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In order to deliver amazing online experiences, retailers need to first understand and visualise what they should look like. 

This appreciation comes from reviewing great physical retail experiences to form a frame of reference.

Why? Because the demands of today’s online consumer are forged in great physical shopping experiences.

What do amazing face-to-face retail experiences look like?

Consider a scenario where a consumer has buying intent (“buying intent” is someone with a buying purpose or need) and has a one-to-one interaction with a great salesperson in a retail store: 

  1. A great salesperson will modify the information presented based on a consumer’s questions and preferences.
  2. The salesperson presents relevant information around these question/preference prompts.
  3. The information presented is easy to understand (no jargon).
  4. The salesperson has sales tools and deep knowledge to assist decision-making and introduces this information at the right time.

The consumer feels this experience is personalised because it is relevant, its presented on his/her terms and the information assists decision-making. For these reasons, across various sources of research, physical retail conversion rates range from 20% to 40%.

What do amazing online experiences look like?

Like the physical experience, amazing online experiences need to be considered from the consumer perspective and be based on a one-to-one interaction.   

When a consumer has a buying intent he/she will:

  1. Seek out relevant information on the topic, product, or service on their device of choice.
  2. The consumer will choose the extent to which they continue this mission, and may complete it or pause it based on their immediate situation.
  3. If they pause the journey and continue it later, regardless of device, the consumer easily picks up where he/she left off and completes their mission to their satisfaction. 
  4. The consumer completes the mission only once they have achieved their goal, met their need, or solved their problem which comes in many forms: online purchase, online booking, service request, consuming relevant content, heading to a physical store.

To meet this online consumer requirement, retailers need to be visible in the right places, be easy to deal with, speak the consumer’s language and add value (provide content to assist with decision-making).

To summarise, the standard of relevancy needs to be high. For retailers to deliver amazing online experiences they are essentially selling (presenting content) in the identical way a consumer wants to purchase (receive content).

Retailers are in the business of helping people buy their products

Jeff Bezos said it best: "We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions." 

For a retailer to match their selling techniques to the way consumer’s want to purchase, a retailer needs to build empathy towards consumers and their needs. Brian Eisenberg, internationally recognised as a thought-leader in creating amazing online consumer experiences, says: "Empathy demands you (the retailer) think about how the customer goes about the process of buying and that you find ways to make it easier."

He continues, "Empathy begs you to help them to make a more confident decision, remove their fears, and ultimately allow them to make the decision that is best for them, not just for you."

Nobody likes to be sold to.

In the diagram below there are two circles, “How Retailers Sell” and “How Consumers Buy”. The overlap is a representation of a retailer meeting the expectation of the consumer. This overlap is a retailer’s online conversion rate (global average ranges between 2.3% to 3%).

  

In a retail world obsessed with personalisation, the act of helping consumers buy is creating personalised experiences. Personalisation delivers amazing experiences.

Lifting online experiences to “amazing” levels is crucial and the focus of this article. To achieve this act of creating amazing online experiences requires 10 principles to work harmoniously together.   

The 10 Principles:

Principle 1. Consumers are on a journey

Not only are consumers on a journey, these journeys are becoming longer. In 2015 Edelman and Singer from McKinsey & Company discussed their views of consumer journeys in the Harvard Business Review. They call it the “consumer decision journey” and explain how it is “becoming central to a consumer’s experience of a brand – and as important as the products themselves in providing competitive advantage”.

The HBR article talks about the recent shift in strategic planning “from being primarily reactive to aggressively proactive” in consumer journey analysis and how to leverage this insight. Those brands deemed sophisticated, work hard to recognise and understand these customer journeys and redesign their operations around it.  

In 2014 Google found that on average consumers referenced 12 sources of information online before buying online or in store. In 2010, the average was five. 

Takeaway. Design experiences for journeys comprising multiple interactions.

Principle 2. Each journey comprises multiple steps and the consumer needs to be in control of every step they take 

This principle has two interconnected sub-principles:  

  1. Consumers are taking multiple steps.
  2. While undertaking these steps, consumers need to feel they are in control of each step they take.

Multiple steps:

Each journey comprises multiple phases that will vary for each consumer. No two journeys will be alike.  

These are the actual steps consumers take on their journey. In the eyes of the consumer, a “step” occurs when he/she takes an action and new content is presented (or the same content appears differently). If after a "step" the presentation of content improves in relevancy, it provides consumers the sense they are moving closer to having their need being met and builds momentum.

