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Purpose – Web design has been identified as a key factor for the acceptance and success of the websites and electronic commerce. The purpose of this paper is to analyse, from a marketing point of view the main aspects that could influence online users' perceptions and behaviours, in order to achieve a successful e-commerce website. Design/methodology/approach – An extensive literature review was developed emphasising the special role that web design could play in the interaction user-interface. Besides, the methodology related to benchmarking allows firms to know the best practices and to learn some key lessons for developing their businesses online. Findings – The literature review affirms that web design is a key factor for getting positive outcomes as it influences on users and online consumers' perceptions and behaviours. A website design addressed to simplicity and freedom of navigation provides clear, timely and accurate information in all its contents and an appearance that calls for the users' attention. Research limitations/implications – The paper offers a Decalogue of guidelines that could improve the design of the e-commerce websites regarding the aesthetic appearance of the website, the navigation through the site, the information and contents and the characteristics of the shopping process. It could be interesting to analyse empirically the impact of all key attributes on the users' perceptions and behaviours. Originality/value – This is one of the first studies which explains how a website must be designed from the demand's perspective. The analysis of the users' perceptions and the marketing view of design could help designers to find the website that best matches their users' needs and so, to improve the relationships between users and companies through their interfaces.
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Web Design: A Key Factor for the Website Success
Carlos Flavián, Raquel Gurrea, Carlos Orús
University of Zaragoza, Spain
Purpose - Web design has been identified as a key factor for the acceptance and success of the
websites and electronic commerce. We analyse from a marketing point of view the main aspects that
could influence online users’ perceptions and behaviours, in order to achieve a successful e-commerce
website.
Design/Methodology/Approach - We developed an extensive literature review emphasizing the
special role that web design could play in the interaction user-interface. Besides, the methodology
related to benchmarking allows firms to know the best practices and to learn some key lessons for
developing their businesses online.
Findings – The literature review allows us to affirm that web design is a key factor for getting positive
outcomes as it influences on users and online consumers’ perceptions and behaviours. A website design
addressed to simplicity and freedom of navigation provides clear, timely and accurate information in all
its contents and an appearance that calls for the users’ attention.
Research limitations/Implications - We offer a Decalogue of guidelines that could improve the
design of the e-commerce websites regarding the aesthetic appearance of the website, the navigation
through the site, the information and contents and the characteristics of the shopping process.
It could be interesting to analyse empirically the impact of all key attributes on the users’ perceptions
and behaviours.
Originality/value - This is one of the first studies which explains how a website must be designed
from the demand’s perspective. The analysis of the users’ perceptions and the marketing view of design
could help designers to find the website that best matches their users’ needs and so, to improve the
relationships between users and companies through their interfaces.
Keywords - web design, usability, web atmospherics, marketing, e-commerce, success.
Article Type – General Review
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1. INTRODUCTION
In the last years, the Internet is being developed with a great growth as a new commercial
channel. In a market with a target of more than 1400 million people (Internet World Stats, 2008) and
more than 70 thousand million dot-com websites in the world (Domain tools, 2008), the opportunities
of trading are almost infinite. Thus, a great increase of competence is occurring, and firms are
questioning what they must do in order to get the best results.
The starting point of the answer could be by understanding what users want. For this reason,
there has been arising a great body of research focused on the factors that affect the success of an e-
commerce website from the users’ perspective (e.g. Jarvenpaa and Todd, 1997; Torkzadeh and Dhillon,
2002). In this line, many studies have identified the web design as a key factor for the development of a
good interface to satisfy consumer needs. A good design is relevant for companies to survive in the
extremely competitive World Wide Web (e.g. Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002; Liang and Lai, 2002;
Tan and Wei, 2006).
This research is focused on the main analysis of the perspectives within the marketing
discipline. These research lines are motivated by the consecution of successful interfaces which
generate positive responses on users (Van der Heijden and Verhagen, 2003; Zviran et al., 2006). Thus,
the web design is important in order to obtain high levels of satisfaction with the website (Kim and
Eom, 2002) or to increase the online purchase intention of the consumer (Swaminathan et al., 1999).
