Friday, August 26, 2011

On User Experience and Engagement

You have a website that sells stuff. You want people to buy more stuff. How do you make that happen?

I've seen a few ideas on this, things like:

Better User Experience
Easier Transactions
Compelling Pricing
Good recommendations

Two companies have solved this problem pretty well: Amazon and their somewhat recent acquisition, Zappos.

What is their answer: Customer Focus.

And in my opinion that wraps up a general principle. Your customer has to trust you or have an emotional connection with you. If they don't they will jump ship at the first opportunity. They have no brand loyalty, because they don't trust in the brand, and that's only if you have a strong brand to start with.

I have a general principle: I'll buy from a more trusted source at up to a 15% higher price.

A key word in there is "more". If it came off the back of a lorry, I think I'll pass regardless.

This is where a company like Zappos has hit the jackpot. I trust Zappos so much, I'll pay upwards of 50% more than somewhere else. I'm a bit shy when I'm working in a domain I'm not an expert in, and I find dealing with retail staff a bit trying, so I'd rather just order it from a website that can tell me five times as much as a retail person can. The conventional downside? Returns, and the ability to try something on.

Enter Zappos. Free returns. 100% Free? Not exactly. I'm guessing the reason I pay a bit of a premium for their products is because of this. But you know what, I'm glad for it. I don't have time to get to a brick and mortar store often, and normally, they only have a few dozen items that I'm interested in. I don't want to deal with retail staff who know a fraction of what I'd like to know, and I'd like to have a chance to see what other people think about a product.

Some of the bullets above are captured in the concept of trust, but some aren't. Low prices are compelling, but convenience and trust is far more compelling. Variety is also very compelling, but finding things I want is also compelling, so recommendations are very important, and also, very good search functionality.

In my opinion, Search Functionality is something Amazon and Zappos have yet to fully master. They do a far better job than others, but ultimately, I still struggle to find what I'm looking for sometimes.

Why is that? One reason I've noticed is that there are often terms of art in clothing that I'm not familiar with. I can't pick from a search facet that uses words I don't understand. There is no link to explain what they mean most times, so I have no way to find out, short of Googling each term, and that starts to chip away at the convenience factor pretty quickly. Another reason is the choice of facets. I'm guessing they've done their research and they show the best overall facets. I know I'm not a typical user, but I am a user that spends a lot of money online, and I rarely get the facets I want. Price bands are rarely where I would draw the lines, and feature facets are often not the features I care about. I imagine I'd have a better shot at completing my impulse buy if I could find what my impulse desired more easily!!

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