For the steps to seamlessly flow together, the right actions must appear at the right time and be obvious. Does your site do this? To find out, consider a highly trafficked page and ask one question: 

“What are the one (or two) action(s) I want the consumer to take on this page?” 

Once this question is answered, look to see how obvious the action is on the page. This question (and the answer) helps you to look at this and all other pages through the eyes of a consumer.

The consumer is in control:

There has been a behavioural shift from consumers around their expectations of interactions with retailers. The now “empowered consumer” demands to be in control throughout the journey they are driving for themselves.  

If the consumer is not empowered to control their own experiences they will leave and move to a retailer who can support how he/she wants to engage with content. Those retailers who can achieve this build competitive advantage.

Stephen Denning from Forbes says:  

The globalization and shift of power in the marketplace from seller to buyer has put the consumer in charge.

To ensure the integrity of this sub-principle, retailers need to audit the specific behaviours of all site functionality and content presentation across all devices.

Some examples of what to look for: 

  1. Does content present itself that was not requested by the consumer?
  2. When a consumer clicks on a link or call-to-action did it meet their expectation?   
  3. Is the consumer forced to take unnecessary steps to complete an action (as perceived by the consumer)?
  4. Before a consumer activates functionality, was the consumer's expectation set prior to activation?  
  5. Does functionality activate or adjust content without the consumer’s permission?

The above situations deliver a sense to the consumer they are not in control of their own journey.

A common example of this in action is consumers selecting a “wishlist” icon on product detail pages. If the consumer is not logged in or does not have an account, the typical response of this functionality is to take the consumer to a Log In/Create Account page.  The consumer did not ask to be taken here!  To rectify, retailers need to re-engineer this functionality.    

One example of giving the control back to the consumer in the wishlist example is to allow him/her to add one item to a wishlist and elegantly present a message stating this wishlist will be saved during this session only. The message would go on to introduce benefits of using the wishlist with a call-to-action to create an account or sign in.  

In this revised treatment of wishlist functionality, the retailer:

  1. Allows the consumer to take the action he/she wants to take.
  2. Sets the consumer's expectation.
  3. Provides the consumer with options on how to improve the experience.

Applying this approach shifts the control from retailer to consumer. It is these micro events that build up to make amazing macro experiences.

Takeaway. Great experiences are filled with obvious actions for each step and the continuous presentation of relevant content. While undertaking steps, the system (the mix of business systems and ecommerce technology) does not respond until the consumer tells it to.

Once systems respond, it provides the consumer with exactly what it promised it would deliver, thus giving the consumer the sense of total journey control.

Principle 3. The function of “UX” 

“UX” is not the customer experience silver bullet. It plays a critical part but it is a part of a bigger whole.

As this article illustrates, designing amazing online experiences is not undertaken within a single activity. So, what does UX look like and how does it contribute to create amazing online experiences? 

To answer, the “UX” function needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed. 

Deconstructing “UX”

“UX” needs to be broken down into two parts: 

  1. “Interaction Cost” management
  2. “Value Creation”

Interaction Cost:

Interaction cost” is the effort required of consumers to undertake their steps within a journey and is made up of two forms of effort: physical and mental. 

Examples of physical effort:

  • Clicking 
  • Scrolling 
  • Swiping 
  • Typing
  • Waiting for pages to load

Waiting for a web page to load may not seem an obvious example of physical effort, but slow loading pages physically restrain consumers from moving on to next steps. Revert back to the example of a great physical retail experience and imagine the salesperson slowing their speech down when speaking to the consumer. It’s the same thing. 

Examples of mental effort:

  • Consumer confusion (they are lost or their expectation was not met).
  • Avoiding visually strong irrelevant content (carousels).
  • Dealing with attention switches (page refreshes).
  • Dealing with content he/she did not request (pop-ups).
  • Needing to memorise content in order to make a decision (cognitive load).

Though interaction cost can never be completely extinguished, the goal for retailers is to reduce both forms of effort as much as possible

Don’t confuse interaction cost with the term usability. Usability is more commonly used to describe a site's ease of use. Jakob Nielson, founder of the NN Group, says: “interaction cost is a direct measure of usability” and has been around for a long time. Interaction cost was introduced in the 1990s to evaluate the usability of new software systems.   

