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Don’t Design Your Next Ecommerce App Without These Tips

Take a quick look at your phone right now… how many ecommerce apps have you downloaded that you’re not using?

Why aren’t you using them?

For most people, unless they’re simply no longer shopping with the company, a big reason for not using the mobile app is that it’s a pain to use in some way. Mobile means convenience but the way many ecommerce apps have been built completely negates that convenience.

App Dynamics’ App Attention Index 2017 report reveals a few telling points:

  • Poor app performance overrules customer loyalty – 30% of loyal respondents have moved on to an alternative app due to poor performance. To add to this, 23% said they were more loyal to an app than a brand.
  • Apps aren’t seen as a luxury anymore, they’re an expectation. Unfortunately, survey respondents described feeling stressed and disappointed over unmet performance expectations.
  • Over 53% of respondents had deleted an app due to having problems after just one attempt at use.

Overall, the bar is set high for mobile applications, yet many companies are falling short of the mark when it comes to delivering a top-notch experience with their ecommerce app. The good news is that it’s not a guessing game – there are many tips that help to deliver a great experience for your app users. Let’s take a look:

Get our checklist for designing your ecommerce app here

Reduce friction wherever possible

“Friction” might happen anywhere that the user has to take a step or make a choice. Some friction in an app is unavoidable, but you can take steps to remove any unnecessary sources of customer annoyance.

The general idea is that you want their journey from exploring, to finding and adding items, to checking out to be as smooth and logical as possible. Here are some common areas of friction for ecommerce app users:

Requiring account sign-up

Among the “friction” features that can see customers swiftly head elsewhere is the forced set up of an account. Remember this: people are being so inundated with information, emails and marketing messages that they’ve become naturally leery of handing over information. If the first thing a new customer sees from you is that they need to provide information just to browse, there’s a good chance they won’t be back.

There has been plenty of research done on ecommerce website flows that suggests that ecommerce apps should pay attention to similar annoyances. Forced account registration is one of those. It has ah 86% rate of people abandoning a product because of this feature.

What’s a better solution here, given that ideally, you do want people making purchases and creating accounts? To begin with, don’t make an account compulsory in order to start browsing the ecommerce app. Have that as an option (for example, you might present a button that offers a discount coupon for account creation), but don’t force the issue.

Secondly, have a guest checkout option on your app, allowing users to quickly purchase something without any forced account setup. You can always offer account creation at the end of the workflow, once the order has been confirmed.

Entering credit card information early

If there’s one question prominent in a shopper’s mind other than whether or not the product is any good, it’s “how much is this going to cost me?”

A mistake that many ecommerce apps make is to ask for credit card information too early in the checkout process, before all costs, including shipping and taxes, have been revealed. This is a friction due to issues with trust – we all want to know before we give out our valuable credit card information that we’re fully informed of the cost and that there isn’t a chance we’ll be debited anyway if we decide to back out of the purchase.

To promote transparency and trust with your mobile app users, leave the payment information until last, once the total cost of the purchase has been confirmed.

Remember, just because someone has added a product to his or her cart, doesn’t mean he or she is committed to purchasing it. In fact, shopping cart abandonment on mobile apps is high, with studies showing rates of abandonment to be around 78%. Funnily enough, on the Baynard Institute study cited by this article, “extra costs were too high” was the number one reason given for cart abandonment. Those costs matter to your shoppers!

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Payment options lack variety

We once tested an app where the only option given to make payment was Apple Pay. Now, while this is an option that is growing in use, having it as the only possible means of payment is going to cut out a significant number of shoppers.

While this is an example of an extreme case, there are plenty of other examples of apps that will be losing customers for lack of payment options. For example, you might think your app is safe if you only accept credit cards, but what about the many people out there who aren’t comfortable with entering credit card details? What about people who might not have their card on them at the time they’re shopping?

