Research and Advances
Computing Applications Virtual extension

Customer-Centered Rules For Design of E-Commerce Web Sites

  1. Introduction
  2. Customer-Centered Design Rules
  3. Conclusion
  4. References
  5. Authors
  6. Tables

It is well known that customer experience is one of the critical factors for the success of e-commerce. In the e-commerce industry, quite a few reports discussed design guidelines for Web site design. In a series of reports about e-commerce user experience, Nielsen, Farrell, Snyder, and Molich [8] identified a set of design rules related to the category pages, checkout and registration process, product pages, and user’s trust. Rehman [9] discussed the importance of user’s experience in the checkout process and proposed some design rules. In a white paper written by Hurst and Gellady [3], the role of customer experience in e-commerce was addressed and some design rules were also discussed. In another report, Hurst and Terry [4] compiled a set of cases regarding e-commerce Web site design. Most of these design guidelines were developed from laboratory evaluation in which users performed predefined tasks on pre-selected Web sites.

However, relatively fewer usability studies in e-commerce have been undertaken along different lines. Henderson, Rickwood, and Roberts [1] tested an electronic supermarket and found that the two important factors—enjoyment in using the system and peer-group norms—contributed significantly to the intention to use the system in the future. Hodkinson, Kiel, and Mccoll-Kennedy [2] proposed a conceptual framework for the representation of external (inter-site) information search behavior in the diagrammatic form that offers researchers an opportunity to holistically interpret information search data and search styles. Another study conducted by Kim and Moon [5] indicated that it is possible to manipulate the visual design factors of the customer interface in order to induce a target emotion such as trustworthiness. Kim and Yoo [6] found that the combination of NBR (Neighborhood), TOP, and IND (index) generated the optimal link structure and thus increased the degree of shopping pleasure and convenience. Miles, Howes and Davies [7] used four dimensions to describe e-commerce technologies: front end, criteria management support, marketplace, and comparison support. In a study to investigate features that contribute to user satisfaction in the Web environment, Zhang et al. [10] proposed a conceptual framework and used Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory to identify these features.

The aforementioned publications pertaining to e-commerce have the following shortcomings regarding their guidelines: The current theoretical research is too focused and cannot be easily applied in designing e-commerce; most design guidelines were derived based upon a set of pre-selected Web sites; the scenarios were predefined and the range might not be broad enough to capture features of different kinds of e-commerce Web sites; and the participants were not the real customers. Due to these limitations, the derived rules may not reflect how real customers view e-commerce Web sites. Hence, a systematic study discussed below was undertaken in order to derive customer driven rules with the design of e-commerce Web sites. In this study, we interviewed real customers and captured a broad range of e-commerce Web sites and tasks.

Interviews were conducted with 50 customers of e-commerce applications in the Chicago area between March 20 and April 10, 2001. The estimated age of the participants ranged from 25 to 50. The participants came from 10 different cultural backgrounds. Their occupations included a wide variety of jobs such as restaurant worker, business manager, accountant, banking officer, financial analyst, and programmer. All participants indicated they browse the Web on a daily basis. Table 1 lists all the scenarios mentioned by the participants. The scenarios covered by the interviews were very diverse. To some extent, they reflect how people are using e-commerce in daily life.

The objective of the study was to obtain information on what customers liked and what difficulties they had in each stage of e-commerce operation. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. The rules were derived based on the transcribed data.

During the interview, if the participant used any ambiguous terms such as “easy navigation,” the interviewer would ask additional questions to clarify. The whole interview session was taped. At the same time, the interviewer also took notes. The actual interview took about 15 to 40 minutes depending on how much experience the particular participant had in using e-commerce. Here, we discuss te results.

Back to Top

Customer-Centered Design Rules

Table 2 lists the 19 most important design rules derived from this study. These rules address customer’s concerns in the following components of an e-commerce site: home page, navigation, categorization, product information, shopping cart, checkout and registration, and customer service. Because these design rules reflected the customer’s view of e-commerce Web sites, they could be extremely valuable for practitioners to build e-commerce applications.

