In our previous article we discussed one of three different approaches to forming your e-commerce strategy.

In this article we discuss a more analytical approach, Utility.

Increasing Perceived Utility

I’d like to introduce the concept of Perceived Utility. This is a bastardisation of sorts on Perceived Value Modelling, but I’ve changed it so it’s directly related to the things website managers can do, you’ll read why in a second.

But firstly, we’ll look at what happens when you turn to your customers and ask them what they want.

Creating Passionate Users - User Surveys
(Image from the infinitely more clever and talented Kathy Sierra)

It’s easy to get trapped into the thinking nicely summarised by that famous(and probably apocryphal) Henry Ford quote “If I’d asked my customer’s what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”. This quote implies that you shouldn’t turn to your users, and that’s just untrue.

Disasatrous inventions

Every time you don’t consult with your customers, disaster is likely to strike…

What you need to do is interpret their requirements, why do they want a faster horse? Iterative questioning like this will soon lead to what is actually needed, rather than the “sharp peaks” of users’ immediate wishes.

What we need to find out is what actually matters to our website visitors, and a neat-o way of doing this is by Perceived Value Modelling.

Perceived Value Modelling allows you to find out what elements of an experience are important to your users, and how your website ranks against your Competitors (and Substitutes and Alternates if you’re doing a full-on CIM freak out, but that’s not for today).

Perceived Utility = Perceived Use + Perceived Price

We start by running a survey asking customers about the top five things they look for in a website. You might like to offer a drop down list of 20 options, but always provide an ‘other’ category. You don’t know everything. It’s a pain because they’ll be misspelling abound, but you only need around 100 responses for this to be of use.

As an aside – I’ve found SurveyGizmo the best solution for doing this, but any survey software that allows you to pipe responses into other questions will be fine.

The reason you need piping, is because you then ask the participant to rank how important that aspect is to them. They have, say 100 points to spend across the five aspects they’ve chosen.

Now, here’s the science bit. You then ask them to rank your competitors sites against yours. Note that SurveyGizmo is a bit clumsy here, the best solution I found was the ‘Star Ranking’ option.

Survey asking people to rank websites against yours

So, having done that, we pick the five top aspects, and the proportionate importance given to them by our customers.

Perceived Use Value (PUV)

  • Product Photography/Video (15 points)
  • Ability to compare (15 points)
  • Wish List/Save for later (30 points)
  • Instore Collection ( 20 points)
  • Methods of Payment (20 points)

Perceived Price (PP)

Now, in Perceived Value Modelling, you would then map this against the price of your product, and where you sit in the market. However, since for many of us, we can’t directly make decisions about the price structure for the websites that we manage, what other elements of an e-commerce experience can be perceived as a price?

  • Site Speed.
  • Ease of Use.
  • Reward for loyalty.
  • Cost of Delivery.
  • Speed of Delivery.
  • Ease of Return & Refund.

From experience, it’s best to pose these questions as positives. (It also helps with our calculation next).

at least it didn’t spell “boobies”

What? Maths? Give me a break here Matt

There’s no way I can make this sexy and fun , unless I pepper the post with stock photography of attractive people holding calculators.

You can then perform exactly the same method as you did with Perceived Use. I’ve found it easier to ask customers to pick three aspects of price, but you might wish to ask for five.

Now we pick say the top three competitors identified, and the five Use and three Price aspects ranked, and we stick them in a lovely table. Out of the star rankings, we normalise them to a -2 (0 Stars) to +2 (2 stars) scale.

Use Points   SITE A SITE B SITE C
Product Photography 15   2 -1 -1
Ability to Compare 15   -2 1 2
Wish List 30   -1 1 0
Instore Collection 20   -2 2 1
Methods of Payment 20   2 -1 2
           
Price          
Site Speed 40   1 -1 -2
User Friendliness 35   2 0 -2
Availability of Support 25   1 0 1
           
Use     Total A Total B Total C
Product Photography     30 -15 -15
Ability to Compare     -30 15 30
Wish List     -30 30 0
Instore Collection     -40 40 20
Methods of Payment     40 -20 40
      -30 50 75
Price          
Site Speed     40 -40 -80
User Friendliness     70 0 -70
Availability of Support     25 0 25
      135 -40 -125
           
Total Score     105 10 -50

You could even chart them if you like?

So what does this tell us?

Well looking at our competitors…

Site A: Light on the features that matter but they have great photos and accept lots of payment methods, because of this, the site is faster and much simpler than ours.

Site B: Very similar to ours overall. However, what they have done to integrate instore collection has slowed the site down.

Site C: Feature rich, but it looks like they’re contracted featuritis, they have only redeemed themselves by making support available.

So what can I do about this?

So you have two options, you can start looking at implementing features that actually matter to your customers (Increasing your Use score) or making your site friendlier to use (Increasing your Price score).

I can’t help you on increasing your Use, I’m afraid, since this will be something unique to your customers, but there’s plenty we can do about Price. If you are looking at increasing Use, bear the effect it will have on Price, you might contract Featuritis!

Increase your Price Score

Often the “quickest win” in terms of improving your Price Score is to look at your Site Speed. This seems like an easy one to fix, but first it comes with
monitoring. There’s plenty of companies out there that will help you
with this – Keynote, Gomez, Sci Visum to name three.

If you’re on a budget,
then there are add-ons to Firefox that allow you to measure page speed,
and the Activity option in Safari can quickly show you if there’s any
elements on your site that haven’t been properly optimised.

Speaking of optimisation, Yahoo has a great (if rather techie)
guide on Site Optimisation.

Look to your developers, and see if they have cunning plans. I really have to give one of my guys a shout out. One
of the developers at a web agency I use, Dave McDermid, recently revealed he’d been working on
a way to move parts to the site from classic ASP to .NET MVC – speeding
up the site by orders of magnitude not possible by simple database
tweaks. You should encourage this sort of “underground” innovation in
your developer teams.

In terms of Ease Of Use & how to get delivery right…may I remind you, you’re reading this article on Econsultancy?

There’s some sites that do Return & Refund very well. Fashion and clothing
sites could learn a lot from Yoox.com (yes, them again) – who not only have a strong
business model, a kick-ass mobile site, and some of best behavioural
analytics this side of Tesco, but also have a cast-iron, falling of a
log simple returns policy. They even have an entire part of their
site dedicated to it.

Right! Well done you for getting this far. Next up is the last strategy, Innovation.