“User experience” – what does it actually mean?

As we approach the critical peak trading period for many retailers, including Black Friday, customers will be busy online and in store spending more than at any other time of the year. The key elements of any marketing mix, the 4 P’s, Price, Product, Promotion and Place traditionally have been seen as the key to differentiate your proposition from another, but increasingly we talk to retailers about loyalty, repeat orders and lifetime value – all of which are directly impacted by user experience and the wide scope this covers.

It’s an old topic, but one that deserves special attention at this time of year given the increased number of customers who will be interacting with your brand and many who could be for the first time. When talking about user experience, many people will immediately think of design and front end visuals, but investing large sums in design but neglecting other key elements of your proposition will not drive increased sales in the longer term.

So design and creative aside, what other topics should we be talking about and investing in when we talk about the user experience?

It’s all about me, me, me…

“I want to use all my devices when making a purchase” – Does your site work well on mobile devices and on poorer network connections? This should include both a responsive imaging solution and leveraging a content delivery network particularly if you are trading internationally.

The amount of purchases being made on smartphones and tablets continues to rise, but we also now have significant research to indicate that these devices are just as important for researching products prior to completion. We often see customers browsing on mobiles in the morning, reviewing on desktop during the day and completing purchases on a tablet in the evening.

“I haven’t got time to wait” – We could write a dedicated post purely covering website speed and performance. Your visitor numbers will be increased but each customer still expects pages to load quickly and in under 2 seconds. Customers don’t suddenly have more patience just because it’s a busy time of year. You may have invested significant sums in getting your paid search listings to the top, but if I click through and the page takes too long to load, I’ll click back and select the next entry down. A wasted investment in media and a lost customer.

“I want to talk to someone” – At Christmas you’re often ordering for someone else, and like me might be ordering products you’ve never heard of, purchased or used and therefore need some advice before deciding what to do. Make sure that the ways in which customers can contact you are easy to find and that you respond promptly through whichever channel you use. A telephone number is great, but many retailers now use live chat or video chat as a more cost effective alternative to provide the same ‘instant’ response while a customer is on the site. The key with responding to any queries is a quick and concise response particularly those who are online and looking to buy, waiting 24 hours for a response to an e-mail during peak could well cost you the sale and hand it to one of your competitors.

 “I’m not setting up an account” – This one often divides marketing and trading teams. Many customers at this time of year may be purchasing a specific item they wouldn’t normally buy and don’t expect to return for repeat purchases – so don’t force them to create an account with you. As part of the checkout process, the customer will have to supply all the data you could want so give them the option to use ‘Guest Checkout’ and you can always send them a communication post purchase recommending they create an online account, better still include the option for them to write a review on their experience

“I want my order when it’s convenient for me” – If we go back just a couple of years, the focus was on offering multiple delivery options including timed slots and nominated day delivery. Whilst this is still valid, there is now a rise in demand for same day delivery, and delivery to lockers or collection points which are located in busy public places, which offer customers a way to receive items without needing to change their routine or to wait at home, something they may not have time for. When shipping orders, directly to customers or via a collection point, do it quickly! This includes ensuring your warehouse pick, pack and send the order promptly and the carrier completing the fulfilment process in a timely manner. Provide customers with text and/or e-mail updates at each step of the process which will also reduce the number of ‘Where’s my order’ calls you receive in the run up to Christmas.

Engage the customers with your brand

User Experience is all about the customer

Social media for sales and service – Engaging directly with customers is now easier than it’s ever been. Many retailers now use the likes of Facebook and Twitter as additional customer service channels and share exclusive promotions through these channels. Some retailers are nervous about opening up these communication channels in case a customer ‘writes something bad’. Everybody gets it wrong sometimes and consumers will accept that, and if you deal with it promptly and provide resolution, other customers will have increased trust in your brand knowing that if something does go wrong, you’re there to sort it out for them.


Provide information to allow customers to ‘self serve’ – Make it clear what your last order dates are, the cut off times for express delivery options, and if you’re extending your returns policy that’s great – but make sure you tell customers. Customers get many marketing e-mails but not so many service e-mails – if your customers opt in – let them know the order has been picked, it’s been shipped, it’s out for delivery, it’s waiting for them to pick it up….

Ask for feedback and display reviews – As with most things in life, negative feedback will always be provided whether you ask for it or not, but it’s rare to get positive feedback unless you specifically prompt someone. Ask your customers to write a review and pose them some questions… Is there anything they would improve if they were in your shoes? What did they like about their experience? Would they order from you again? Would they like to sign up to your loyalty programme?

User experience recommendations for eCommerce retailers…

There is still time for you to make changes for this peak season;

Mobile device performance – Try using your website on your mobile device, away from the office and without WiFi enabled. Clear your cache on your mobile so you experience what a new customer to your brand would. Are there pages or images taking a long time to load? Can these be replaced in your CMS to improve the performance? Are there any input boxes or selection fields that prove tricky to complete and can these be tweaked prior to peak trading?

Customer service – Perhaps you could add your contact details in the header of the website or a link to the page with all the ways customers can contact you. Give an indication for e-mails or contact us forms how quickly you will respond to them. If you don’t have live chat on your site, there are many providers who can support this and it is a very small change to add the feature on to your site and train your staff to use it

Resource planning – Have you shared a copy of your trading forecast with your warehouse and your customer service team. This may seem obvious, and many retailers assume when using a 3PL particularly, they will naturally assume orders and queries will increase, but have you given them visibility of your daily order forecast which will be linked to your marketing activity

Social media – If you’re promoting your social media accounts on your website, be prepared for customers to use these as ways to contact you. Make sure you give someone responsibility for responding to tweets and posts from your customers. A personal response to customers gives your brand a ‘human touch’ and increases consumer confidence there are people behind the website to help them if something does go wrong…