In spite of the importance that web design has for the development of successful virtual stores,
it seems remarkable the relative lack of consensus in the literature about how the factors that compose
the design of the website have to be managed. In this way, we aim at finding answer to the following
research questions:
RQ1: What are the main factors that affect the success of the e-commerce websites from a
consumers’ point of view? What is the role played by web design?
RQ2: Which are the main features of good web design practices carried out by successful
virtual stores?
More concretely, the goal of this research is to argue the relevance of the website design for the
success of the electronic commerce and to propose the main managerial guidelines with the aim of
suggesting adequate structures and designs for the websites.
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Taking these objectives as a reference, in the two following sections we point out a literature
review regarding the key factors of a successful website, analyzing especially the relevance of the
website design. The next epigraph develops the key guidelines for the success of the online businesses
and finally, this study presents the discussion and conclusions related to this interesting topic.
2. FACTORS AFFECTING THE SUCCESS OF E-COMMERCE WEBSITE
In the last years, a great amount of researchers have made efforts in order to establish which
factors may lead to the success of a website. In this sense, the marketing literature has stressed the
users’ point of view to define how an e-commerce website must be for being successful. In general
terms, and in the context of electronic commerce, a successful website “is one that attracts customers,
makes them feel the site is trustworthy, dependable, and reliable and generates customer satisfaction”
(Liu and Arnett, 2000, p. 24).
Following this concept, some authors have emphasised the consumers’ beliefs and perceptions
of the value created by the characteristics of the websites (Keeney, 1999; Torkzadeh and Dhillon,
2002); some others have pointed out the main features of websites’ quality from a consumer’s view
(Aladwani and Palvia, 2002; Van der Heijden and Verhagen, 2003). Besides, several research lines
have been developed with the aim of remarking those determinant factors and emphasizing the
importance of achieving the online customer satisfaction (e.g. Zviran et al., 2006) and the impact on his
purchase intention (Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002). In this way, we could point out the research
developed by Jarvenpaa and Tood (1997), who examined online consumers’ perceptions to identify the
aspects that could influence their attitudes and intentions to buy on the Internet. These authors affirmed
that the aspects related to the perceptions about the products, the shopping experience (e.g. required
effort, convenience), the services (e.g. adequate information and attractive appearance) and the
perceived risk (e.g. pay, possible dissatisfaction), affect significantly the consumers’ attitudes and
intentions to buy.
We could also mention the research carried out by Huizingh (2000), who focused on the content
and design in order to develop an instrument to analyse the success of the websites. This study captured
objective measures as well as consumer perceptions related to the commercial and non-commercial
information, transaction information, navigation structure, search functions or perceptions about the
quality of the structure, image and presentation style of the websites. The results revealed the great
importance of considering user perceptions for the analysis of the websites. Nevertheless, according to
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the author, the success also depends on external variables, such as the source, the type of industry and
the size of the website.
Moreover, Liu and Arnett (2000) based their studies on the key factors of the website success in
order to enhance the levels of customer satisfaction. With this purpose, the authors identified the
determinants of a successful e-commerce website related to the information provided by it, the
familiarity with it, the emotions that it generates, and the quality of its service and system. Using a
group of experts’ evaluation, they concluded that the success of an electronic commerce website
depends mainly on the ease of use of the system, the quality of the information and the service, the
quality of the design of the website and the feelings of hedonic pleasure provided.
Besides, Ranganathan and Ganapathy (2002) analysed the key characteristics of the electronic
commerce websites in order to enhance the purchase intentions of the online consumer. The results
revealed that the aspects associated to the security are the most outstanding in getting positive online
purchase intention, as well as the privacy of personal information, the quality of the visual design, and
the importance of offering a good information and navigation.
Consequently, it is possible to note the relevance of presenting high quality information, good
contents and an efficient and attractive navigation. These aspects have been identified by Alba et al.