Interaction cost management is the act of reducing effort to make a site more usable.   

Value creation: 

“Value creation” is the creation and presentation of content to build value in a consumer’s journey. Value creation enhances experiences by contributing to a consumer’s decision-making process. By contributing (or adding value) to the journey, the retailer is simplifying a consumer's next steps.

The act of creating value is hard to achieve. For retailers to get it right they need to have a firm grasp of:

  1. A consumer’s pain points and when these pain points occur in the journey.
  2. How to translate the pain points into content and engaging experiences. 
  3. Seamlessly weaving the "value" into the consumer journey across all touchpoints at precisely the right time.

Though it's hard to achieve, the benefits are significant. Value creation becomes a relationship enhancing mechanism creating an emotional connection between retailer and consumer, building brand affinity (the most durable kind of customer loyalty).  

Value creation is the "empathy" element discussed earlier. Some examples of tools used to create value:

  1. Product video
  2. Buyers and “How to” Guides
  3. Guided selling content and/or tools

Patrick Newberry, co-author of the book titiled “Experience Design: A Framework for Integrating Brand, Experience, and Value” (2013) says: “businesses make the mistake of assuming superficial design efforts can fix the problems of inefficient communication”. In Wired, Newberry goes on to say businesses need to “engage customers in experiences they find value in”. 

In isolation, interaction cost and value creation do not deliver amazing online experiences. You can reduce interaction cost, but no extra value is being added. You can create content contributing to decision-making but if the experience is confusing and/or hard to use, consumers will not endure the process.

Reducing interaction cost is like a desert highway...

 

It’s very efficient in getting you from A to B, there are no distractions, but it is boring.

Value creation is like a coastal mountain highway...

 

The scenery is beautiful but it takes 10 times longer to get from A to B, and it’s easy to become lost.

Reconstructing “UX" 

To effectively contribute to creating amazing online experiences these two functions must work together. An example of these two parts coming together can be found at Sephora.com.

Sephora case study:

Consider a consumer who has buying intent for eyeliner and ends up in the relevant section of the Sephora site. As a consumer scrolls down the list of products they are presented with a wide variety of “eyeliner looks” they can achieve by using different eyeliner products.  

These looks comprise content guiding the user to select the right product.

 

The bottom of the eyeliner category page presents “How-to” videos providing further guidance to those who need more information on applying certain looks (a potential pain point).

The Sephora example is an elegant coming together of both interaction cost management and value creation. An example of interaction cost and value creation not working well together is Nike’s custom shoe builder:

 

Nike has invested heavily in this customisation engine allowing consumers to create their own style of shoe (value creation). However the process of creating the shoe, the steps involved, and the amount of customisation available is all unclear, contributing to an increase in interaction cost. 

UX Mag published an article in May 2016 titled “How are UX principles influencing visual design”, which discussed how “the richness of new design methods, best practices and tools are turning the graphic and visual design industry on its head”. 

The article quotes Ivan Chermayeff, from globally renowned agency Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv:

Design is directed toward human beings. To design is to solve human problems by identifying them, examining alternate solutions to them, choosing and executing the best solution.

Takeaway. The UX function is a key part of creating amazing online experiences, not the whole. UX specialists need to focus on reducing interaction cost and work with the retailer to dig deeper to better understand consumer pain points (empathy) and design experiences to solve human problems which are then seamlessly woven into journeys. 

Principle 4. Respect the fold

The fold is as important as it was many years ago, but the dynamic has changed.

  

Though today’s consumer is more prone to scrolling, he/she will not exert unnecessary effort if they perceive the content below the fold will not add value to their journey.

If they view relevant/meaningful content above the fold, the assumption is there will be more relevant content down the page below the fold. This assumption will prompt consumers to scroll to find more relevant content. 

Takeaway. Make sure meaningful relevant content is presented above the fold to prompt scrolling behaviour. This does not mean cramming content above the fold, retailers need to prioritise the content to ensure the most important content is placed at the top of the page. This is the act of establishing a content hierarchy.

Principle 5. Let data do the decision-making

Having access to the right data is an important part of determining what is and what is not working.  If there is clarity on the important things needing to be measured, “big data” becomes a non-issue.  

