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Essential Features to Include in Your Next Ecommerce App

You may have noticed that we regularly review and write “teardowns” of ecommerce apps.

Through all of this, and our own experiences with developing successful ecommerce apps, we’ve learned a lot about what makes an ecommerce app popular, what users tend to dislike about them, and which features are essentials to have.

From our perspective, if you’re going to go to the effort and expense of creating an app, you really should be looking to make it the best possible user experience, otherwise it’s really a waste of your time.

This means being sure to include the types of features that bolster the user experience, as well as those that are important for activities, such as monitoring on your end. Here are some essential features to include in your next ecommerce app:

Get our checklist for your app beta here

Intuitive interface

Your user interface is one of the first things that someone will notice bilitybout your app. Making it “intuitive” simply means that it works the way a user would expect it to. In other words, when someone picks up your app, they don’t have to give much thought to how it works.

One thing that we have certainly found among our many app teardowns is that many apps have room to do better when it comes to the intuitiveness of the interface. For example, we’ve seen:

  • Confusing or illogical menus
  • Features, such as “wish lists,” that are difficult to operate
  • Navigation that is unclear
  • Search features that are difficult to use or produce results that are nothing like what a user would expect

The bottom line is, most of the time, you will only get one chance with app users to create the right impression. An Appdynamics study shows that today’s savvy app users have high expectations when it comes to the apps they use. Here is a brief extract:

“As smartphone and tablet owners become more familiar with, and reliant on, apps and websites, the research shows their expectations regarding performance increase. Nearly half (48%) of UK respondents involved in the study agreed that their expectations of app performance are increasing over time. In the US, this proportion was even higher, at 65%.

Their tolerance levels are also changing: close to half (48% for US and 47% for UK) of all respondents are less tolerant of problems with apps or websites than they were a few years ago. The results confirm that the margin of error regarding mobile app and website performance is diminishing.”

“Performance” covers issues like app speed or any bugs that may occur, but intuitiveness is also a reflection of the performance of the app. If a user can’t simply pick it up and figure out how to use it right away, the chances are they’ll declare it a poorly executed app and give up on it.

Other reports warn that there has been a decrease in attention span over the last few years for ecommerce apps. The ad placement network, Jampp, found an 88% reduction in app attention span year over year to Q1 2016. Apps are no longer a novelty to people and ecommerce apps must be worthy of customer attention. An intuitive interface and a few other key features are important for garnering that attention.

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Ability to customize

Customization is something that is becoming more important for both apps and websites as technology evolves. Why? Because users have developed the ability to block out information that they don’t think is important. For example, how often do you pay attention to banner ads these days? “Banner blindness” is very common as users have learned to ignore them.

What this suggests is that an ecommerceapp user might tire of using the app or basically ignore content on it if they can’t see immediate relevance to themselves. Customization allows the user a sense of control over his or her experience. It can result in better engagement with the app because the user is seeing content that is highly relevant.

How can this work practically-speaking with apps? Well, first of all, you need a method for determining how the experience is customized. Usually, this involves the user selecting a few preferences as part of onboarding, or it will be based on user activity.

Secondly, you need to deliver content based on those preferences or activities. For example, you might send push notifications with highly relevant offers. A Leanplum study found that personalized push notifications get an 800% increase in open rates.

Other customization possibilities might include:

  • Sending customized offers through the app, based on user history. For example, if someone has previously ordered a certain brand of makeup, you might send them a coupon code for a discount.
  • Location customization. This is especially helpful if your app is in conjunction with, or can be used with a physical store. For example, you might send notifications of in-store events or specials near to the user.
  • Recommendations based on search history or purchase history. For example, you could have a version of Amazon’s “People who bought this also bought…” feature.
  • Simply having search history and purchase history available as a feature. This can help to improve convenience for users.
  • Prioritizing content display based on the user’s history with the app. For example, if you know the user is always buying men’s clothing, it would make sense to display men’s content ahead of women’s shoes.

Order history and tracking

Any ecommerce app user is concerned with the integrity of the app and the overall experience. Part of that is being transparent with order history and tracking.

Order history helps the user to quickly reference past orders, especially if there is a problem or they want to find the exact item ordered so that they can order it again.

You get bonus points if you can make this process seamless, too. For example, on the Zulily app, when you click on a past order you get the option to give “item feedback” under each individual item of your order. You can also connect to customer service from these options, if necessary. If the order is still in progress, you can see immediately which stage of the process it is at.

