User Experience and User Centred Design are by no means new phenomenon. CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has a famous company mantra: “Starting with the customer and working backwards”. It is said that Bezos periodically leaves one seat open at a conference table and informs all attendees that they should consider that seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.”
Apple’s philosophy is very similar: Steve Jobs is quoted to say “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
Whilst leading online retailors know the importance of user experience and invest heavily in user centred design, many smaller online retailors fail to follow key processes that result in a memorable user experience for buyers – something that is critical to online sales and customer loyalty.
In many cases I have come across, the website design process involves an expert designer with strong views on design and usability, and a director or business owner with strong views on how the website should look like. Subsequently the site goes live without having captured any feedback from customers – the people who are actually going to use the site and buy the products.
The idea of a user centred design is to involve the customer at each stage of the design process. There are various ways to do this such as, focus groups, user testing, prototyping, and split testing. I won’t go into details in this article, but will cover these methods in a follow-up post.
What is User Experience?
ISO 9241-210 defines user experience as "a person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service".
Website user experience involves a person’s emotion about using a website to find the information they need to complete a purchase. Many factors can contribute to a user’s perception and emotional experience of your websites. These include: design, look and feel, user interface, content, navigation, ease of use, reliability, performance, and customer support. Each of these elements will play an important role in the overall shopping experience a customer will have.
User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations.
With the increased popularity of mobile computing, customer experience is no longer limited to one touch point. By mid-2014 more people will access the web through mobile devices than PCs, according to research by iDate. This shift is radically changing how consumers interact with retail brands and the mobile strategy will inevitably play a crucial role in the over all customer experience of your brand.
Why is user experience critical for eCommerce success?
Perception is everything and if you make it easy to do something, you will gain the perception of speed and being user-friendly. Much of the success of companies such as Apple and Google can be attributed to breakthroughs in user experience.
There are many figures which prove how much more expensive it is to gain new customers than retain current ones. Good user experience is vital for customer loyalty. If a customer loves your site, not only they will return for more, but also it is very likely that they will spread the word by leaving a good review and telling their friends.
To survive in a competitive market your site must also draw customers in; provide ideas, inspiration and help all without being overly attentive and obtrusive.
Most successful online retailers such as ASOS and H&M are constantly evolving to remain attractive to repeat visitors. Both these sites use their home page and navigation to showcase latest products and display new images regularly.
What both ASOS and H&M have achieved is an extra level of assistance that helps their customers get that bit further. There are a number of ways these sites achieve this, either by passing on trends from the catwalk or providing ‘looks’ that the experts have pulled together – e.g. the ‘Holiday wardrobe’ or ‘Festival Fashion’ on ASOS. Furthermore, on its product pages, ASOS shows a catwalk view, showing the item being worn as the models move down a catwalk – a nice feature that will certainly enhance user’s experience with the site.
Above are just a few examples of how leading brands invest heavily in user experience, and judging from their success it is certainly paying off for them.
In next month’s article I will be going into more details about the most effective methods to capture user feedback early on in a website design project.