(1997) and Geyskens et al. (2000) as the most important advantages of the online activity. Moreover, it
seems remarkable that the majority of the studies emphasise the importance of the website design in
order to get optimal results in the virtual channel.
3. THE RELEVANCE OF WEB DESIGN FOR THE E-COMMERCE
The design of websites has been widely studied from multiple points of view, most of them
have identified the factors that could determine the degree of acceptation of the websites (e.g. Hoque
and Lohse, 1999; Childers et al., 2001; Liang and Lai, 2002; Kim and Stoel, 2004; Wilde et al., 2004;
Görn et al., 2004). According to Cato (2001, p. 3), designing is “the process of creating an artefact with
structure of form which is planned, artistic, coherent, purposeful, and useful”. From a consumer
perspective, a website must be designed with all these features in order to arouse the affective states of
the users and to enhance their online visits or purchase intentions.
As the Internet and the Electronic Commerce are evolving, different points of view are arising
to determine which could be the key factors of website design. In this sense, usability studies what
elements must have a website so that the consumer can manage it easily. Nielsen (1994) defines the
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usability of a website as the ease with which the user can learn to manage the system and memorise the
basic functions, the efficiency of design of the site, the degree of error avoidance and the general
satisfaction of the user. More specifically, the usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user
interfaces are to use, and we can identify five dimensions or quality attributes: learnability, efficiency,
memorability, errors, and satisfaction (Nielsen, 2003).
Following this line, the usability can also be understood as a tool for measuring the quality of a
website (Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002). Thus, the ease of use of a system could improve a more
complex learning and a higher ability to anticipate how that system will perform. Specifically, usability
improves the best understanding of the contents and tasks that the consumer has to know for the
achievement of a goal (e.g. to place an order). This reduces the probability of error and improves the
levels of trust (Muir and Moray, 1996). Besides, usability is related to the consumer ability to identify
where he or she is and what he or she can do in every moment of the navigation.
With reference to the design factors of a website, a good design must provide not only beauty
and appeal, but also high levels of usability, since it influences the affective states of the user (Desmet
and Hekker, 2007). Thus, a well-designed website should ensure a high level of usability (Cristóbal,
2006). An attractive design can evoke feelings of pleasure in the use of a website (Flavián and Gurrea,
2008). As a consequence, an adequate degree of usability, related to a comfortable atmosphere, could
create a positive bias in the consumer. In fact, a good level of perceived usability could lead to higher
levels of satisfaction, trust and loyalty towards a specific website (Flavián et al., 2006; Kim and Eom,
2002; Chen et al., 1999).
Regarding commercial transactions, users may infer a higher quality of a product from its
beauty which in turn implies higher levels of usability (Desmet and Hekker, 2007). So, we could note
herein that usability and web design are highly correlated. Table 1 shows some of the main studies that
point out the existence of a clear relationship between the concepts of usability and web design.
With this regard, we could stress the study carried out by Keeker (1997) who proposed several
guidelines in order to improve the ease of use of the website and to encourage people to enjoy and
become engaged in an experience. The author based his assumptions on a well-known group of online
firms to identify the key aspects and to offer some recommendations related to the content of the
websites (such as the information, the use of media -animation, sound, graphics-), the ease of use
(provide goals to users, navigation, feedback), the promotion of the content (i.e. location, frequency of
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updates), the specific content related for the media (i.e. community, customization) and the affective
response of the consumer.
Table 1. Web design and usability
Author(s) Factors Aims Methodology Results
Keeker (1997)
Content Quality
Ease of Use
Promoting Content
Made for the Medium
Content
Emotional Response
Analyse of usability and
marketing research on the
Microsoft Network (MSN)
Cases Study Guidelines for the designers in order to improve:
Usability
Appeal
Benbunan
(2001)
Content
Navigation
Interactivity
Evaluate the e-commerce
website usability
Protocol Analysis
(experiential evaluation)
Problems related to website content, navigation and
interactivity
Importance of offering an efficient navigation in
order to achieve the user pleasure
Better usability does not imply preference for a
website, but it results in a more successful
interaction and may help the user to make a
purchase
Agarwal and
Venkatesh
(2002)
Content
Ease of Use
Promotion
Specific Content
Emotion
Develop an instrument for
measuring the usability of
a website (Design as a key
tool, based on Keeker,
1997)
Heuristic Evaluation:
Group of experts
Questionnaires to users
The salience of usability characteristics depends on
the user task and industry
In general terms, the content characteristics are the
most important
Palmer (2002) Download Delay
Navigation
Content
Interactivity
Responsiveness
Develop and validate
website usability, design
and performance metrics.
