10 Things I Learned About UX at Ecommerce South West

22 October 2016

Posted in: Ecommerce Events

On Thursday 20 October I was delighted to attend the eCommerce South West Conference at the Paintworks in Bristol. The event was hosted by charismatic NLP practitioner Chris Menlove-Platt and featured nine guest speakers with a range of backgrounds in the world of eCommerce.

Guest speakers:

Nowadays it’s no secret that almost everything is driven electronically. Our customer journey in the digital realm is very different to what it was. So for those of us in the eCommerce business, we have to ask ourselves: what journeys are our customers having when they visit our websites? And how could they be improved?

Customer experience is the answer. Among the wealth of knowledge that was shared at this event, the clear focus of the day was the importance of user experience (UX) and why this is what differentiates us in the eCommerce market.

Here are the key insights around UX that struck me throughout the day. There are many more I could mention, but for the sake of not writing a 20-page manuscript, these are the top 10.

User testing is crucial

If I could impart one message from eCommerce South West, it would be that we must not underestimate the importance of user testing. Analytics are all very well, but they only show you what is happening. They do not tell you why – and sometimes it’s hard to figure out the reason.

User testing is all about finding the ‘why’. Why are users losing interest? Why are they getting to the shopping cart and then leaving at the last minute? Why are they visiting your site, only to bounce right off?

Exploratory testing reveals factors that you will never discover through analytics alone, leading to quick wins and simple fixes.

Too much data is distracting – measure what really matters

It’s so easy to get bogged down by the heavy weight of endless stats. The problem is that if we try to track everything, we get information overload. As Paul Randall neatly summarised, the data that distracts us is worse than useless. What we need is insight.

We need to work out what is worth our time to spend analysing, and what actually should be dismissed. Measure what matters, in order to stay focused and make better decisions.

Matty Curry put it simply and amusingly: ‘Google Analytics real time is statistical pornography. And not even good pornography’. You can spend too much time obsessing over those sexy meaningless numbers when the good stuff – the stuff that actually matters – is right there in front of you.

VR will change everything

Yep – it will. Alex Smale is convincing. Within the next 10 years, VR will take off in exactly the same way that smartphones did. Suddenly, everyone had them, and they were (and are) being used everywhere, for a growing number of useful things.

With VR you can do anything – climb Everest, walk on the moon, pretend you’re Jason Momoa’s girlfriend – whatever it is you daydream about. And on top of that, there’s also AR (augmented reality) where 3D objects are overlaid onto the real world. So theoretically, you could see how a new sofa would look in your living room before you’d even bought it. It’s not hard to see the wealth of possibilities this will have in the world of eCommerce.

In the future, those that want to stand out will have to offer experiential content – that’s the way the world’s going. Don’t be the new Blockbuster – be the new Netflix.

Make technology work harder for your users

According to Aran Reek from Evosite, there are four things we should all be doing to make technology work harder for our customers. They are:

  • Making mobile faster. AMP is the new open source standard web developers should be using to make sites smaller and quicker to load – so that users don’t have to wait
  • Cross-device sign-in. A lot of sessions start on mobile, but finish on desktop. To make the experience seamless, we should be utilising password managers to eliminate frequent and repeated sign-ins
  • Simplifying payments on mobile. Paying on mobile can be tricky and time-consuming, especially if you’re new to the site. Instead of three standard payment stages, what about one? All of these little time-savers add up
  • Utilising the power of Messenger for order updates so that users feel looked after. The crazy thing is that it can be fully automated. Try it yourself at m.me/eCommerceSW

We should all be investing in in-house UX teams

An in-house UX team is a strategic priority for a successful company. Did you know that every dollar invested in UX brings 100 in return? Being more user-centred helps you make better decisions – for the company and for your customers. If you don’t believe me, ask Forbes.

According to Jared Spool, ‘outsourcing user research is like outsourcing your vacation’. It’s nuts. You risk losing valuable expertise every time you hire a freelancer — expertise that you could be cultivating yourself.

According to Jesmond Allen, the overall customer experience should be formed by everyone at a company. Therefore, you should look to build your team around your UX vision. If you’re not getting everyone involved right from the get-go, you risk missing valuable opportunities for learning and growth.

Stop fingerpainting

A simple and fundamental point made by Matty Curry is that we all need to stop ‘fingerpainting’. With all data and no insight, you will simply end up going round in messy, painty circles, or ‘spraying and praying’ as he so eloquently summarised. This will never work. Instead, we need to:

Keep it simple and get the core offering spot on

A basic principle of online sales – if your core offering, i.e. the products and transactional process aren’t great, then it doesn’t matter how you tart them up. They’re still going to be a bit not great. So it’s always best to really nail that area first, before jazzing it up with fancy bells and whistles. Matty recommends The Laws of Simplicityby John Maeda, and reminds us of the famous Coco Chanel quote:

“Once you’ve dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” The same applies to your customer journey. Subtract the obvious and add the meaningful, in order to make your site more valuable to your audience.

Stalk your audience

Not in a creepy way. Just enough to understand them. Successful online marketing is about really knowing your audience and their habits – where they live (roughly, don’t get weird), what they search for, when they are searching for it, what devices they use, when is their best converting time, etc. Know your audience and you’re halfway to building a successful online campaign.

Think of the user journey as a whole – not in segments

So once you have all this lovely, useful user insight, it’s crucial to embed this into your decision making. We need to wrangle some of the big decisions away from the key stakeholders and big bosses, and use customer evidence to make more user-centred decisions. After all, we are not our users.

Paul Randall suggests thinking of your website as an airport. Everyone is trying to get somewhere, so how can you make it easy for them? It’s not about individual touchpoints so much as the whole experience, from start to finish. Cross-channel consistency is crucial for creating seamless customer journeys.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Finally – don’t underestimate the power of experimentation. Throughout history, it is the relentless experimenters who have made major breakthroughs – Marie Curie and Dick Fosby, for example.

‘Now is the time to understand more, so we can fear less’ – Marie Curie.

Google, as another example, embeds a culture of experimentation into everything they do, and they are one of the biggest and most innovative organisations in the world – so. There we are.

According to Gartner, by 2017 89% of companies believe that customer experience will be their primary differentiator. This tells us an awful lot about what we should be focusing on as eCommerce vendors. Customers today have a multi-device path to purchase, fraught with potential annoyances. Our job is to bravely find ways to engage them, through the power and potential of technology.

‘A dream remains nothing unless you put an action behind it’: Buddha, quoted by Chris Menlove-Platt as the conference came to a close. My colleagues and I certainly had a lot to start thinking about and act upon as we left the event on Thursday. We would like to sincerely thank the speakers for their wonderful insights and for giving us a glimpse into what the future of eCommerce might look like.

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