Offering a variety of payment options makes sense. Not only are you more likely to have an option agreeable to any given user, but just having the options can create convenience, encouraging those impulse buys. Apps like Amazon Pay or Paypal don’t require shoppers to have a card in front of them, making checkout quite efficient. Just make sure you’re offering a few options where possible, when it comes to these alternative payment methods.

This is also a good way of fostering trust with your app users. The Baynard Institute Study found that 18% had abandoned a shopping cart due to not trusting the site or app with credit card information.

Use an intuitive design

The design and function of your app can actually be another major cause of friction with your users. The App Attention Index 2017 report revealed that expectations are high when it comes to the performance of apps as a whole, but ecommerce apps were rated as the third most important when it comes to having a flawless performance.

Design elements can be a significant hindrance affecting the experience of the user and his or her overall impression of the performance of the app. It’s often the case that the design of the app creates confusion or annoyance – here are a few common mistakes:

Confusing layout

Apps should be designed so that a regular user can pick them up and use them intuitively. This is usually associated with clean design, a clear workflow, and appropriate placement of information.

Having too much information packed into one place, or making it unclear what the next step should be are problems that contribute to confusion, perhaps leading to information overload. Think about how you can communicate information with less words and use symbols that are commonly understood to lead users to the next step.

We love the example of parking signs. You’ve probably been in cities where there is a confusing jumble of signs and you’re not sure where you’re allowed to park and when. New York designer, Nikki Sylianteng came up with a way to put all required information on one clear sign, without walls of text. You can see her design below:

If you don’t understand whether or not you’re allowed to park somewhere, you’ll either take the risk, or more likely, look for another spot that makes it clear to you. It’s the same principle for your ecommerce app – if users don’t understand, they’ll just go elsewhere, to an app that makes usage clear and easy to them.

A favorite example of ours is the Frank and Oak app. They do an excellent job of their product pages, making the shopping experience clear and easy. Pricing is clear and transparent, the “add to cart” button is large and easy to spot and descriptions are kept to-the-point, highlighting key features.

Confusing button icons

This is adding to the last point about confusing layout – sometimes you’ll find apps with icons that are not commonly understood. “What is this button going to do when I click on it?”, you’ll wonder.

Transparency and trust are necessities any time you’re asking people to buy things from you and hand over their personal information to do so. In the case of an ecommerce app, they might be wondering if clicking on the mystery button will accidentally result in a purchase.

Besides that, it’s plain frustrating to users of any app when it’s not apparent what the icons and buttons mean. Many people won’t take the time to find out so it’s best practice to stick with icons that are universally understood.

For example, overall we really liked the Dollar Shave Club app, but there is a sense that they’re trying to be a bit too “edgy” when you take a look at their button icons. If it weren’t for text underneath some of them, we’d have no idea what they were for. What does that circle with the “x” in it on the bottom of the main screen? We assume it’s a home button, but we could be wrong…

Buttons too tiny

Almost everyone will have experienced this – the frustration of trying to operate an app when the buttons are so tiny that they’re not easy to click on. You stand there trying to make them work, slamming your finger down on the button then often, giving up in frustration.

Buttons should be an important consideration when working on the design of your app screens. Make sure they are large enough to easily click without any finger slamming or frustration!

Categories and filtering

One pain point that we see time and again on ecommerce apps is that categories and filtering are not well thought-out. Are they actually useful for the average user who is looking for a certain product? Or, are they confusing or inaccurate?

Sometimes it’s difficult to step back as an app creator and take in the broader view, but as a general rule, best practice is to put yourself in your user’s shoes and figure out the setup that will be logical to them. Usually this means having clear broader categories, perhaps with sub-categories if necessary.

Filtering should be based on the features that customers commonly look for in the product. For example, if you sell refrigerators, filtering might include things like dimensions, capacity, style, and whether or not it is energy certified. A tip here is to test and ensure that filtering isn’t glitchy. Ideally, a customer should get accurate results, and applying more filters should give them more honed results.

