Unlocking the e-commerce experience

A focus on improved user experience in retail can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line

Brian Herron, director, Each&Other: ‘To drive real value, you need to satisfy customers and draw them back’

User experience design (UX) has grown to become a core part of the online experience and done right, it can have a dramatic effect on how users interact with web sites. Surprisingly, Irish retailers have been slow to adopt UX as a practice.

Brian Herron, director of one of Ireland’s leading UX agencies Each&Other, said that that was a reflection of a fragmented market in Ireland. In terms of the number of its clients, Each&Other does less work in retail than in some other sectors of the economy, in part because, at least when it comes to small and medium businesses (SMB) in retail, UX is not yet on the agenda.

“That’s for a number of reasons,” said Herron. “The areas we have been looking at in e-commerce and retail tend toward the more complicated, and when you think of the world of UX and usability, retailers generally don't do their own. UX gets outsourced to Shopify or Magento, and that's fine, or you're selling on the Amazon platform, and that's fine too.”

However, for retailers who want to take their e-commerce offering to the next level – and many Irish retailers dipped a toe in the e-commerce waters for the first time during the pandemic – understanding how visitors interact with a site is essential.

If UX is considered at all, it is done on a one-off basis, rather than an ongoing process of analysing how a site is used.

“Spending goes into marketing, into customer acquisition, and into search engine optimisation,” said Herron.

Despite this, there is value in UX, he said, and demonstrably so.

“Your marketing and your traffic generation is throwing the ball. However, you want to make sure the catcher’s mitt, which is on your site, is able to catch. Customer research and UX have a role to play,” said Herron.

Outsourcing UX to third party software providers becomes a case of “problem solved”, but, Herron said, in reality the problem is not solved. Rather, retailers need to guide buyers through the process, reassuring them of their bona fides and also that the product is the right one.

“People think ‘you click the link to a site, find the thing you want, and then click buy’ and that’s the whole process, but that’s not true at all. Particularly with items of higher value or where there is a comparative purchase process,” he said.

Questions that Each&Other asks include: “What can I do to remove barriers to purchase?” and "How can I improve the customer journey’.

“That level of thinking, with joined-up omni-channel, is where e-commerce is not working. They're good at the purchase, but that is like the point of sale. Considering the whole journey is the best way to look at it".

Real attention to the journey involves spotting where leaking is happening, revealing things such as bounce rates, cart abandonment issues, and seeing if people are dropping-off when using particular devices.

UX has spawned significant research, both qualitative and quantitative, on how sites should be designed and developed. For example, if you're buying something on a price of value basis, there is research showing you should be showing them in a stacked list, whereas if you're selling by comparison or technical specifications, it should be horizontal.

Knowing what game you're playing and what customers are doing in this way is very valuable, said Herron.

“You can do things like using previous buyer information to guide purchases, and really by that we mean reducing choice, because the more choices we give to people, the longer it takes to make a decision. Presenting better and smaller selections to users via ML [machine learning] is going to become more important in the future,” he said.

Accessibility is also essential, he said, and development and design teams need to take responsibility for that, not just hand it over to software partners.

“$6.9 billion in revenue, in the US, is left on the table because of accessibility failures,” Herron said.

In the end, he said, e-commerce is not about using a silver bullet to solve all problems once and for all. Rather, it is a question of pulling a lot of small levers to improve aspects of the experience. Arguably, then, the lesson is that retailers thinking solely about conversions are probably not doing it right.

“It's easy to spend money on marketing and drive traffic to your site, but to drive real value, you need to satisfy customers and draw them back,” he said.