Links to tracking are also very important in this part of the app. It helps to promote trust with the user if they can easily find where an order is and when to expect it. For many shoppers, it’s also a convenience they rely on – many people like to know exactly when a package is arriving so they can keep an eye out for it and ensure its safety.

Payment options

Cultivating trust with users is important, most especially when it comes to them handing over payment details. With the risk of identity theft or credit card fraud, users are often reluctant to directly input credit card information.

Besides the possible security risk, it also comes down to the hassle of digging out your credit card and inputting all of that information! The more steps you have a user taking to get to the final order to purchase, the more likelihood you have of losing them.

If you imagine the scenario where someone is waiting at a bus stop or the doctor’s office and browsing through your app to fill in some time, this is an opportunity to capture impulse buyers. You want to smooth the path as much as you possibly can, which is where payment options come in.

If you can offer more than simply the credit card as an option at checkout, you can help eliminate security fears or “friction” for many buyers. PayPal checkout, Apple Pay, or Amazon Pay are options where the user can checkout just by using his or her password for the payment service.

Along a similar vein, you can take another step to eliminate friction by storing return users’ payment details and shipping preferences. If they have this option, it makes the simple, one click to checkout possible.

Make multi-device shopping easy

Your ecommerce app might not be the final mode used to make a purchase from you, or, a user might switch from mobile phone to tablet before making that purchase. Whether they are going from mobile app to website, or from mobile app to the same app on another device, it’s important to make multi-device shopping easy by transferring the information across.

Globally, even amongst the lowest income bracket, people average 3.44 devices each. It’s common for people to begin a shopping experience on one device, then finish it on another. If you were to think of that person browsing while waiting at the bus stop or doctor’s office as an example, perhaps he or she peruses the various options, adds one or two things to the cart, then puts the phone down. Later on, the user might either pick up the phone again, or pick up another device to finish the purchase.

This leads to two important points:

  1. The shopper should be able to pick up exactly where he or she left off in the app on another device. This means the items should be in the cart and any other settings or preferences they changed should carry over.
  2. Users shouldn’t have to start over if they exit the app, then go back in later. One of the worst ecommerce user experiences is when an app logs a person out, then he or she has to log in again every single time the app is opened, then find that nothing was saved from the last session.

This is all part of streamlining the shopping experience for the user. Your aim, as the owner of an ecommerce app, is to get more sales, right? So, in order to do so, make “reduce friction” a mantra when it comes to the use of your app.

Social media integration

Statistics from 2017 showed that 81% of the US population had a social media profile, with the trend line for this heading upward every year. This means that, given your ecommerce app targets tech-savvy mobile users, there’s a good chance most, if not all of your users will have a social media account.

Social media integration can work for the benefit of the user and for you as the app owner. Firstly for users, social media integration can mean simple account creation and easy sign-in. It can also enable speedy sharing of products with the user’s friends. Many users might want to get a friend’s opinion first, or share a product purchased so that others can do the same.

From the perspective of the app owner, this is good news! If sharing is easily facilitated through social media integration in the app, then it amounts to free marketing when a user takes advantage of that feature.

Social media integration can also encourage the user to follow your company on social media, giving you another channel through which to maintain visibility with them.

User analytics

This is a back-end feature, and therefore of benefit to you as the owner of the app. Having a good user analytics feature set allows you to analyze user behavior and optimize your app accordingly.

For example, let’s say you find that there are certain products with very low sales, you might look to user analytics to see if any clues lie there. Is the product page getting as much traffic as others? If it is but people aren’t buying, it’s a clue that you need to look at the content on that page and perhaps update it to be more appealing. If people were interested enough to click on the product, there must be something there that’s turning them away.

If you understand user behavior through monitoring your analytics, you can make incremental changes and use your analytic data to determine whether those changes are making a difference. You might monitor metrics such as the cost of conversion, click-through rate, session time, and use of certain features or fields.

App ready for beta? Get our checklist here for crucial features

Final thoughts

One of the key takeaways for any owner of an ecommerce app is that the time to up your game in terms of delivery of that app was yesterday. Now that app usage is very common and has had a few years to kick in, consumer expectation of those apps is high.

This means you need to focus on delivering a streamlined user experience and keeping the attention of your users. Give them an intuitive interface, personalized features, a cohesive experience, and a reason to trust you.

Finally, keep an eye on new innovations and developments as they occur. If it’s going to make the user experience better, then it will turn up in a competitor’s app. Stay on top of things and gain a competitive advantage with your app.

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.