We may as well face it, we’ve been spoilt. At least online.
There’s lofty expectations for eCommerce. Online shopping is not only convenient, but a necessity, even more so in a year where an international lockdown has shut the highstreet. Online, the user journey has been made seamless, our digital experiences are curated galleries of heightened visuals that would put MOMA to shame. Fail to improve your eCommerce customer experience and fall behind.
There is no such thing as over-investment in web design. A focus on eCommerce customer experience is how you stand out in an oversaturated market. It’s no lie: when selling online, eRetailers can offer products that are only marginally different to their competitors’. So how does a customer differentiate? How do they choose where to place their pounds? In the experience. Gone are the days where a bespoke service and complimentary cup of coffee would entice foot traffic on a busy highstreet. Now, that extra dosage of tlc must be transported to the digital sphere. Whether it’s in inviting aesthetics, a seamless click journey or exciting site intractability, clever eCommerce is all about understanding how a person feels when using your site or mobile app. Fail to empathise and fail to sell.
So, what are the rules to keep users from converting? How do you improve your Ecommerce customer experience and grow sales?
First Impressions are Lasting
They say that first impressions are made in the first 6 seconds of meeting someone. I’d say that takes even less time when deciding to use an eRetailer. There’s no ice-breakers, no wingman to fall back on, no mediator. Online first impressions come from one thing and one thing alone: presentation.
Visual merchandising is not merely a term for the physical boutique, it’s essential for online shopping. Only, rather than styling mannequins and feature walls, your products have to be well-placed and presented in attractive, cohesive pages. It starts with simple questions. Are your items easily found? Do they have a clear category? Sufficient information on the product page? Will a user have to dig through pages of results to find something that grabs them?
Colour, composition, font, mood. Positive space. Negative space. These are pivotal words for your online store. Like notes in a fine bouquet of wine, or ingredients slowly infusing together in a slow-cook recipe, they should be distinct but harmonious, each element carefully considered in order to support the next.
In 2021, it’s a clear aesthetic that will attract a customer, and consistency that will keep them. Confident branding is uniform. It has a clear identity and understands why it does what it does. It understands how a bad design choice creates conflict. Good branding understands that consistency earns consumer loyalty.
Think of a famous painting. If an artwork is a conversation, then each line is a sentence and each colour is an emotion. Every drop of paint will have been antagonised over. Now this may sound like a hifalutin analogy, but my point is simple: the space you create will impact a user. There’s a conversation between screen and person each time they go online. Make it a conversation they look forward to having.
Knowing Your User
How do you know which conversation to have? True, each user will have different needs. Different markets are going to appreciate different aesthetics, and have their own usability requirements. That’s why it’s crucial to know your product and to know your audience. eCommerce isn’t about goods alone. Contrary to the saying, no product will sell itself.
A tried and tested tool when knowing your audience lies in creating a user persona, a representation of a particular market, or the person you envision buying your product. It starts off with simple questions: what sort of online space would this user respond to? What would be inviting? What would hint at your ethos, suggest your style, speak about your product?
If you’re selling pastel-coloured face-masks that are decorated with kawaii animals, then it goes without saying that a sleek, modernist space is going to be jarring and at odds with your message.
Of course, you can’t rely on a completely fictitious person for your user personas. That’s why it’s essential to ask your users for feedback. User interviews are a useful way to gain insight into what you should be looking to implement in your design, turning your personas from abstract and impersonal to researched and human.
Consider Customer Interviews
Feedback should never be taken for granted. There is nothing more embarrassing than a retailer who angrily refutes a customer’s earnest review. Interviews can help tell you what works and doesn’t about your site. Once you have interviewees lined up, set goals for your meeting. If you’re the key stakeholder, what information do you consider to be the most valuable? Don’t just ask leading, ‘yes or no’ questions. Ask open questions with the intent of discovering what they are hoping for during the buying experience. Ascertain what doesn’t work for them and don’t be afraid to implement these changes. If a customer only shops if there’s free shipping, listen. It’s also crucial to make the user feel as comfortable as possible. As always, empathy is key. Would you respond well to a barrage of questions fired your way?
I for one, start with a negative bias when I’m contacted by a retailer. It doesn’t take much to turn that bias into an unsubscribe. It’s also crystal clear when fake empathy is being used. I roll my eyes when a total stranger is using false familiarity to mask their hidden agenda. It pays to foster rapport, even if that entails warm-up video calls to get to know your interviewee.
During your interview, there are simple, human touches that will help build bridges with your user, whether you’re making eye contact, taking notes or showing you’re listening with a simple nod. If a user is discussing difficulty they’ve had with your site or buying process, show concern and compassion. Build trust. The answers you receive should be fed back into your user persona, and in turn, scenarios that feel authentic.
Not Another Job Story
Job Stories are another jargony sounding phrase, and whether or not you use them, the principle of simplifying your user’s needs into key sentences is never wasteful. Lazy design treats the user as an abstract entity. Unsubstantiated personas delude retailers into thinking that they know their customer. If you refine your feedback into statements and scenarios that imitate the buying process, you’re more likely to improve the eCommerce customer experience.
Reorder and prioritise the pages on your site in accordance to your feedback, cutting down on the needless steps that only frustrate the buying experience. If you add any opportunities to turn off the customer, chances are, you’ll have items waiting in your basket, and sales that are failing to complete. It can’t be overstated enough: simplify the checkout process. Curate convenience for the customer.
Communication is Key in eCommerce
Communication doesn’t end with a user interview. It needs to be constant. Consider the art of the email campaign. They’re often delivered incorrectly, pestering a customer with details of products that they didn’t want to buy in the first place. If you invade your customer’s inbox with an attempt to bring them back for another purchase, you’re just going to put them off. Instead, offer a follow-up, a check-in, invite feedback and provide after-care. Make it clear that you care about more than just their purchase power. Not selling is the new selling.
Live Chat features can provide great on-site touchpoints but AI bots are still very apparent. If there’s a real life human being monitoring your live chat, someone who is well-versed in your company’s products, ethos and personality, you can provide a level of support that best replicates the boutique experience.
Optimise for Mobile and Tablet Users
It’s meta in a way. We install apps that are dedicated to monitoring our escalating screen times. We use our phones to illustrate our very addictions to them. Do we do anything about it? Probably not.
It’s no surprise that the web traffic from mobile browsers has boomed in the last ten years.
According to Statcounter, as of October 2020, 48.62% of all web usage has come through mobile devices. In 2010, this number was a mere 3.81%.
Shockingly, there’s still a large portion of front end design that neglects the mobile experience. A poorly designed app, or even mobile version of a site is often difficult to navigate. It will be clunky and it will ignore the impact that different screen ratios can have on the user experience. If you’re developing an app, then you also have the choice between hybrid and native.
Why go hybrid? Hybrid apps are cheaper, taking less development time, using a single code base. Why go native? Native apps are developed to work on a specific platform (think Android or iPhone), and are better optimised to use that device’s technology. Your decision should be informed by your user. Will your target audience prefer a mobile web or native app? If you invest in mobile development, then you’re investing in future sales.
Imagine walking into a shop, the merchandise is all over the floor. The checkout till, impossible to find. The staff silently glares at you and that’s if they bother to turn up at all. The shop wouldn’t last a week. Provide a cluttered, uncomfortable and out of date retail platform, well, it’s easier to close a tab than to walk out a shop. If you want to grow sales, then your space has to reflect your ethos. Your design has to be clear. Your message, authentic. Market with the future in mind. Build consumer loyalty with a reliable eCommerce experience, make that experience mobile. Sounds simple.
It’s not always basic to be basic.