Longitudinal study of
corporate websites:
jury (users role)
third-party ratings
software experts
High correlation between web design, usability and
media richness for the success of a website
Website success measures:
Usability: download delay, content, navigation
Media richness: interactivity and responsiveness
Hu, Shima,
Oehlmann,
Zhao, Takemura
and Matsumoto
(2004)
Title Format
Title Position
Menu Size
Clipart Size
Background Colour
Colour Brightness
Colour Harmonization
Examine the relationship
between the audience
impressions and the visual
style of a website.
Identify cultural
differences on website
perceptions
Cross-cultural (Japan,
China, UK)
Self-reported
questionnaires
Causal relationship between website usability and
visual design perceptions
Significant differences in subjects’ perceptions
depending on the country and the characteristics of
the user
Trade-off between different design combinations to
create an optimal visual design
Zviran, Glezer
and Avni (2006)
Usability
User-based Design:
Content
Navigation
Search
Performance
Investigate the effects of
usability and user-based
design on the user
satisfaction
Online survey
Perceptual maps
Differences in the effectiveness of the variables
depending on the task and the type of purchase
Highest satisfaction for online Shopping and
customer self-service websites.
Source: Own research (2008)
In a similar way, Palmer (2002) proposed and validated measures of websites’ usability and
design, identifying aspects related to the response time (download delay), the organization of the
contents (navigation), and the information and contents of the website (content). The research also
established that the characteristics of the media richness, such as the capability of the website for
customizing the appearance and the contents (interactivity), and the presence of feedback between the
vendor and the consumer, were determinants of the success of a website.
In this line, the marketing literature has studied how the factors that define the store
environment influence the consumer’s mood and purchase behaviour (Baker, 1986; Donovan et al.,
1994; Spies et al., 1997; Turley and Milliman, 2000). Design factors related to visual cues (e.g., layout,
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colour) are important to get a positive response from the consumer and to facilitate consumer goals
(Eroglu et al., 2001). This issue has been taken to the web environment and has been adapted to e-
commerce. Dailey (2004) defines web atmospherics as the intended design of web environments to
generate positive effects (cognitive and affective) on the consumer in order to increase positively the
consumer responses. Among these responses, it is possible to note the higher level of visits or the
longer time browsing in the website, in order to turn the user of a website into a client.
In this sense, Van der Heijden and Verhagen (2003) examined the image elements in a virtual
store that could increase the purchase intentions in the user, identifying the factors of design as the
most important. We can also take into account the study carried out by Kim and Stoel (2004), who
demonstrated that the factors of web appearance can lead to higher consumer satisfaction (see Table 2).
The development of a good website design turns into a key question, since it will determine the entry of
the consumer to the store (Melián and Padrón, 2006).
Into the website design, the literature has also revealed that visual aspects play an important role
for the website success (see Table 2). Specifically, Dailey (1999) and Eroglu et al., (2001) analysed the
influence of web atmosphere on consumers and verified that the insights of this atmosphere influence
the cognitive and affective states of the consumer, and as a consequence the purchase behaviour
towards the website. Tan and Wei (2006) proposed that the appearance of the website is an
instrumental factor that improves the perception of information in order for subjects to perform better
cognitive mapping and better assessments of the decisions for execution. More specifically, these
authors suggest that the graphical representations such as icons, colours, images and animations, give
website a higher vividness. This fact could improve the degree of individuals’ satisfaction with the web
page and the navigation sensations (Zhang et al., 2000).
