time to load your products onto the page. High-quality photos and brand-consistent product descriptions will help your products stand out from the competition. If you have a broad offering, you may want to separate the page into categories, such as by colour, design, or product type. You may want to allow customers to sort or filter by price, new arrivals, or rating.

Assuming your initial launch products are ready, you’ll want to prepare shipping and payment methods to ensure accurate and convenient customer service. Your inventory should match what’s available on the website, and the payment method should be connected to your business bank account. You can easily set up payment on sites like Shopify, or with external add-ons like Square or Stripe.

5. Market your business and prepare for launch.

After you’ve finalized your website, it’s time to launch your business. You can begin experimenting with digital marketing for your brand. Perhaps you can start by using social media, like Instagram and Facebook, to post lifestyle images of your product or service. Promotional copy should tout the benefits and values of your brand.

A launch promotion using sponsored posts or ads can help to boost your brand awareness and penetrate your target audience. Google and Facebook Ads can help your business gain traction and exposure in its early days, while content marketing (such as emails and newsletters) can build a following.

How much does it cost to create an e-commerce website?

Creating an e-commerce website doesn’t have to be expensive. You can build a minimum viable e-commerce site at first and enhance it with a designer or developer later on. To get started lean, here’s what you’ll need:

  • E-commerce platform: A basic Shopify plan costs US$29 per month or US$348 for the year and comes with everything you’ll need to launch your online business [1]. With these types of all-inclusive platforms, you can create a fully functioning website in just a few hours.

  • Domain and name hosting: Some platforms include the domain name and hosting option, while others require them to be purchased separately. A domain can cost as little as $1 a year while hosting can range from a few dollars to $700 monthly.

Once your business starts selling and becoming profitable, you may want to upgrade your branding designs, switch to a regular Shopify plan, or work with a developer to design a fully customized website from scratch. However, plenty of plug-ins are available to enhance Shopify for free.

Shopify plug-ins to boost your website

Here are just two of the hundreds of options for Shopify plug-ins. These will help you display product reviews and enable live chat.

Product Reviews: A simple solution for displaying product reviews, which can help drive sales. Products are 270 per cent more likely to be purchased when it has over five reviews [2].

WhatsApp Shopify: Customers like the option of live chatting with a customer service representative if they have a question or issue. This plug-in allows Shopify users to follow up with customers about order confirmations and deliveries with messages and notifications.


Tips for designing a user-friendly e-commerce website

A user-friendly and functional website can attract more customers to your brand as they glide through an online shopping experience tailored to their needs and desires. Here are some tips for delivering high-quality user experience design:

Simple, clean layout: Incorporate plenty of white space between elements such as images, words, and buttons to create a natural website navigation flow. Visual hierarchy is important—what do users see first, second, and last? How do their eyes travel from one item to the next?

  • Quip, a company that sells user-focused dental hygiene products, is an example of a website with effective use of white space.

Focus on call to action (CTA): Whether you want users to donate money or shop sale items, you’ll want a clear CTA. Typically, this includes leading customers to make a purchase, sign up for a free trial, or subscribe to an email newsletter.

  • Squarespace, a website builder featuring modern templates, has a CTA for users to get started (with a free trial) because they’re convinced you’ll want to continue using their product once you try it

Consistent branding: Consistent branding begins with a solid brand strategy. This includes colours, font styles, graphics, icons, the tone and content of your blog product descriptions, logo, and packaging. Your branding should be consistent across channels.

  • Dropbox, a cloud-based file-sharing platform, has consistent design and fun, vibrant messaging across its social media and website.

Mobile-friendly: The mobile version of your website should deliver the same functionality and brand consistency as its web and mobile app. Reports show that 70 per cent of web traffic comes from mobile phones, while 80 per cent of the top-ranked websites are mobile-friendly [3].

  • Google Maps’s performance, speed, and visuals are the same across its website, mobile website, and mobile app.

Get started in e-commerce with Coursera.

Consider taking the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate to launch your business and start selling products online. You’ll learn the best website-building practices and gain essential tools for marketing your e-commerce business. Supplement this with the Guided Project Create Your E-Commerce Store with Shopify, which provides step-by-step instructions for creating a Shopify store.

If you’re more interested in marketing your e-commerce website on social media platforms, a Professional Certificate in social media marketing from Meta may be a good fit for you. 

Article sources


Shopify. “Set up your store, pick a plan later,” Accessed April 8, 2024.

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