Monday, August 18, 2014

Commerce and Content – Still not fully integrated

The two disciplines of digital content management and eCommerce have been side-by-side for many years now, but why has the enterprise software / service market not yet managed to create a bunch of mature products that have both great content management systems (CMS’s) and great digital retailing service… and that are actually fully integrated into each other?

I believe the root of this problem lies in the origins and on-going management of these two inter-connected digital disciplines. Back in the dim and distant days you had two distinct silos for managing online: the digital marketing team who managed the content (text, images and increasingly rich assets such as video) and the eBusiness or eCommerce team who managed the product catalogue & payment side of things. In my opinion this has historically resulted in two different sets of people creating disparate experiences and leaving one crucially important person floundering in between… the customer.

The only thing is, the customers these days do actually notice when an online experience clashes. They quickly give up when they are struggling with a user interface that doesn't help them search, find and browse through the products they want. They try your competitor’s URL when your site doesn't connect product content with the ability to buy it in one simple action.

I therefore think the major vendors of Web Content Management (WCM) and eCommerce need to seriously take a look at their product stack. They then need to integrate & align these two areas into one compelling proposition. This shouldn't be done in half measures (E.g. by a large CMS vendor just buying up a small eCommerce product and offering it as a complex bolt-on  to their already weighty offering), in most cases this will need a complete re-think of both sides of the equation to create something that works for the customer (and the end user).


Until then, both in-house teams and the customer will continue to have a mixed experience. And quite frankly in this more mature digital age…. That’s bloody awful!

Friday, August 1, 2014

What factors affect your conversion?

Everyone who runs an eCommerce website is hooked on conversion as the vital key performance indicator to improve. And quite rightly…. It is the one metric that tells you how well your website it turning lookers into bookers (or browsers into buyers if you don’t like things rhyming and prefer alliteration instead.).
So what affects conversion? Well there are a number of factors that have an influence including:

  • Usability
    How easy your site is to navigate and transact with
  • Security
    How well your site conveys and actually take steps to ensure the safety of customer data
  • Content
    How well  the site text and imagery informs &  supports the sales process
  • Layout
    It’s not just how much you have on a page, it’s where you put it that counts
  • Speed
    How quickly your site appears & displays affects bounce & therefore conversion
  • Aesthetics
    How it looks also affects how it converts (try changing the colour of a few buttons if you don’t believe me)

All you have to do it find out what works for your customers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Facebook revives Social Commerce, but will it work?

The topic of Social Commerce (or SocialCommerce if you like to remove that middle space to look modern) has arisen again recently with two announcements:

Firstly Twitter a few weeks back allowed a 'buy now' button in its promoted tweet messages.
Secondly today Facebook have announced that they will do something similar and allow online shoppers to click a “buy" button. This will allow them to purchase items in adverts or other posts, without leaving the social network platform.

But will these small but important innovations fuel the much discussed 'social commerce' development of social media?

Or will it merely create further annoyance to Twitter and Facebook users, who already have a significant proportion of monetised screen real estate taken up with promotions and ads?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Give the customer what they want

“The customer is always right, even when they are wrong”, was the phrase drilled into me at my very first retail job, a weekend activity that furnished me with enough money to gain some independence during my late teenage years (e.g. to drive a car and to date girls clearly out of my league).

I questioned this mantra at first, asking why someone had the right to reverse common sense just because they wielded money. However, I subsequently came around to this financial perspective, especially when it earned me further work and therefore some incremental income. I had therefore succumbed to one of the pressures of modern life, I had followed the money and given the customer the control.


But now, as I consult on eCommerce projects across the globe, I find a similar situation… that the online customer is right in whatever they do, even if they don’t do what you want them to do. In other words: you can craft what you think is the best online user experience, you can come up with what you believe is the most persuasive design and you can create the most engaging content I the eyes of your stakeholders… however if the relevant customer doesn't have what they want to make their decision (e.g. to take them forward to purchase), then all your hypotheses aren't worth anything.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

UX actions to do BEFORE you redesign your website - part 2

Here's the second part of my thoughts on the UX actions to consider before redesigning your website. Part 1 is available here.

4. Benchmark
So who in your competitive market is doing a better job of things than you online and who isn't? What does great look like for your digital customers and why? If you cannot answer these two questions, then you clearly haven't assessed the competition and understood what makes other sites better.
Action:
Review at least a handful of competitors websites to understand how they solve the same problems you have. Assess the features that make them easy to use (you might even want to look further afield at organisations that aren't necessarily in competition with you, but just have similar goals).
Note: For a small cost you can even point your usability tool at these competitive sites and give users the same tasks you give your own site.