In the context of building amazing online experiences, focus on insights to bring clarity on the following: 

  1. What is working that turns “consumers” into “customers”? If you are still in business you must be doing something right, find out what it is and utilise it.
  2. What is bringing your customers back?
  3. What are your customer pain points?
  4. Why are consumers not turning into customers? What are the pain points of the people who come to you but do not buy from you

That last point is a crucial insight and becomes key to growth. It helps to enhance experiences for consumers where their loyalty resides with themselves and their own needs, not with your brand.  

Examples of valuable data sources:

  1. Site analytics to explain consumer behaviours and identify what is happening.
  2. Customer support centre data and online chat conversation data to identify consumer pain points.
  3. Understanding consumer and customer pain points from front-line employees (employee interviews).
  4. Consumer demand research. This explains what consumers are looking for (intent) and the terminology they use.

Points two and three are specifically designed to gain a truer sense of consumer pain points. The most accurate and clear representation of consumer pain points comes in the moment when it’s happening. If the consumer has intent and is in “pain” (“pain” is defined as the insufficient supply of content to the point where the consumer does not have enough confidence to purchase), consumers will make the effort to reach out to the retailer for help. 

A recent study showed 64% of consumers reached out to customer support to assist them with an online or in store purchase. Because in-store employees and call center staff are positioned on the "front line", they are perfectly positioned to be exposed to this pain.

These teams of valuable people are the critical sources in explaining the “Why”. These front line employees know how to work through and overcome the pain, making them valuable contributors to developing digital solutions.

The depth and understanding gained from this data principle translates into the retailer’s ability to deliver the right experiences at the right time, helping a retailer build empathy and drive “value creation”.  

Takeaway. Focus on the right data to build your understanding of pain points and how consumers want to buy from you.   

Principle 6. Apply best practice   

In 2015, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted research on the future of growth in business and found the key was to apply and exploit best practices:

Slow growth comes from a failure by many firms to adopt best practices. 

There has been an incorrect assumption among businesses around the availability of digital best practices. Now 20 years on there are best practice methodologies, principles and processes for ecommerce, digital strategy, and digital conduct.

Like in the traditional business world, businesses utilise and rely on best practices to shape their conduct. Digital should not be treated differently. Best practice expedites a retailer’s digital evolution.  

One example of proven best practice is interaction cost management discussed in Principle 3.  

Takeaway: The application of best practice sets the foundation for a retailer’s digital evolution. 

Principle 7. Wireframes

The process of translating amazing online experiences from the planning stage to the screens is done through wireframes

Wireframes are ugly plain boxes guiding page element placement for all pages of a site across digital touchpoints. Wireframes ensure the integrity of the online experience strategy by eliminating the subjective (decisions made by personal tastes and opinions) and emotional influences of look and feel. 

The impacts of subjective and emotional influences can be felt if businesses translate their online experience strategy directly to visual mock ups. Wireframes provide design teams the context they need to visually represent the brand’s DNA and bring the plan to life.  

 

The other benefit to the use of wireframes is it speeds up the design process. Though it appears the addition of the wireframe step would extend the overall project timeline, it does the opposite. 

The design process does not begin until wireframes are approved by stakeholders. Once approved, the overlaying of brand, look and feel and content becomes easier to digest. The cyclical black-hole of design amendments disappear.

Takeaway: Wireframes are a strategic tool protecting the customer experience plan from personal tastes and opinions of stakeholders with influence.   

Principle 8. Design “Consumer First” not “Mobile First" 

When designing for the consumer (not the screen type) the retailer can leverage varying screen sizes to improve experiences.   

In 2014, House of Fraser moved to a "mobile first" design approach. This from Andy Harding, executive director for multichannel at House of Fraser:  

Consumer shopping habits are constantly evolving and given we now see more than 50% of our online traffic coming from mobile devices, we have changed our design strategy to ensure we provide the best possible experience for our online customers. 

House of Fraser's page element and content treatment on mobile is exceptional, however, it loses impact when its design translates to desktop screens.  

The desktop design would be better suited to display main categories horizontally to capitalise on this common navigation convention. This one change would reduce consumer interaction cost.

The mobile-first approach works to the philosophy of simplifying experiences for those who come from mobile and move to desktop to make use of the same navigation treatment. This approach assumes the way a consumer conducts his/her steps within a journey are the same across devices.

