How To Make an Effective eCommerce Website

Abbey McGrew

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*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Arek Dvornechuck: Hey, what's up, branding experts Arek here from Ebaqdesign, and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And my guest today is Abby, and Abby founded Wayfarer Design Studio, which helps e-commerce founders bring their brands to life through visual identity, packaging, and web design. So she believes that great branding goes beyond just aesthetics and always tries to find a way to infuse deeper meaning in every aspect of her work. Hello, Abby. Thanks for joining us today.

Abbey McGrew: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you so much. So, first of all, I really like your work. You have a great website, great design. I know you work with E-commerce brands, right? Like, in beauty, in fashion, in home goods, and so on. I wanted to focus our conversation around building an e-commerce brand. Since you have a lot of experience in doing so. And maybe we can talk about, the importance of branding when it comes to building an e-commerce brand. Can you just talk to us how did you get to e-commerce? How did you start your journey as a branding expert? And can you just talk to us about your journey?

Abbey McGrew: Yeah, so I knew that I wanted to be a designer and do branding and everything from a very young age. I actually, decided I wanted to do design when I was like 13 because of MySpace. Back in the MySpace days, I was just obsessed with adding code to my MySpace profile page and changing how it looked. So that's really whenever I first, started this journey and discovered like the impact of design. I went to school for design. I got my degree and then very shortly after graduating, and I'm from the US so I went to school in the US and very shortly after graduating I started freelancing and started Wayfarer, my design studio. So, that was my journey and that was back in 2016 whenever I first started freelancing and working with clients.

Arek Dvornechuck: Okay, awesome. Now you've worked with quite a few e-commerce brands, helping them rethink their user experience, their website their design, their strategies, and so on. So can you just talk to us about, from your own experience, what are some of the key elements of an effective e-commerce website? Because it's not just about aesthetics as you talk a lot about on your website, right? It is also about the strategy behind the design it's about all those different aspects. So can you just talk to us, what do you think are the key elements of building a successful e-commerce brand?

Abbey McGrew: Yeah, I think with websites specifically a big mistake that a lot of founders end up making that kind of costs them with their website is they're only thinking about the things that they want to show on the website and what they want people to see and do and not maybe thinking about what an actual user's priorities are going to be whenever they get on the website. For e-commerce, of course, you want people to buy something, but not everyone is ready to buy something when they first land on your website. And that's always something that we, end up working through with our clients is helping them uncover what the actual priorities of their ideal customer are, and what's gonna build their trust. Cuz a lot of times it is about building trust with a customer so that they do feel ready to buy. So what are the sections and things that we can include in the website that are gonna help boost their credibility? Build that trust in their product. And also, even after all of that, if someone isn't ready to buy, what's the plan B? What's the other way to nurture that customer and maintain a relationship, whether that's through a newsletter or, reading a blog or following on Instagram or whatever. I think that founders can often just focus on "They're gonna land on my website and instantly buy a product" but that's rarely how it happens. And so with design and with web strategy, it's really about thinking about all of the possible avenues that someone could take on that site. And of course, keeping them on the site for longer.

Arek Dvornechuck: That's a good point actually. Only a small percentage of your visitors will be ready to just buy from you right away. But most likely, they're just gonna visit your website, check out your products, check out your competitors. So it's important, as you mentioned, it's important to also think about the whole user experience, right? What if they don't buy right away? Maybe we should have a blog. Maybe we should have them sign up to our newsletter so we can follow up with them. Maybe we can offer them a special discount code or stuff like that, and retarget them and remarket to them. I think, that's a very important point. And also that you mentioned about strategy, which I wanted to talk about. So we have a brand strategy, and then you also mentioned, Web strategy. So can you talk to us a bit about your process?

Let's say there is a new brand or a business that wants to rebrand. What's your typical process when working with clients? I assume you start with this strategy, what kind of elements you're trying to figure out vision, mission, values, and so on. And then, How you translate those findings into actual design and messaging.

