The Ultimate Online Shopping Experience, Part 2: Features and Functionality

Part 1 of this series explores principles that should be applied to online customer experience strategy development. This second part discusses the most important tactical principles to follow when re-designing your site and provide specific examples of ways they are used on e-commerce sites today.

Research has shown that the three most important factors influencing whether a customer will purchase from a consumer Web site are security and privacy, ease of navigation and quality of content. Make privacy and security information prevalent on your site and in the purchasing flow — including both detailed policy statements and third-party certifications. A logo from VeriSign, McAfee or TRUSTe, placed discreetly on the home and landing pages and prominently on check-out pages, can help alleviate a customer’s concerns about credit and debit card transaction security, especially when shopping on e-commerce sites that lack national brand recognition.

In addition, find ways of giving your site a “real-world feel” — photos of your facilities or employees, for example — to convey the idea that there’s a real company behind the Web site, not just someone in a garage.

Focus on Customer Efficiency

When designing your site, save the customer time and effort whenever possible — throughout the entire shopping and purchase path. This goal is typically accomplished through smart use of data, thoughtful linking, and integration between systems. Some examples include:

  • Merchandising: “Shop by outfit” or “collection” page designs that allow customers to add multiple products to the shopping cart with a single click. Check out what Nine West has done on its site with innovative merchandising features such as “LookBook” and “As Seen In.”
  • Landing pages: Include dynamic landing pages for referrals from search engines. For example, if the shopper has entered “men’s blue blazers,” don’t just present a generic home or category page, but rather a customized landing page populated with products and content matching the search terms.
  • Shopping cart: Instead of a generic “continue shopping” button that merely takes you back to the home page or the previously viewed product, retailers should offer multiple links that go to different parts of the site. Eastern Mountain Sports does a nice job of this, presenting several links in a “breadcrumb” format based on the shopper’s recent browse path.
  • Recently viewed items: Provide shortcuts for the customer to return to products they’ve browsed before (in either the current or previous sessions) in strategic locations across the site, such as product detail pages and the shopping cart.
  • Search results pages: Offer the shopper multiple ways of viewing and sorting the results set to suit their particular needs or preferences. For instance, provide refinement/filtering options along dimensions such as brand, price range, color/style, etc. Enable her to choose to view 10 or 25 or 50 items on a page, or to “view all”. On Home Decorators’ site, the customer’s selection in this regard is maintained throughout the session for any new product searches, thus personalizing the shopping experience in a small but impactful way.

Also be sure to provide clear guidance in any workflow process by using visual indicators. The most obvious example is in the checkout process, where step-by-step status indicators have become standard on e-commerce sites. The same principle should be applied to dynamic search and navigation pages and interactive product configurators. Any time you are asking the customer to follow a defined process to complete a task, make sure you tell them where they are in the flow and how far they are from the end.

Delivering Quality Content and Information

Many aspects of the site experience could be enhanced through improved content. Remember that there is little opportunity to ask questions, so site visitors have to understand what you are trying to convey immediately through effective content and messaging on the site.

For example, many sites need to display product recommendations (e.g., cross-sells and up-sells) in a more informative manner. A common shortfall is doing it generically across the entire site. Customers often are presented with just a group of other products without any context, making them easy to ignore. Rather, product recommendations should be segmented in relevant ways and clearly labeled as such. For example, merchandise complementary products (cross-sells, accessories, collections) distinctly from substitute products (related items, products you might like instead), so the customer understands why they are being presented. If the recommended products were selected based on the shopper’s personal data and history, communicate that they are customized recommendations specific to that customer.

Successful retail sites strive to eliminate customer uncertainty and confusion with thoughtful presentation of relevant information at the point of interaction. For example, promotional discounts appear immediately after they are applied, rather than later in the checkout flow. When customers change a color, size or quantity, or select a different payment method, they should immediately see the change. Product images in the shopping cart or order summary pages should represent the specific colors or styles selected by the customer.

E-commerce site design is, by nature and necessity, an ever-evolving field. The Web medium is perhaps the most flexible and functional shopping channel ever created. Given a certain level of creative thinking and technical capability, organizations of all kinds — including new and small ones — are able to create shopping experiences that compete with the largest, best-funded giants in the industry. Indeed, the best innovations often come from upstarts who are not afraid to experiment with new tools to improve customer interaction, rather than established players. At the same time, it’s important to remember the tried-and-true design principles outlined above — online shoppers are still, well, human.

In the end, you want to employ site design best practices to create a site that is both easy for your Web marketers and merchandisers to manage and a pleasure for customers to use. After all, shopping should be fun!

Julian Chu is director of client success at Demandware.

The Ultimate Online Shopping Experience, Part 1: Strategy and Design

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