In June 2016 the NN Group wrote about the “less fortunate effects” of mobile-first designs:

The issue (with mobile-first) is taking sufficiently good mobile designs and porting them to desktops where they do not work as well. Mobile-first should not equal mobile-only.

They further clarify the fundamental source of issues come from the "uncompromising mobile-first approach which makes the other screens an afterthought".

A recent study was completed by Baymard Institute specifically analysing the different ways consumers use navigation across devices. They tested online retailers who use hidden menu systems on the mobile site and standard horizontal main navigation systems with mega menus ("mega menus" are menus which appear when consumers mouse over main categories in the horizontal main navigation) on their desktop site.  

Baymard Institute found clear trends when consumers took back steps. They:

  1. Used the browser "Back" button on mobile screens.
  2. Used the main navigation and the mega menu elements on desktop screens.

The qualitative data confirms this change in behaviour is due to the visually accessible menu systems on desktop screens. Instead of applying the amazing online experience plan to the mobile screens and scale up, do the following: 

  • Simultaneously create wireframes for all screen types
  • Consider consumer context for each device and design the screen for this context (what experience is the consumer looking for on a particular screen)
  • Do not forget about the enlarged monitors which are growing in popularity for desktop (upscaling) 

This creates online amazing experiences by:

  1. Allowing the retailer to emphasise design elements specific to each screen type (for example emphasising localised content on mobile screens).
  2. Providing a greater standard of functionality control per screen type (for example leveraging the different navigation systems). 
  3. Visual design elements can be treated differently for each screen type (for example delivering better utilisation of hover effects on desktop and design to compensate for the absence of hover effects on touch screens).

Future proofing new touchpoints

The customer experience design plan needs to sit above all touchpoints. The process of translating this plan to touchpoints (via wireframes) does not begin until planning is completed.

Designing for consumers, not screens, prepares retailers for new internet-enabled touchpoints. This chart shows the forecast of accessible internet devices and the mix by 2020:

 

The current “go to” devices will comprise 50% (approximately) of all digital touchpoints by 2020. The “internet of things” (IoT) has been intentionally excluded due to the engagement limitations available with smart fridges and thermostats (as an example). 

By keeping a “consumer first” design philosophy, the infusion of future touchpoints is made easier. Once the experience design plan is in place, you (the retailer) know the experiences to convey, the effort comes in how to apply it to the new device.  

Takeaway.  Keep the experience design plan above touchpoints and simultaneously build wireframes across each screen.  When applying the plan to a new device, focus on consumer context, and utilise the capabilities of the device as much as possible.

Principle 9. Design experiences for intent-driven “micro-moments”  

“Micro moments” is a term used by Google to describe a consumer’s moment of high intent and need for engagement . 

In today’s world where consumers are in complete control and bombarded with various stimuli throughout the day, it is nearly impossible to predict where the intent has come from and when it starts.

This makes the world of the retailer more complicated and is why the use of demographics as a proxy for people is not an effective approach for designing experiences. 

Consider this simple example of a consumer:

  • Susanne is a 40-year-old married mother of two, who owns a four-wheel drive (never takes it offroad), works part time and lives in a large city suburb.  
  • Her husband works in the city in an executive position and is the primary income earner. They have a modest four-bedroom home with a large mortgage.  
  • The kids are aged two and four, which makes it hard for Susanne to have time for herself and to purchase things for herself.  

To capitalise on this “micro-moment” principle, a beauty retailer would be better positioned to focus on that moment when Susanne runs out of eyeliner and goes online searching for “eyeliner” products. And then: 

  1. Be visible in the right places.
  2. Be easy to deal with.
  3. Speak her language.
  4. Deliver value at the right time (Sephora example).
  5. Be relevant. 

If this can be achieved, this retailer has the opportunity to acquire a new customer.

The reason for the demographic construction in the first place is to help retailers predict intent. By designing for intent, retailers can skip the use of a proxy and deliver relevant experiences. 

Forbes calls Google’s micro-moments a “game changer” for CMOs and goes on to say: 

If you aren’t competing for attention where its focused, you are not competing to win.  

Micro-moments are not replacing persona development, they're revolutionising it. 

Still not convinced? Millward Brown conducted extensive research in conjunction with Google and found the following: 

  • 31% of mobile searchers of video games are men ages 18-34.
  • 56% of sporting goods searchers on mobile are female.
  • 45% of home improvement searchers on mobile are women.
  • 40% of all baby product purchasers live in households without children.