For an example of filtering done well, take a look at the Sephora app. Their filtering options are customized to each product type, so you don’t get the filter option until you are in a sub-category, but once you do, the options allow you to get very specific. For example, in “foundation”, filtering options include brand, coverage, finish, formulation, ingredient preferences, skin type, sun protection, and price range. We can’t think of any other filter we’d add when shopping for foundation!

Test for bugs

When creating your next ecommerce app, keep in mind a glitchy app loses users. It’s coming back to those high expectations we have for apps in this day and age – we want perfect functionality and we want it now.

Here are some common issues we find across ecommerce apps:

“Shopping list” or “favorites” features glitchy

Shopping list and “favorites” features are excellent when they’re done right and working well. They encourage shoppers to browse and save products that they like, hopefully leading to them coming back and purchasing.

However, we’ve seen a few mistakes made with these types of features. For example, in a recent review of the Home Depot app, we found that customized lists were difficult to use in practice, requiring several different steps to access. On the other hand, the “default” shopping list wouldn’t sync across devices, which ignores research showing that mobile shoppers often complete a purchase across different devices over time.

Missing or poorly executed search function

Sometimes when you’re shopping, you don’t want to bother looking through categories or scrolling through different options – you know what you’re looking for and you want to take the quickest route to find it.

This means typing a query into a search function.

Unfortunately, there are many examples of ecommerce apps that just don’t execute the search function very well. We’ve seen them turn up no results for a common search for a product that is in stock, turn up too many unrelated results, or miss key terms in the search when pulling up results. For example, on one app a search for “red lipstick” brought up other results, such as yellow lipstick.

Some ecommerce apps are missing a search function altogether, which will just be an annoyance to the customer. Our advice? Include a search function and make sure it works well!

Shopping cart issues

We see all sorts of issues with shopping carts not working smoothly on ecommerce apps. Here are a few “rules” to bear in mind:

  1. It should be easy and obvious for customers to figure out increasing quantities or deleting items. A lot of apps make this difficult and shoppers end up abandoning the cart.
  2. The cart should be free of glitches. Does the quantity actually increase when the customer adjusts it? Testing of adding or deleting items should be done regularly.
  3. It should be easy for the customer to go back to browsing from the shopping cart (preferably with a simple button, such as “continue shopping”).

Minimize these annoyances…

Here are a couple of “bonus” annoyances to try to minimize when creating an ecommerce app. Like the other points mentioned, these can be a source of friction that sees users abandon the app:


We know that you may need to include some advertising in your app, but as an overall rule, keep it to bare minimum and make sure the ads are relevant (such as ads for your own sales). People are used to advertising on websites, but aren’t so much when it comes to apps, especially when they’re grainy, poor quality or don’t match the rest of the app at all.

Sold-out items

You might see sold-out items as a good sign that you’re getting sales, but your app users see them as an inconvenience, especially if there are a lot of sold-out items.

Your users might take sold-out items as a sign of disorganization on your part or that perhaps you’re going out of business. You might not be able to avoid an item being sold out occasionally, but a good practice is to show on the description when you expect to have it back in stock, perhaps even adding an “alert me” function for users.

In terms of business practice, it makes sense to manage your inventory well and ensure that you minimize stockouts. If someone is set on buying that sold out item right now, you’ve just lost a sale because they’re going to look elsewhere.

Download our checklist for ecommerce apps here

Final thoughts

If it’s time to get started on your next ecommerce app, keep in mind that mobile is no longer a “fringe” technology, but very much in the mainstream. As such, consumer expectation is that apps will deliver high convenience with exceptional experiences.

Assess your app design for any of the common problems that lead to friction for the user. Simple functionality, products that are easy to find and a process that fosters trust in the app are important when you’re trying to encourage users to buy.

Author: Emily Gomez & Einar Vollset, Corresponding Author:


For each teardown we collect over 200 data points, including UX best practices, search capabilities, payment integrations as well as re-engagement tactics and social/engagement features. Each teardown includes an overall score, along with the score for each of the 20+ categories we collect data under. We then provides either video and/or slideshow content of the actual app, highlighting important parts of the app along with particularly good, bad or surprising functionality.