Table 2. Web Design and elements of establishment atmosphere
Author(s) Factors Aims Methodology Results
Eroglu,
Machleit and
Davis (2001)
Atmospheric elements
of the online store
Analyse the influence of
the atmospheric cues on
the cognitive and affective
status of the user
Development of a
theoretical model based on
the S-O-R paradigm
(stimulus, organism,
response)
The online retail store’s environment is divided into
two categories: high task-relevant information and low
task-relevant information (stimulus)
Theoretical and practical review from the perspective
of atmospherics
Liang and
Lai (2002)
Motivation factors
Hygiene factors
Media Richness
factors
Examine the effect of the
quality design of the online
store on the purchase
decision
Experiment
ANOVA
Experts and consumers
Best considered elements for purchasing through the
Internet: security, search engines, easy to sign up,
home delivery and product organization
Consumers are more likely to visit and purchase at
well-designed stores
Van der
Heijden and
Verhagen
(2003)
Usefulness
Enjoyment
Ease of Use
Store Style
Familiarity
Trustworthiness
Develop a scale for
measuring the quality of
the online store image
Method of development of
scales proposed by
Churchill G. (1979)
Experiment with students
The attitude towards purchasing online can be
explained by four dimensions: trustworthiness,
settlement performance, usefulness and enjoyment
Ease of use, store style and familiarity had no
significant effects
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Settlement
Performance
Kim and Stoel
(2004)
Web Appearance
Entertainment
Information Fit-to-
Task
Transaction Capability
Response Time
Trust
Determine the
dimensionality of the
website quality (1)
Identifying which
dimensions were
significant predictors of the
consumer satisfaction (2)
Questionnaire to female
online shoppers
Principal component
analysis (1)
Structural Equation Model
(2)
Multidimensionality of the website quality
Information fit-to-task, transaction capability and
response time are significant predictors of the
consumer satisfaction
Richard (2005)
Navigational
Characteristics
Structure
Effectiveness of
Information Content
Informativeness
Organization
Entertainment
Explore the surfer
behaviour and the user
purchase intention (based
on Eroglu et al., 2001)
Structural equation model Navigational characteristics affect positively on
purchase intention
Direct relationship between website involvement and
purchase intention
Significant relationship between website attitudes and
the degree of involvement
Khakimdjanova
and Park
(2005)
Presentation
Technique
Supplementary
Presentation
Aesthetics of
Presentation
Display Structure and
the Layout
Explore the practices of
visual merchandising
among the online stores,
differentiating on the type
of business
Exploratory survey of 32
websites (Top 100 of the
magazine Stores)
The authors identify strengths and limitations of the
websites
There are no differences between “click” and “click-
and-mortar” stores
There are differences between specialty and
department stores
Tractinsky and
Lowengart
(2007)
“Classical” aspects
“Expressive” aspects
Examine the role of
aesthetics in the online
businesses
Theoretical model based
on the Elaboration
Likelihood Model (ELM)
(Petty and Cacioppo, 1981)
The user and design characteristics influence the
perceptions of the aesthetics
Different aesthetic design implications, depending on
type of user, purchase and product
Differences effects derived from type of product,
industry and consumer
Source: Own research (2008)
So, a great part of the literature remarks the relevance of aspects such as an appropriate
appearance, the easiness for navigation, the ease of use, the security and privacy or the content and
information. These factors are determinants of consumers’ behaviour and consequently, of the website
success in the e-commerce context. However, it seems remarkable the relative lack of consensus in the
literature about how those factors have to be managed. Consequently, it seems necessary to develop a
series of guidelines in order to design interfaces that satisfy the users and organizations’ needs.
4. GUIDELINES FOR THE SUCCESS OF ONLINE BUSINESSES
Taking into account the high competition in the new electronic environment and the growing
interest of e-businesses in developing websites which satisfy the users as much as possible, this
research proposes a series of guidelines in order to suggest adequate structures and design of the
websites.
