Zen Cart Design – Less is More

By Melanie Prough on Saturday, October 10, 2009
Filed Under: Zen Cart Marketing, Zen Cart Tips

We build about 30 to 50 Zen Carts a year here at PRO-Webs and provide ongoing SEO for many shop owners as well. When we login to Analytics we have literally a ton of data from a ton of websites (mostly Zen Carts) to use for segmentation.

The largest marketing aspect of note is honestly product…. You can have the best product in the world and if it’s not suited for online sales or it’s just not a renewable customer purchase, then you are dead in the water.

For the sake of argument, lets say all the stores we are considering have good products, good content and are updated regularly. The remaining defining factor of large is then ability to convert…. Design and usability. This is really where less is more. We see that the ability to convert is higher in simpler, more traditional designs with proper use of white space. While cluttered, busy and gadget heavy Zen Carts are far less able to convert sales.

There are many things to consider when building your new Zen Cart. First rule of thumb is really simple, if you really do not need it, turn it off. Things like product notifications, tell a friend and other gadget that are included with your Zen Cart are good tools ONLY if they can help your products sell. Zen Cart does a good job of including all of the bells and whistles to make a better fit for all types of products… But this doesn’t mean all the gadgets are suited for you.

Simplicity and traditional design are your best friend when building your Zen Cart. We have all seen super cool widgetized and glamorous templates…. But you very traditional and properly colored design will perform far better. Lets look at some examples.

Zen Cart Design
This is a flag store, very subtle design, good use of white space and excellent colors for a store. Seems, far less glamorous than you would expect from a store that can convert higher than 80% of the store we care for huh? Add the fact that in the last 90 days only 4 shoppers have bailed on checkout. Lets see why….

Extreme care was taken in the total development and checkout for this cart. One thing of note is the shipping in the shopping cart page (see below). Customer’s are not turned off by lack of shipping transparency and are NOT delivered an estimate… The shipping is totaled right on the shopping cart page… This build trust and will increase your conversion ability as long as you have simple shipping rules. This module by Steven300 is available for free from the Zen Cart repository.
Shipping Rates in Total

There are actually a couple additional things of note for this shopping cart page. Notice the color added to the checkout buttons, this draws attention to the action we want and using a strong “go” or “do” color like green is also very helpful. Notice the language of the buttons? “Checkout Now”… This is a simple, yet productive call to action. Did you also notice there are 2 checkout buttons… One on the top and one on the bottom? The reasoning here is really simple, the top one is above the fold, while the lower one is not. Believe me, your shoppers hate to scroll! Last thing of note is our PCI scan compliance logo, this is also a trust builder, and its not in the way or distracting the shopper from the task at hand.

There are many things you will learn, just like what I just showed you, that if you listen hard enough will make your Zen Cart successful. So, less is more and usability is the king… Lets look at some good examples and some poor ones as well.

This template for example is just cluttered and while the banners at the top will direct traffic to the chosen locations… what if I came in looking for something else? Now I have to scroll down 450 pixels before I can search or view the categories! Yep, that right, most will leave!

Scrolling nightmare

Now take this template for example, it has the same great banner sales opportunity, but consideration has been take not to bury the search and category options. This template is simple, easy to navigate with great colors and it feels good… Customers are comforted by the use of white space. This template will perform very well… Ask me in 3 months and I’ll let you know for sure!


At the end of the day… What you may not realize, is that there is no ONE complete answer. The combination of design, product, marketing, layout and other factors is different for every site and every product. The key is to think like a shopper, read and research… and most of all never stop improving your shopper’s experience.

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