Our approach starts with questions...lots of questions. These questions will not only force the merchant to identify needs they did not realize they had but also move some requirements that were first deemed primary as secondary requirements. This is an important first step - to identify the needs and prioritize.
Next we focus on personas. Most merchants do not have enough data on their customer base or else they tend to provide vague shopper details. It's hard to ask probing questions or design site flows when the answer to "who is your primary customer?" is "everyone." Personas will segment shoppers into groups and then identify what is important or not important to each of those groups.
Once personas are identified and requirements are clear, a sitemap is developed and approved and then wireframe design begins, which provides a combination of best practice and understood requirements. These page designs go through the primary pages first (homepage, category page, product page, cart page) and then focus on unique pages, functions or features. The outcome should be a visual wireframe package that supports the written approved requirements for the business' backend and shoppers' frontend store.