In this line, the literature review allows us to state the importance of web design in order to get
positive outcomes in the electronic commerce context. However, achieving an efficient design is not an
easy task. There are a lot of factors to take into account, not only in terms of design itself, but also in
terms of possible costs derived from the implementation and maintenance of the website, and the
possible losses in the download speed because of the use of design tools. It emerges a challenge for e-
businesses, since the limited dimensions of the computer screen imply that designers have to carefully
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manage the design alternatives, displaying the options that reflect the essence of the website in the best
way and satisfying the users and consumers’ needs.
Bearing in mind all above, this research could offer some recommendations which may lead in a
right way the effectiveness of a website. Firstly, given the fact that the shopping window is the same as
the computer screen in an e-store (Eroglu et al., 2001), it seems reasonable to tackle the websites’
navigation and appearance cues:
The managers of the website design should make an effort to offer a navigation characterized by
simplicity (Gehrke and Turban, 1999), and in addition that it allows to users a certain degree of
freedom (Lorenzo and Mollá, 2007). In this way, the possibility of enjoying a free navigation leads to
consumer’s positive outcomes, such as higher satisfaction with the website and a higher purchase
intentions (Richard, 2005; Zviran et al., 2006).
The addition of sophisticated search engines in the websites is a key aspect highlighted by the
specialized literature for improving the users’ valuations of a website (Liang and Lai, 2002). The
managers of websites should take care on the effectiveness of their search engines, offering timely and
accurate answers to the consumers’ requests. Thus, the online store Amazon.com (www.amazon.com)
represents a good example of efficient search engines, allowing users to search for products in every
page of the site and offering advanced search functions for products’ categories and subcategories (see
Figure 1).
Figure 1. Amazon search functions (www.amazon.com)
Furthermore, the websites should provide a good level of download speed (Lohse and Spiller,
1999) of the page. In this sense, a more downloading time, derived from overloads in the contents or
even in the use of images, could lead users to avoid the website and leave it. Thus, it is necessary to get
a well-balanced equilibrium between the appearance of the website and its downloading speed.
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In this way, the possibility of controlling in which place and moment the user is during the
navigation has turned into a key factor for improving the use of a website. A simple aspect such as
incorporating a backward button is highly valuated by the users. Similarly, the presence of a map of the
site is specially considered by the more experienced users. Besides, the capability of the website to
offer an efficient shopping process, displaying a process step-by-step in a clear and easy way (Gehrke
and Turban, 1999) has been revealed in the literature as another key aspect for determining consumer
behaviour (Eroglu et al., 2001). In this line, we could mention the case of Dell’s online shop
(www.dell.com), where the user knows where he is at every moment of the navigation. Moreover, the
shopping process is displayed in four simple visually stages. All these features allow a high control by
the user during the navigation and the purchase process (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Dell shopping process (www.dell.com)
The appearance of a website, in terms of store aesthetics, has also to be considered for achieving
a successfully website design. In this way, the first impression of a website determines the user
evaluation of that website (Tractinsky and Lowengart, 2007), so that influences on his perceptions and
behaviours (Hu et al., 2004). Specifically, the aesthetic aspects could affect the consumer in a great
extent, such as on the satisfaction with the website as well as the shopping motivations (Zhang and Von
Dran, 2000). According to Liang and Lai (2002), consumers tend to purchase more in well-designed
websites. Besides, the aesthetic appearance of a website becomes an assessing method of the website
credibility (Fogg et al., 2002). In this line, a bad-designed website may represent a good reason not to
shop on that website (Jarvenpaa and Todd, 1997). Thus, the management of visual features is revealed
as the main tool in order to improve the attractiveness of a website. As a consequence, the development
of a website with a good use of images, graphics, icons, animations or colours, may represent a
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potential source to offer a more vivid website and to get a positive response of the consumer (Zhang et
al., 2000; Lee and Benbasat, 2003; Görn et al., 2004).
