User experience (UX) has the goal of making ecommerce frictionless for buyers, and the UX budgets of the major multinationals proves it. And yet, making the case for it can nonetheless be a significant task.
Brian Herron, founder and director at design agency Each&Other, said that UX was an important part of the ecommerce mix, but it was not as well understood as marketing.
In the ecommerce landscape, companies are trying to drive traffic, marketing, Google ads or whatever. They're trying to throw the ball. We’re more the catcher's mitt: ultimately we want to convert customers to become long-term customers,
The key question UX specialists such ask Each&Other is ‘what are the experiences people are having online, good and bad?’. From here, they work to understand what works and what doesn’t, and why.
“Where we offer value to customers is to analyse customer need,” said Herron.
Some companies, indeed some sectors, notoriously ignore their existing customers. Instead, they tend to be exclusively marketing-driven, relentlessly funneling money to the homepage and to advertising showing off the latest and greatest offers.
Herron said this attitude may be considered acceptable, for now, in sectors with limited choice, but taking customers for granted was not the right strategy. The normalisation of ecommerce and hybrid strategies demands an attention to experience, he said.
“Customer happiness is only one strand of it. There’s been a huge shift in people's expectations and, so, a huge scramble among Irish businesses wanting to level up. Covid shook things up and created a degree of panic,” he said.
One challenge for Irish business is that it costs the same to get UX tools in Ireland as in Germany or Britain, but the market is much smaller.
Each&Other, which also works with large international clients, makes the case for SMEs that have the potential to scale well.
“There are headwinds against an Irish business stating: what's the probable ROI on having a great website vs having one that just functions. However, they are directly competing for mindshare with international businesses,” he said.
Asking Irish businesses, especially small businesses, to meet Amazon-levels of customer experience may seem a lot, but with the right tools and strategy, it can be achieved.
Ironically, alongside Covid, Brexit has given a helping hand to anyone considering moving into ecommerce.
“Brexit is really biting: there are a lot of British retailers that are no longer delivering to Ireland, North or South,” said Herron.
Business to business (B2B) sales have also gone online with the development of self-service portals, but the schema used to analyse, and indeed develop, B2B ecommerce are fundamentally different to the business to consumer (B2C) sector.
“There are a lot of advantages and tools that can help sell products in a B2C way. Where real complexity comes is where the product is more challenging, the sales process may be longer, and may not happen in an instant; very much in that B2B space,” said Herron.
And yet, business buyers are also consumers in their own lives and this itself raises expectations.
“There’s a shifting baseline. As soon as we have this great experience in one area we want it in others,” he said.
This change process is something that all retailers, indeed all businesses, need to grapple with.
“We used to get DVDs and now we don’t, we used to use cash and now we don’t; there are big challenges for b2B business, and we're seeing them start to widen their sales channels.”
Each&Other applies both qualitative and quantitative methods to its work
“We do believe data is important,” said Herron.
“We use it as a way to spot problems in a user flow. For example, between 69 and 81 per cent of online shopping carts are abandoned; in fashion retails it's 90 per cent. That's a broken journey and someone has left money on the table.”
From here, Each&Other works using methods including user testing or user interviews to understand the nature of the problem.
“Was it the interface? How might we find ways to reconnect with that customer, immediately or over the course of a few days? Have you left out shipping costs? Have they just been interrupted by another task?”
For Herron, UX analysis and design needs to work hand in hand with retailers to allow quality to shine through, as even the best site won’t help to sell inferior products. Product quality and availability, user experience and customer service all need to come together, he said, and a great product demands a great experience.
“There's nothing that sells like having a great product,” he said.