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The first step of a successful e-commerce journey: Customer-centered design

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‘The customer is always right’ is a phrase that has been around since the beginning of retail. Traditional retailers will do everything to keep the customer happy and to encourage them to buy. It seems logical that this will then follow through into online retail. An e-commerce journey should always be designed with the customer’s happiness and satisfaction in mind. It’s a no-brainer, surely. The thing is, this is not always the case. Not enough e-commerce businesses focus on customer centered design.

It’s not about you

Customer centered design is all about putting the customer at the forefront of everything you do and always being the champion of the customer in all of their decisions. It’s not just about UX or front end design, it should permeate through every part of an e-commerce business; end to end.

When designing a new feature, service or product it is easy to focus on how something will fit in with your existing processes or systems, not necessarily what is best for the customer’s experience. This may be in the design of your promotions, your returns process or the delivery options you offer. This is where startup digital businesses have an advantage. They are not constrained by expensive legacy technology, internal processes or even ingrained company culture. They can design their business from the ground up and always put the customer front and centre. This can be more of a challenge for a traditional retailer who may have large legacy systems such as POS or ERP and staff working in a particular way.

End to end process

Customer centered design is not just about the UX of your website. It is about looking at the entirety of your digital business and designing it from the point of view of the customer. This covers everything from your digital marketing and social media through to your returns process and everything in between.

Customers have multiple touchpoints with a brand and their experience does not end at the order confirmation page. Even your choice of courier will impact the customer’s experience. Imagine how your customer will perceive your brand if their package ends up crumpled and torn when it is delivered. It is tempting to go for the cheapest option but this may adversely affect your customer’s experience and impact your brand. The packaging that your product comes in is also really important as this represents your brand. Even opening the package should be an experience that matches your brand.

One of the biggest areas where customer centered design is often missed is in the returns process. Rather than designing a process that works best for you, think about what the customer ultimately wants and make that as easy and pain free as possible. Managing returns is not an easy process but is one that can have a huge impact on the experience of the customer. Every single touch point that a customer has with a brand should be designed with the customer at the center.

Do your research

Most brands think that they know their customers really well. A lot of the time, this is true but I am often surprised at how much UX and design takes place without any involvement from a single customer. Good customer centered design will involve consulting with a mix of different customers throughout the process. As part of your UX design, you should create a clickable prototype using tools such as Axure. To get the most value out of this, you should consider getting actual customers to test the prototype.  It is quite easy to recruit a testing team, as loyal customers will often be very keen to get involved in working with their favorite brand.

Maybe you are designing a new checkout. Surely it makes sense to get some actual customers to test such a fundamentally vital part of your e-commerce site. The insight you can get by using your customers can be invaluable.

You probably do A/B testing on different changes to your website. This is definitely a very sensible thing to do. However, A/B testing does not give you the feedback that an actual group of customers will.

In a recent project for a retailer, our UX team designed a guided journey for customers to help them purchase some of the more complex products that the retailer sells which the entire team (including the customer) thought was fantastically easy to use. However, when the clickable prototype was tested on a focus group of real customers, it became apparent that there were some areas that were confusing the customers and proved that the client’s initial assumptions about their customers were wrong. This allowed us to fix those issues before going into actual production. Without this insight, we would have gone live with a tool that was built based on what the retailer thought rather than what the customers told us.

Don’t just follow the competition

This is something that I see a lot. A lot of UX designers will look at what the competition is doing and use that for ‘inspiration’. Just because your biggest competitor¬†has a new one page checkout, this does not mean that it is right for you to do it. Many designers take inspiration from bigger sites like John Lewis or Amazon. They are definitely right to aspire to these sites as they do a very good job with their overall customer experience but their customers are not necessarily your customers.

Success of disruptors

If you look at all of the hugely successful digital disruptors over the past decade, they have one thing in common: They designed their business around the customer. Amazon allows their customers to buy almost anything at a great price and often on a same or next day delivery. I live quite a long way from the nearest city but can order something at 9:30 on a Saturday evening and it will be delivered on Sunday morning.

Uber allows customers to hail a taxi on their phone, keeps them updated on where it is and allows them to pay using their card. There is a huge amount of opposition to Uber from taxi firms but millions of customers use Uber because it was designed around them, not the company. Uber designed their entire business to give customers the best experience.

Apple has consistently provided technology that is all about usability and single-handedly changed the digital music industry for ever. Before the iPod, MP3 players were techy and simply designed to play the music. Apple changed that and looked at what the customer wants first and made the technology work to that.

Branwell Moffat
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November 8, 2017
Branwell Moffat

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