To translate the statistics above, if a baby-supplies retailer was building online experiences only for mothers, they miss out on 40% of their target market.  If, for example, they targeted micro moments for “new-born baby gifts” they deliver another layer of relevancy to a market they never had access to before.

Takeaway. Design online experiences for intent-driven moments.

Principle 10. Be iterative (continuous improvement)

Never approach the online experience design process thinking it’s a “one–off”. The iterative continuous improvement discipline comes in two parts:

  1. Data mining, insight gathering and hypothesis creation. This is the part everyone talks about and is crucial. Over time, with the right foundation in place, data-driven decision-making becomes the norm.
  2. Iterative and agile development programming. This is the part very few talk about.

Iterative development

Technology is the enabler for everything and thus needs to continually evolve in order to align to the needs of the retailer (which also happens to be the needs of the consumer). 

The inability to become agile in a development context is one of the largest barriers to retailer evolution globally. This from Econsultancy’s 2015 Technology for Ecommerce report (300 top UK and US retailers surveyed): 

What are the main barriers that prevent you from growing your ecommerce business as fast as you would like? (Company trends)

Of the top eight listed above, four relate to technology and are the result of poor technology vendor relationships, inflexible technology, and/or outdated (legacy) technology. These issues are the common characteristics of retailers who are slow in their digital evolution

An example of a retailer appreciating the above barriers is Target which is planning to spend $1.8bn on technology in 2016/2017. This will be the first time in the retailer's history it is spending more on technology than on bricks and mortar improvements. The investment will focus on improving customer experiences as well as what it calls "the unsexy but essential parts of Target's operations".  

Another question in the Econsultancy report asks:

From your experience in ecommerce, how many phases does it typically take to implement a new ecommerce technology? (Company trends)

Successful retailers understand technology needs to be iterative in nature and evolve when the business needs to evolve as in the case of Target. Consumers continuously adapt and evolve, meaning retailers must do the same, and at the same pace.

Being burdened with legacy technology will transform the “retailer’s circle” into a square very quickly making it almost impossible for a retailer to keep up.

Takeaway. Data becomes the foundation for future decision making, adopt the essence of iterative development in all aspects of technology with emphasis on the ecommerce technology, and partner with an ecommerce technology vendor who shares the same iterative development philosophy.

Pulling the 10 principles together: 

This section illustrates how the above 10 principles work and co-exist together to build amazing online experiences:

It starts with a “micro-moment”… in this example, “Eyeliner” 

 

The consumer has identified a need (“eyeliner”) and has come to a retailer’s site. From the consumer’s perspective, their journey has already begun. The journey started once the micro moment became strong enough to warrant the effort of seeking content and the need for engagement.  

The consumer’s first exposure to content will be from a wide array of sources (search engines, a retailer’s homepage, email, marketplaces, or a referral network). The amazing experience begins once she lands on a page with relevant content and is why the homepage is considered a “source”. 

The appreciation and recognition of the possible journeys

Through the data analysis principle there is recognition of the possible journeys consumers can take to achieve their goal of selecting the right eyeliner product.  In the above diagram, from the landing page there are four possible journeys a consumer can take to find the right eyeliner product 

Identifying the steps for each journey

The retailer identifies the steps required for the possible “eyeliner journeys”. This is the stage of the amazing online experience creation where the detail is applied:

  • Both the data and best practice have contributed to the ordering of the steps.
  • This has contributed and steered the page layouts and treatment of ecommerce functionality.
  • The steps are translated to relevant touchpoints (screens) through the simultaneous building of wireframes (consumer-first approach).
  • Sales tools are created (“value creation”) and placed strategically into the journeys at the right steps (represented in wireframes).
  • Content is prioritised with the most relevant being positioned above the fold (represented in wireframes).
  • Interaction cost management is initially applied and represented in the wireframes.
  • Approved wireframes are handed over to the design teams to overlay look/feel and brand DNA.  
  • The "value creation" elements are visually brought to life during the design phase.
  • Another deeper layer of interaction cost management is applied during the design phase. 

A more simplistic way to look at the previous diagram is to assume that it becomes the new and improved “Retailer’s Circle”, representing how a retailer plans on selling and presenting content with far greater alignment to consumers' needs and demands.

