Founder Playbook: Designing a Winning E-commerce System

Alpaca VC

March 31, 2022

Fully optimized e-commerce websites aren’t built overnight. It takes considerable amounts of iterating, experimenting, and refining to maximize your site’s performance and revenue potential. Ecomm best practices and CRO checklists are helpful for quick fixes, but winning over the long term requires a more holistic approach.

As a founder, it’s important to constantly improve your E-commerce system so KPIs such as conversion rate and AOV (average order value) increase over time.

In this guide, we’ll go over the six steps to revamp your Ecomm system:

1. Understand how your site works today

2. Clarify your E-commerce goals

3. Design your new system

4. Gain team alignment

5. Adopt a CX mindset

6. Be meticulous about what you can control

Understand How Your Site Works Today

Your site is an amalgamation of many streams of work. Marketers, copywriters, photographers, buyers, developers, etc. work as a system to bring a site to life.

Start by mapping out your system. The best way to do this is by picking something on your site and working backward to the origin. For example, here’s a common workflow for product copy:

1. Product designer records product specs

2. Merchant passes off specs and notes to the copywriter

3. Copywriter finalizes copy

4. E-commerce manager uploads a copy to CMS

5. Product copy goes live

Repeat this exercise for every aspect of your site. By the end, you should be an expert and know how every detail lands on your customer-facing site.

Clarify your E-commerce goals

Keep your goals high-level to leave room for creativity. Always tie your goals back to a “why.”

Here are some examples of e-commerce goals to get you started:

Goal: Improve the mobile site.

– Why: The mobile website feels like an afterthought even though 60% of our traffic shops mobile.

Goal: Minimize the number of clicks to check out.

– Why: There are so many pages and so much content that it’s easy to get lost in the site funnel.

Goal: Improve keyword search (KWS) query results.

– Why: It’s difficult to find the right products from a search.

Goal: Improve product copy to be 100% accurate for each product.

– Why: I noticed some of the product specs were fluffy and we’ve received some reviews calling out a misalignment between the copy and the product they received.

How many goals should you have? Focus on quality, not quantity. Once you’ve got your list of goals together, move on to designing your new system

Design your new system

Now it’s time to work from the ground up to align your internal system and achieve the goals you have. Let’s use our previous example:

Goal: Improve the mobile site.

Current System: All web pages are designed for desktops first. Reporting is not segmented by device.

New System: Design all web pages mobile-first. Split reporting by device. Implement a “mobile-first” mentality company wide.

Goal: Minimize number of clicks to check out.

Current System: Number of clicks to check out is not a KPI tracked by any team.

New System: Create a new KPI for clicks to check out that is measured regularly and taken into account with each new site design.

Goal: Improve on-site KWS query results.

Current System: No one on the team manages on-site KWS.

New System: Dedicate resources to improving on-site KWS.

Goal: Improve product copy to be 100% accurate for each product.

Current System: There is no clear sign-off for copy before going live.

New System: Create a final checkpoint for copy to be reviewed and approved before going live.

Depending on your team, you might want to involve key stakeholders at this step so they can help you create an effective new system.

Gain team alignment

This step is the most important because your new system is powered by your team. This step can be challenging for a large team, but it’s critical that anyone who has an impact on the site, directly or indirectly, be looped in.

Kick off the alignment meeting by sharing the results of your site audit. Walk through the current internal system to get everyone on the same page. Then, present your goals, your whys, and the proposed new system.

Once everyone is onboard with the new system, you can create tactics and start making progress on your E-commerce goals. Your tactics should be specific, actionable, and tied to a metric. Here is an example:

Goal: Improve the mobile site.

New System: Design all web pages mobile-first. Split reporting by device. Implement a “mobile-first” mentality company-wide.

Tactic: Redesign the mobile cart to facilitate easier checkout.

KPI: Mobile orders

You should end this meeting with an aligned team, a fresh list of ideas to test, and a new system.

Adopt a CX mindset

The designer Charles Eames once said, “Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.” I believe we’ve entered the Ecomm age of choices. Every product is available at our fingertips, it’s just a matter of deciding which to buy.

In pre-Ecomm days, retailers competed on physical proximity and price. Now, retailers compete on experience. In the age of choices, an amazing customer experience is an effective customer acquisition and retention tool. A bad customer experience can cause churn and damage your reputation.

Often we think of CX as a specific function within a business, though the truth is, every member of the team contributes to the customer experience, directly or indirectly.

By adopting a company-wide CX mindset, you put the customer at the forefront of decision-making, regardless of business function.

Be meticulous about what you can control

There are so many areas in e-commerce you can’t control — supplier shortages, evolving customer preferences, postage hikes, etc. But there are a lot of things you can control, such as:

• Navigation Design

• Landing Page Design

• Product Listing Page Design

• Product Detail Page Design

• Checkout Flow

• Analytics

Navigation Design

• Navigation is critical for customers as they move through your site funnel. It’s also one of the easiest areas to optimize. Here are some grounding principles:

• Keep your nav simple, concise, and consistent, and stick to a relatable design.