Abbey McGrew: So a lot of times we are working with people who are creating a product that is disrupting their industry. Somehow they've either created something that's totally new, they're trying to like, get a patent for it. Or they're just, Kind of reframing a type of product, doing it in a different way. But those are usually the types of clients that we're working with. So our main focus whenever we start is, as far as the strategy goes, is we're always trying to figure out how can we, position you as someone doing something new and different within your industry. And also usually educating on how you're different and building trust in that. Because if people are used to things all being the same way and you're offering something different, then that's gonna be hard to convince them, like why your new option is better. So those are some specific things that we have in mind and whenever we start the strategy and brand direction process Usually we're focusing on, like you mentioned, the values, the vision behind the brand what the personality needs to be. And of course, specifically thinking about the target customer or the audience and trying to dig deeper. I think with every product there's like an obvious problem that it solves, but we try to push our clients to dig a little bit deeper than that and think, okay, well sure your product solves this very obvious problem, but like, why is solving that problem important to someone's everyday life? How's it gonna impact them beyond that? So those are some things that we're thinking about. And then we're definitely looking at competitors since they are usually in a crowded industry and trying to position themselves as very different. We're looking to see are there any common themes or trends within their competitors branding, their packaging, their websites. Is everyone using the same color? Is everyone using the same tone of voice? Yeah. Those are, that's a broad view of, all these different things that we're looking at.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right. But I think you nailed it. So I have some notes for our listeners. So basically you're strong on positioning. So that's the first thing you mentioned then and I think it's a good point that you're making here, because you mentioned that you usually work with brands that have, quite, new products or have like innovative product or something. Like they try to carve out a need for themselves, but other than that they still need to position themselves right against their competitors. So positioning is very important how they perceive you in the marketplace. And then you also focus on the target audience, right? And, on trying to find what are the benefits to them, right? And then use that maybe in messaging and try to convey those benefits. So connect with audience and then also you look at trends you mentioned about trends. Can we leverage those trends? What are the trends in the industry? So you look at the competitors, you analyze the marketplace and then you make some decisions whether to incorporate those trends or go against those trends and stuff like that, right? So once the strategy is done, as you mentioned.

Let's say we have the mission, vision personality, tone of voice and so on. What's next? What would be the next step in your process?

Abbey McGrew: Yeah, so then it's all about figuring out how do we translate these things to actual design? And usually my first step as like the head designer is, I'm trying to think of what symbolism or specific styles or, colors are gonna best align with these key themes or ideas or emotions that we've decided need to come across. And that's, just a brainstorming exercise and trying to figure out what's a symbol that we could possibly, Weave into the logo, whether that's icons or maybe it's just choosing, a style of font that kind of references something else. But yeah, trying to find how can we use symbolism throughout the design in a way that the client is gonna feel like. Is representing them really well and capturing what they want to say. But on the flip side of that, their target audience is going to interpret the way that we want them to, and sometimes it's not obvious, or sometimes it's not like literal symbolism, like saying for, we've worked with some candle brands.

Maybe it's not literal that we want to use, an icon of a candle or a flame in the logo. Maybe it's something that connects to what we wanna say, but it's a bit more abstract. But, we still feel that the target audience is like subconsciously gonna understand the things that we're trying to say

Arek Dvornechuck: That totally makes sense. I like what you said that, your logo doesn't have to always illustrate what you're doing. It can incorporate some abstract symbolism into your logo, into your identity, and same pertaining to colors and style and so on.

So probably, this is the most time consuming part when it comes to branding, right? Because you had to do a lot of brainstorming and trying to figure out what symbols, colors, style, photography, what kind of visual elements we can create that would differentiate the brand, but also convey whatever the founders want to convey.

And at the same time, the target audience needs to, relate understand the symbolisms of, those colors subconsciously at least, right? And communicate what the brand is. So they can understand. I think we've covered that. Now I just wanted to also talk about some of the technical aspects of, building an e-commerce site.

Do you prefer any platform? How do you build your websites? Do you use Shopify? Do you build them from scratch? And can you talk to us a bit about the tech stack, what kind of technology do you use to build your websites and maybe a little bit about SEO, optimizing for load speed and coming up with, taking great photos of the products, maybe we can talk about packaging and stuff like that.

Abbey McGrew: Yeah. So platform-wise, we definitely prefer Shopify. That's the only website platform that now we're offering our services for. Whenever I first started designing, I actually mainly worked in WordPress, but that was before I'd really wanted to kind of niche down to working with e-commerce clients.

So back in the day I was coding full websites and WordPress from scratch, which was a lot of work to do that. But now, yeah, we mainly work with Shopify just cuz I think it's the best option for e-commerce I've done e-commerce sites on Squarespace or on WordPress, but, as far as the features go on the backend, it's hard cuz I think we'll have people who come to us who've used Wix or they've used Squarespace before when they've D-I-Yd their site and Sure. It's definitely easier to like, build the layout that you want if you're trying to DIY it, as the founder.

But, Shopify just by far, has better features and capabilities on the backend that are more specific to an e-commerce business. And yeah, it's hard though. I understand people who are just getting started with their business maybe can't afford to hire a web designer yet. And they just have to build everything themselves.

They often get very frustrated with Shopify because, they pick a theme and they just wish that they could make it look different and they don't understand how. But, we always encourage, encourage them. I feel like when you, understand how to stretch Shopify themes using some code it's incredible what you can do by just adding, some CSS to a Shopify theme.

But of course you just have to have the knowledge and the experience to be able to do that, which is, what web designers brings to the table. Yeah. We typically work with a Shopify theme. We can do it custom, if they need to, but to be honest, most businesses, especially, the startups that we usually work with, most of them don't need a fully custom built Shopify site.