As important as an adequate structure of the website, is also a good content that could be able to
satisfy the needs of the online consumer. Thus, it seems interesting to analyse the cues related to the
content provided by the website. Organizing and managing the information displayed in a website in an
efficient way could become another key issue in order to achieve the success of an online business. The
design managers should take into account the content of the information that they provide in the
website. In this sense, we could consider the need to offer quality information as an important factor to
get high levels of users’ satisfaction (Agarwall and Venkatesh, 2002; Kim and Stoel, 2004).
Specifically, the effectiveness of the information content affects the user’s degree of involvement and
improves his purchase intention (Richard, 2005). Consequently, it seems recommendable to display the
contents with timely, updated, understandable and relevant information.
The information related to the shopping processes has been emphasised as another critical
aspect in order to achieve an effective e-commerce website, as Schubert and Selz (1999) indicated.
More specifically, the designers should take care of the information quality related to the products and
services supplied in the e-store (Huizingh, 2000) and to offer any additional information that could be
useful for the consumer (Lohse and Spiller, 1999). Besides, the e-businesses should stress the
importance of the security and privacy concerns along the commercial transactions (e.g. Torkzadeh and
Dhillon, 2002; Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002). In this way, the low cost airlines’ websites, such as
Clickair (www.clickair.com), could be considered a case of good practices. This website offers
information not only related to the conditions of the flights, but also with accommodation at the
destination, transport to the airports or even the possibility of renting a car once the traveller has arrived
to the destination (see Figure 3).
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Figure 3. Clickair front page (www.clickair.com)
Searching for commercial information about products and services is one of the most performed
activities that users carry out through the Internet (European Interactive Advertising Association,
2007). Thus, offering accurate information could be a source for obtaining potential users and
consumers. Specifically, the last goal of a website should be to show quality information about the
products and services characteristics (Liang and Lai, 2002).
In this way, the visual aspects play an important role. On one hand, the use of product images with
a proper size and quality becomes a key question so that the user could acquire a better knowledge
about the product (Lee and Benbasat, 2003) and could make a more efficient shopping decision.
Besides, the interactive visualization tools (e.g. motion and animations) may create a better match
between the task and the decision environment, which improves the quality of the information and
reduces the effort required (Erick and Wills, 1995). Thus, we could mention the case of the Nokia’s
website (www.nokia.co.uk), where the use of high-quality images and the availability of a 360º view
stress the beauty and quality of its products. This fact allows users to see all the visual details that
implies greater amount of information and therefore a better knowledge of the product (see Figure 4).
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Figure 4. Nokia product presentation (www.nokia.co.uk)
5. CONCLUSIONS
In the last years, the growing development of the Internet is related to an extremely competitive
context. This research has focused on the specialized literature and empirical evidences about the main
factors which affect the levels of success of the companies in the electronic commerce. More
specifically, it is possible to emphasise the aspects related to websites design.
The first research question presented in this study referred to the identification of the main
factors that affect the success of the e-commerce websites from a consumer’s point of view. The
literature review allows us to affirm that web design is a key factor for getting positive outcomes as it
influences on users and online consumers’ perceptions and behaviours. In this way, the design of
websites represents an excellent framework for online firms to generate users’ satisfaction, trust, and
positive intentions towards the website. In particular, we have pointed out the link between web design
and usability in order to make it easier for users to navigate through the website, allowing them to
control their own tasks and giving them freedom sensations during the navigation. Besides, the
importance of web atmospherics has been revealed to attract users’ attention to the website, to improve
users’ knowledge about the company’s offering and to encourage users’ purchase intentions. Therefore,
the role played by web design is crucial for getting website’s success. In addition, we have stressed
several examples of good design practices in order to find out which are the main characteristics related
to web design performed by successful virtual stores.
14
Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to propose that there is not a unique optimal design, since it
depends on the type of product commercialized, the type of user that is front of the screen, or even on
the geographic location where the website is being visited. All these factors could determine the
success of a given website. In general terms, users are more predisposed to visit and/or purchase in
well-designed websites (Liang and Lai, 2002), but there are different combinations which could lead to
the creation of an optimal design (Hu et al., 2004). Investment in designing is needed for establishing
perceptions of trust in users’ minds so that it generates more online purchase intentions (Schlosser et
al., 2006).