• Use on-site KWS insights, sales data, and pathing analyses to better understand how your customers navigate your site, and make sure your navigation is in line.

• To build SEO value, keep the URLs in the nav consistent over time.

Landing Page Design

When you look at your site every day, your landing pages will start to feel “stale” and you’ll come up with ideas for things you want to change. This is a trap.

It’s easy to spend too many resources updating landing pages with changes that don’t move the needle. Instead of reactionary changes to your landing pages, use data to make informed changes and measure impact. One way to do this is to run an A/B test before implementing a change. If your site doesn’t get enough traffic to run a meaningful A/B test, you can “test” your way to a better landing page by making incremental changes and measuring impact.

Product Listing Page (PLP) Design

There are a few key things to pay attention to on your PLPs — images, product sequencing, and filters/sort.

Images are the most important part of PLPs because in most cases, this is the first time your customers see your product. It’s the moment when they start deciding if they’re going to buy. Be sure your content-heavy pages (like PLPs) are optimized for fast page speed. You can check your page speed and glean insights into how to optimize here.

Filters/sorting can be extremely helpful in moving your customers through your site funnel. Take the time to ensure your filters are accurate and only provide useful ways to navigate your assortment (example: sorting by “alphabetical” is usually not relevant for apparel assortments).

A few other things to include on the PLP for a better E-commerce experience are product name, price, features, and ratings (once you have a few).

Product Detail Page (PDP) Design

PDPs are the ultimate workhorse. They play the role of sales associate and have to close the deal. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

Only use high-quality images that contextualize your product (show me how and where to use it).

Prioritize helpful, accurate copy that answers questions your customers might have about your product.

Make sure your SKU selector options make sense for the product and have an elegant solution for sold-out SKUs.

Provide easy access to other helpful resources, such as fit guides.

Display ratings & reviews at the PDP level. A good review can push a customer to convert. Reading about the experiences of people who have purchased the product before helps customers understand what to expect and make a better decision.

Show related items as cross-sells (a matching item or a personalized recommendation).

Checkout Flow

Everything up until checkout has been low stakes — your customer is imagining life with your products and has (hopefully) had a pleasant browsing experience. At checkout, money is being exchanged and things get real. Because of this, you want to make checkout as easy and painless as possible. There’s a reason why Amazon implemented one-click checkout.

How can you make the checkout experience better? Here are some guidelines:

• Make it as few steps as possible — if you can combine the address and shipping info into one screen, do it.

• Maintain a consistent design — make checkout feel like a natural extension of your main site.

• Eliminate distractions — use information hierarchy principles to create a clear and helpful visual design; eliminate anything unnecessary.

• Make promotions super easy to redeem with automatically applied offer codes.

Reminder: your relationship with your customers doesn’t end at checkout. Create a meaningful post-purchase flow to better retain customers.


E-commerce affords us both the luxury and curse of a boatload of data. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds or to measure the wrong data points, but it’s important to get your KPIs right because what you measure is what you manage.

Here is a list of the top metrics you should track and why:

• Conversion Rate — Conversion is a good first-glance metric for general website health and can usually point you in the right direction when troubleshooting. Understand the mechanics behind conversion (orders and traffic) so you can tell an accurate story about your conversion rate.

• Click-through Rate — Use this to understand engagement. It’s particularly helpful when applied to content pieces and used to inform future content investments.

• Cart Abandonment Rate — It’s a good pulse check into the health of your checkout. You should always seek to lower your cart abandonment rate.

• Basket Analysis — See what items are being bought together. Use this information to improve cross-sells, bundle offers, and merchandising buys.

All of the KPIs we’ve covered so far give you insight into your customers’ behaviors and preferences so you can make better CX decisions.

The last four KPIs are less “customer facing” in the sense that the information they give you about your customer is most helpful when you’re trying to meet internal business goals.

• AOV (Average Order Value) — Growing your AOV can grow top-line sales. The easiest way to do this is incentivizing your customers with an offer, but that’s a slippery slope. The best way to grow AOV is by offering more of the right products at the right time through better merchandising and discovery.

• UPT (Units Per Transaction) — Increasing UPT can help you get through an inventory glut. This too can be incentivized with a promotion but it’s better to grow UPT with more of the right product at the right time. As UPT increases, so does AOV.

• Repeat Purchase Rate — An indication of loyalty, a high repeat purchase rate helps keep CAC low while still growing top-line sales.

• Cohort Analysis — Looking at your customers by cohort (shared attributes over time) gives you better insight into nuanced behaviors that you might miss otherwise.


An easy way to understand all of this is to think about your E-commerce system like a good habit. You have to create the right conditions for a good habit to form, and the benefits of the habit aren’t immediately obvious. But over the long term, good habits compound positive results. The same is true for eCommerce.

Invest in designing a good e-commerce system now to improve your e-commerce performance over the long run.

Author Bio

Tayler Carraway is the CEO and co-founder of Happy Medium, a modern art supply company. Before diving into entrepreneurship, she spent 7 years growing E-commerce sales at J Crew, Ralph Lauren, and Victoria’s Secret.