5. Map out the customer journeys
Not all goals are the same on each site. Whether your aim is to generate leads or to directly convert users to buy a good or service, the path to acquisition can be difficult and dependant upon a huge number of factors. Action:
Map out the journey through your site for each of your key personas, ideally from initial awareness and acquisition through to them converting and beyond (e.g. into being a brand advocate). These functional flows will explain to you, your stakeholders, your developers and your testers what is happening to your users.
Note: Remember to include the situations when things don't go exactly according to plan.

6. Build your sitemap
It's not all about functionality, you also need to map out your content and the site's information architecture.
Action:
Draw up the hierarchy of your primary content pages and understand how each of your topics is delivered (if necessary for each device).



7. Wireframe the key templates
Producing a schematic or blueprint of every key page will create a visual guide of what your online users will experience. Wireframes will explain: the kinds of information displayed, the functions available, the priority of the information & functions, any display rules and effects of personalisation & other scenarios.
Action:
Create your wireframes based upon your customer journeys and the sitemap. But remember to test your creation before going into design.


  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Digital leadership - be more than an online expert

Being a digital leader means you need to be more than just an absolute expert in one area of online technology or marketing. You may know all about PPC, display & remarketing, SEO, email , display, affiliates and social media, but this isn't enough. To truly be at (and stay at) the forefront of digital, you really need to have the following qualities or experience:

1.  A leader of people
It's not just enough to have line managed the odd eCommerce staff member or digital agency, you need to be a mentor & coach, a motivator and a decision maker who can support and build a high performing team members to do great things.

2. An all-rounder
To understand how to get the best from that team, you ideally need an understanding of all aspects of online business. From being able to produce a focused digital business case to justify further investment, through to engaging with your opposite number in the technology department... you are going to have to have a broad spread of expertise.

3. An innovator
What have you done in your career that wasn't just "me too" but truly ground breaking? Have you been creative in your delivery of a new digital platform or applied a new method or approach to a building a difficult user interface? Have you been the first in your industry to trial a new device or an advanced technology that was subsequently adopted by the rest?

4. A strategic brain
Are you able to consider the bigger picture and link your team's work to the business drivers of the wider company? The creation and ownership of your organisations digital strategy should sit with you, it's yours to manage shape and develop as the company grows in its adoption of new online technologies and practices.

5. A customer advocate
Do you know who your customers are and what their digital needs really are? Do you know why your online presence or your eCRM initiatives work well (and why sometimes they don't strike a core)? It's not just a case of hiring a user experience (UX) person to do your thinking for you... you also need to get under the skin of your users and know what drives both their loyalty & resistance.

6. A scientist
Getting data from your analytics package is a basic necessity for any online practitioner these days, but being able to dive into the dashboards and analyse the insight that the information is giving you needs more than just a little diligence. You should also have experience of carrying out multiple experiments to improve your goals, ideally from a programme of on-going AB and Multi-Variate tests.

7. A communicator
It's fine to have strong views on those topics that you are passionate about, but you also need to be able to get your ideas across in a structured and eloquent manner.... especially to senior stakeholders.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

UX actions to do BEFORE you redesign your website - part 1

Before you dive into a full creative redesign of your next website project, here's six user experience tasks I recommend you carry out.

1. Understand who your customers are:
Some of the biggest mistakes I've seen on sites are when they assume who the customer is... without actually find out the trust and validating that assumption. I'm sure we've all seen or heard of the exec who comes along at the beginning of a new digital project and says "I know who our customer is, I don't need to research them" or something similar.
Action:
Dip into your site's analytic package and see if this provides any insight into who your current visitors are (just don't assume this will be the same going forwards or that the same type of visitors all convert in the same way).
Note: If this doesn't tell you much, then carry out whatever research you can (Alexa demographic figures, online survey, site registration details, etc.)

2. Create customer personas
Personas are simply a way of describing the attributes, qualities and required outcomes of your key customer types. I believe that the aim here is not to be too descriptive about who they are (e.g. what income they have or what car they drive) but to describe their online needs (e.g. what they specifically want from your website).
Action:
Jakob Neilson says that you only need to test with 5 users to get the best from your usability tests [link] and I also think the same is true of personas. In other words, I recommend creating more than a couple but don't create too many.

3. Review your current site(s)
"Our site is rubbish, I want something entirely new" said the business stakeholder to me on a recent website redesign project. To which I replied... "that rubbish site is currently making millions of £'s worth of revenue for you each year, it must be doing something right!"
Yes, sure sites can always be improved... but just to slate everything about the current one without actually know what is working well (and conversely what is not) is of vital importance to ensure that you do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Action:
Carry out a set of user test on your website to see what users like & don't, plus where they incur obvious struggle in completing their goals.
Note: A few tests using a tool such as whatusersdo.com will highlight key user issues and also provide a permanent record of just how 'rubbish' your site is or isn't.