Despite this fact, we could argue that a website design addressed to simplicity and freedom of
navigation provides clear, timely and accurate information in all its contents and an appearance that
calls for the users’ attention. This may lead to a virtual store with high probability of success. Besides,
the aspects related to the privacy and security must be considered in every time and place of the
website.
In this context, this paper proposes a series of guidelines in order to establish the key aspects for
the achievement of high levels of success of online business. Thus, we offer a Decalogue of actuations
that could improve the design of the e-commerce websites (see Table 3). This Decalogue could be
particularly useful for designers in order to determine the basic elements that must be considered when
designing a website. More concretely, we have noticed that online users’ point of view has to be
emphasised in every aspect of the websites; thus, the dimensions identified in this series of
recommendations establish the basis to influence online users’ perceptions and behaviours, and
therefore to determine the website’ success.
Firstly, it seems reasonable to take into account the aesthetic appearance of the website, since
the first impression will determine the relationship between the consumer and the firm (Robins and
Holmes, 2008), so a bad designed website may represent a good reason not to shop on it. Secondly, the
navigation through the website has to be considered, specially attending to the simplicity and the
possibility of controlling by the users, which improves the ease of use of the site and the feelings of
freedom during the navigation. Thirdly, e-firms have to carefully manage the information and contents
of the website, displaying good quality information in adequate forms. Lastly, the characteristics of the
shopping process have been revealed as a critical aspect for the achievement of a successfully e-
commerce website. It would be desirable that designers try to homogenize the stages of the shopping
15
process in order for users to better know and learn the commercial process in the Internet and may feel
more self-confident to purchase a product.
Table 3. Decalogue for improving the websites’ design
Dimension Guidelines Tools
Appearance 1) Launch a good appearance is important for getting
high levels of credibility in the website, which leads
users to trust.
2) Offer vividness in the website to get a positive
response by the consumer
3) Find a well-balanced equilibrium between the
aesthetic appearance and the download speed
Visualization Tools
- Images
- Graphics
- Icons
- Animations
- Colours…
Navigation 4) Offer a navigation characterized by simplicity
5) Allow users to control where he/she is in every
moment during the navigation and what he/she can do
Map of the site
Backward button
Search engine
Content 6) Organize and manage the contents in a clear way
making ease the search of information
7) Provide quality information/contents
Information:
- Updated
- Comprehensible
- Relevant
Visualization tools:
- Product images with proper size and
quality
Shopping process 8) Offer an efficient and easy shopping process
9) Provide quality information of the products and
services offered
10) Emphasise privacy and security aspects
Shopping process step-by-step (no more than five
stages)
Links with useful information for the purchase
(related products, overviews, additional
information)
Privacy and security information in all the stages
of the shopping process
As we have mentioned, these guidelines could represent the basis for the development of
successful e-commerce websites. Many web designers have been mistakenly guided by the challenges
of technology rather than users’ needs (Helander and Khalid, 2000), developing more sophisticated
designs regardless of what their visitors want. Although there is no doubt that these tools affect
consumers in a great extent, it always be essential to follow the basic rules of design, that is, create a
reliable appearance and experience, and make the web site easy to use and navigate (Zhang and Myers,
2005)
Finally, regarding the growing interest in this analysis topic in the literature and in the
management scope, it seems necessary to propose some further research lines. It could be interesting to
analyse empirically the impact of all key attributes on the users’ perceptions and behaviours. Thus, the
use of experimental evaluations could be appropriated for our research, since this method is particularly
useful when the website is being designed (Benbunan, 2001). Also, it would be interesting to analyse
some moderating effects in the relationships proposed. We have pointed out that perceptions about
design may change depending on the users’ characteristics or external variables. Specifically, it could
16
be desirable to study the moderating role of variables such as Internet user experience, product class
knowledge or examining cultural differences on users and websites.
17
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