Favorites. During the interviews, participants identified some favorite online shopping Web sites. These sites included computer products (, clothes ( and, gifts and flowers (, books (, groceries (, air tickets (, online trading (, and online banking ( As indicated by the participants, these Web sites shared the commonalities listed in Table 3.

Trust. People talk about Internet security all the time. For many people, the illusion seems to be that once we have a perfect system to secure the credit information, customers will be willing to shop online. Based on the findings of this study, this statement is certainly not true. Here’s what we found:

  • Most participants were willing to give out their credit card information on the Web because of the protection provided by the credit card insurance. If there is a fraud to someone’s credit card, the maximum risk will only be $50. Therefore, many participants indicated that they were aware of the security issues on the Web but they didn’t worry too much when they shopped online.
  • Brand name is one of the major factors, probably the most important one, that has an impact on shopper’s trust in an e-commerce Web site. In the interviews, we found that people usually trusted and went to online stores with well-established brand names.
  • Brick-and-mortar stores have advantages over purely virtual stores. It was found that interview participants were more willing to trust brick-and-mortar stores than purely virtual stores. They usually knew and went to the brick-and-mortar stores in the past, and started to shop in the online stores for convenience.
  • The design quality of the Web site is another important factor influencing shopper’s trust. Any bugs, errors and typos in the Web pages will have a negative impact on shopper’s trust.

Graphics. How should graphics be incorporated into a Web site? Where are the best places to present graphics? The findings of this study indicate the following:

  • Pictures of products are necessary to provide customers visual cues and richer information.
  • In general, customers like graphical icons and buttons.
  • Large images or animations slow down the Web page. Animations and flashes can be distracting. Because of these reasons, almost all the interview participants didn’t like fancy graphics and animations.

Back to Top


This study demonstrates how rules can be effectively generated in the design of e-commerce Web sites. These rules provide an opportunity to maximize customer’s satisfaction and may increase customer’s retention. Thus, they could potentially generate more revenue in the e-commerce industry.

Back to Top

Back to Top

Back to Top


T1 Table 1. Scenarios.

T2 Table 2. Customer-centered design rules.

T3 Table 3. Attributes of good e-commerce Web sites.

Back to top

    1. Henderson, R., Rickwood, D., and Roberts, P. Beta test of an electronic supermarket. Interacting with Computers 10 (1998), 385–399.

    2. Hodkinson, C., Kiel, G., and Mccoll-Kennedy, J. Consumer web search behaviour: diagrammatic illustration of wayfinding on the Web. International Journal of Human Computer Studies 52 (2000), 805–830.

    3. Hurst, M. and Gellady, E. White paper one: building a customer experience to develop brand, increase loyalty and grow revenues. Unpublished report, Creative Good, New York, NY (2000).

    4. Hurst, M. & Terry, P. The dotcom survival guide. Unpublished report, Creative Good, New York, NY (2000).

    5. Kim, J. and Moon, J. Designing towards emotional usability in customer interfaces—trustworthiness of cyber-banking system interfaces. Interacting with Computers 10 (1998), 1–29.

    6. Kim, J. and Yoo, B. Toward the optimal link structure of the cyber shopping mall. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 52 (2000), 531–551.

    7. Miles, G., Howes, A., and Davies, A. A framework for understanding human factors in web-based electronic commerce. International Journal of Human Computer Studies 52 (2000), 131–163.

    8. Nielsen, J., Farrell, S., Snyder, C., & Molich, R. E-commerce user experience series. Unpublished reports, Nelsen Normal Group (2000);

    9. Rehman, A. Holiday 2000 E-Commerce. Unpublished report, Creative Good, New York, NY (2000).

    10. Zhang, P., von Dran, G., Small, R., and Barcellos, S. Websites that satisfy users: A theoretical framework for web user interface design and evaluation. Proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Maui, HI (1999).

Join the Discussion (0)

Become a Member or Sign In to Post a Comment

The Latest from CACM

Shape the Future of Computing

ACM encourages its members to take a direct hand in shaping the future of the association. There are more ways than ever to get involved.

Get Involved

Communications of the ACM (CACM) is now a fully Open Access publication.

By opening CACM to the world, we hope to increase engagement among the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover the rich resources ACM has to offer.

Learn More