Being iterative (continuous improvement) 

This diagram is closer to real life, and is why the final principle (Be iterative - continous improvement) is crucial.

The introduction of the smaller “arrows” in the above diagram are the paths consumers actually take in their own unique journey to find the right product. These arrows represent the consumer's response to how the retailer is presenting content and the content itself. 

The continuous improvement discipline focuses on those “arrows” (or consumer paths) which do not take the consumer to his/her goal being achieved.  The paths of high interest for analysis are those where consumers leave the site and move in a backwards direction (not towards the goal). These will always be priority.  

Data will be gathered to define “what is happening” to give focus and context as to where to dig deeper to understand the “why”.  

This is the point where the continuous improvement efforts involve frontline employees, call centre teams, and online chat data to answer the important "why" questions. This is how retailers seek out the yet-to-be discovered pain points. The insights define and prioritise the development road map.

The "continuous improvement" principle is called "continuous" for a reason. As a retailer becomes better at organically refining experiences to be more in line with consumer needs, the continuous improvement process will continually find new pain points. Don't be discouraged, this is a good thing and is what's necessary in order to get closer to your (the retailer's) target consumer.

Below is the new and improved representation of the “Retailer's Circle”. However, with the principles working together, the size of the overlap (the conversion rate) has increased.

This "10 principles" approach is not new. It has been applied for more than 15 years with significant results. 

This is not a matter of “if” retailers should embrace and adopt these 10 principles, retailers have no choice but to.  

Greg Randall

Published 14 March, 2017 by Greg Randall

Greg Randall is a senior digital consultant with Comma Consulting and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Greg on LinkedIn and Twitter

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Comments (5)

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Maarten Baas, E-Business Consultant at Eperium

nice article!

11 days ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

An excellent post Greg. I need to re-read and properly digest but great work!

11 days ago

Market Force

Market Force, Performance Marketing Manager at Marketforce @ Digital RiverSmall Business

A great article here that emphasises how the retail experience maps out on to the online purchase flow. The customers in theory have the same challenges as retail, but with many factors that need to be addressed or enhanced for the online purchase flow.

We see many online experiences go down the heavy sales and merchandising approach (as in what can we sell the customer, rather than what is the customer actually after), which may leave the customer feeling slightly confused and lost in terms of what their typical purchase flow should be (I was here to purchase product X that I had in mind, but now I am even more confused to what the right product is for me now…and they may leave the process).

I have also read a lot of articles commenting on the need of responsive / mobile first approach…but I agree with the author that if your go for a mobile first approach, are we saying desktop needs to inherit the same experience (are we not just changing focus from one to another). The content, interactions and journey for each device comes with its own challenges and needs to be mapped out individually (as mentioned : Simultaneously create wireframes for all screen types).

If you have an existing online customer journey and if are not currently looking at points made in this article, it’s worth reviewing your online shopping experience. Start off by using tools and data to find out what customers are really doing on your site and are they achieving their desired goal? Then take the learnings to test and create a better customer experience / journey. Then remembering the final principle mention in the article (Be iterative - continuous improvement) is crucial. Nice article indeed!

11 days ago

nick keating

nick keating, Director EMEA at Bounce ExchangeEnterprise

A great article highlighting that it’s critical to mimic a great in-store personal experience with a similar personal experience online. And to achieve this, brands need to track and understand real-time behaviour (our digital body language) to help them identify the visitor, determine real time purchase intent and identify those 'micro moments' of higher intent. The individual’s behavioural profile can then be used to re-engage them through both off-site digital channels and by activating relevant on-site real-time content to ultimately nurture them across the multi-session, multi-device buying journey to the point of conversion.

10 days ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks Team,

I appreciate all the above comments. For me, the most important part of the above report is the last section which ultimately becomes a working model or guide. There is too much content floating around talking conceptually with no translation as to how to bring it to life.

CEO's, CMO's, CIO's, and all the rest need digital leadership and guidance but what they need the most is that practical "doing" narrative and is why many digital change projects end up in failure. The ideas, the concepts, the vision, the strategy will all be sound, however, the "bringing it to life" step is where it comes unstuck. No one knows how to translate.

Thanks again for everyone's support. I am working on the next big content project piece which is a deeper "how to" guide to constructing best practice eCommerce page layouts. The content is all written, now I need to "bring it to life" and get it published:)

Watch this space.

4 days ago

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