I feel like using a theme can be, Such a great asset. It's just really speeding up the process. It's giving you the framework already built out. You can add css, make it look however you want it to. But yeah, just choosing a theme that has the features that you want, it just helps you skip a step and gets you the website that you want faster. Of course, if you have very specific needs for your site. Lots of like special sections that a typical theme can't provide, then yeah, maybe it's better to build it custom, from scratch. But most of the time we're starting with a theme.

Arek Dvornechuck: I totally agree. A lot of designers actually they are skeptical about using templates and stuff like that. But I think is, as you mentioned, its a great way to speed up the process and basically think about this.

There are companies who specialize in just, making those premium themes. These are not cheap templates. They're quite expensive. They cost like a few hundred dollars, right? They're well-built, they're responsive, they have all these features, all kind of sections that you need, and you can basically customize it. Once your strategy is done and you're trying to figure out how to translate the strategy into design at this step, you can find, the theme that fits your needs most. And then, what would be the easier, like what would be the easiest theme to work with that covers all your needs, and then is also, flexible so you can customize it to your needs.

It looks like it's not a template actually, its custom built. I don't work with e-commerce clients, but I work with other brands, but I do some similar things, with Webflow, like for example, from my past client I've done that as well. Sometimes, I build websites from scratch, as you mentioned.

But most likely it's just about selecting the right template and using it as a base and then, Customizing it in terms of, colors and the whole identity, so it doesn't look like a theme, but you saved a lot of time in this process and it's also cost effective for the entrepreneur, right? Do you have any other tips for entrepreneurs who are just starting out or brands who are, growing and they think about rebranding? Maybe they started with Wix, as you mentioned. I have a lot of clients also approach me now. They build their first website on Wix or Squarespace.

They want to rebrand, they want to get to that next level. They want to improve conversions build some more awareness in the marketplace. Do you have any specific tips or maybe, you wanna talk about, mistakes that entrepreneurs often make and how to avoid them?

Abbey McGrew: Yeah, one thing That comes to mind first is to make sure you know what the real problem is and figure out like what the best solution, actually is because a lot of times people will come to us and say, "We already have the brand. We just want a new website."

Like maybe they were on Wix and they just wanna switch to Shopify, and they think that that's gonna solve everything but, maybe the reason why their, Wix site isn't generating the sales that they want is because their branding isn't memorable. And people, click to their site and then go to a competitor and the competitor stands out to them more. So that's really why, maybe switching to Shopify is gonna be helpful for them, but the real root of the problem is, the branding and not necessarily the website. So that's one thing to be mindful of, figure out, what's the real issue? Is it just that you don't think your website is, optimized enough and it's not working the way you want it to?

Or is it because you don't feel confident in the brand? Because it's really hard to build a website that's gonna be super effective without having a strong brand in place. And especially if you don't feel good about your branding right now and you wanna just get a new website, you're probably gonna have to re-do the website anyways in the future because, You still don't feel good about the brand, you're gonna want to re-do the branding at some point, which means then you're gonna have to redo the website.

So that's my first, I don't know, first thing that comes to mind that I feel like is a big mistake for a lot of people starting out is they just think, let's just get the website up. But that's not really the first step.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, that's great. So yeah, I totally agree. Branding is extremely important. And and I see the same thing with my clients, although they are maybe not, e-commerce clients but also like they sell, for example, like digital products and stuff like that. So it's e-commerce is educational platforms and these are more digital products, but still branding is important for any business. It's extremely important. It's the foundation, as you mentioned. You can redesign your website, you can improve shopping experience, you can improve the speed of your website, your SEO and stuff like that. But, Ultimately you have to have a good foundation, you have to have good branding, good visuals, great logo, timeless logo, and distinctive color palette. It needs to work as a whole, it needs to project, like a consistent image. I'm glad you said that. And so basically, It all comes down to branding, right? That's the crucial step in building any kind of business. Thanks for your time. Of course, we are gonna link to your website and I advise you guys to just go check out Abby's website. I love the design, it is very unique and also the messaging is great. So, what's the best way to connect with you for our listeners? Are you active on LinkedIn?

Abbey McGrew: I'm actually not on LinkedIn. I haven't been on LinkedIn in a long time. I've thought about getting back on there, but mostly on social media. On Instagram is where our studio. Is most active.

Arek Dvornechuck: Okay. So I'm just gonna link to your Instagram. So again, thank you for your time. It was great talking to you. We are gonna link to your website. We're gonna link to your Instagram for you guys. If you wanna connect with Abby, ask her questions or just, work with her. So again, thank you for your time. I appreciate that.

Abbey McGrew: Yeah. Thank you so much.

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