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COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our everyday lives. Forcing people and businesses alike to adapt and overcome; question marks immediately hovered over workplaces, marketplaces, and perhaps more broadly, social spaces. As the majority of us have been homebound for what has felt like an age, digital technology has provided the means to stay connected and navigate uncertainty.
These seemingly ever-moving goal posts have ushered in new behaviours and expectations; and if the last few months have provided a glimpse of the future of retail, it is evident that the experience of being a consumer has changed greatly. Indeed, one of the most obvious shifts has been towards digital and, when it comes to online shopping, many of us are using these services for the first time or simply purchasing products we would not have previously bought online.
Moving forward, a balancing act between customer confidence, expectation and experience will dictate a digital commerce strategy’s success. Whether you’re building a new e-commerce site, optimising your current online experience, or creating an entirely new offering, there is an opportunity to capitalise on (re)establishing confidence and providing a service/product that sets itself above the rest.
“In short, experience is critical. And as people lose confidence through negative experiences – and gain confidence from the new experiences built around them – experience is especially salient for any company’s response to COVID-19.”Brian Whipple & Mark Curtis
In the case of online retail, customer ‘experience’ might serve to also describe the messy, complex and personal path to purchase – the period between the trigger and purchase of a product or service. From display ads to search engine rankings, a web of touch-points are on hand to influence a buyer’s decision making process. Nevertheless, your e-commerce site is the focal point of that process and therefore defines the most crucial stages of the customer journey. An acute sense of empathy as well as an understanding of where your site fits into this journey will lay the foundations of a seamless experience which not only helps customers achieve their goals but delights them.
A catalyst for digital transformation, the pandemic has forced new behaviours to emerge. Whether or not these behaviours become habits is yet to be told. However, as 47% of consumers are likely to continue interacting online as they have been as a result of COVID-19, a host of expectations that have indeed been amplified during lockdown will provide a backdrop for what’s next.
All-in-all, it is true that brands and businesses are now battling for the attention of existing and potential customers online. When thinking about what it takes to ensure your e-commerce site stays on top when designing for a post-Covid world, we suggest taking into account the following three core elements.
Although lockdown restrictions have started to relax in places, when we aren’t able to go to the shops or don’t feel comfortable doing so, online shoppers want to gain as much information about a product as possible. How can your business help them? Primarily a technical aspect of web design, a site’s functionality refers to the features which help users to achieve their goals. Now this is where empathy comes in. Getting to know your audience and gaining an in-depth understanding of their wants and needs will stand you in good stead when optimising your e-commerce site.
Naturally, e-commerce requires a lot of functionality (useful aspects of a site), especially if you want to begin recreating an in-store experience online. For example, does your site have a suitable product image gallery; an efficient search functionality, or secure payment plug-in. These are all elements which lay the foundations for your digital user experience and ensure your site not only works for you, but your customers as well.
Since customers have been forced online, even minor inefficiencies in your site’s functionality will cause customers to look elsewhere. As COVID-19 has somewhat levelled the playing field, offering businesses of all shapes and sizes the chance to compete in the online marketplace, the difference between success and failure is therefore marginal.
Now more than ever user experience is responsible for brand loyalty as factors such as speed, convenience, variety, and usability contribute to a frictionless experience. Web analytics and user testing are essential when looking to obtain insight into your site’s user experience and streamline a potentially complex path to purchase. Aligning an understanding of key metrics – for example, drop-off rate, conversion rate and cart abandonment rate – with business and user goals will help you to make informed design decisions and optimise your e-commerce site.
Website optimisation is therefore a goal you should share with your customers, as hassle-free online shopping is vital to building customer confidence as well as increasing brand awareness and advocacy. A win-win that has obvious financial benefits.
On the one hand, when you think of frictionless e-commerce, Bezos’ Amazon seems to just roll off the tongue. But what about when it comes to personalised and engaging digital experiences? Not so much. It is apparent, then, that the term ‘frictionless’ should also incorporate those enjoyable and indeed memorable digital experiences. Although UX design principles are essential, when we are excited or inspired by a website we are equally as likely to return.
The creation of a (digital) spectacle, rather than an absolute focus on convenience and functionality, can be an effective strategy to encourage people to shop with you. Whilst digital experiences should strive to help users to achieve their goals, they should also aim to delight in the process; and as businesses move online, it’s increasingly important to consider how your online presence echoes, if not enhances your product or service.
It then also seems apt to mention innovation. Whilst the current pandemic has ushered in new customer behaviours, the opportunity has arisen for businesses to reinvent themselves in order to continue to add value in new and exciting ways. For instance, whilst e-commerce platforms such as Shopify offer standard out-the-box features for the ordinary online shop, how might your site provide another dimension to your customers’ online experience?
Augmented reality and artificial intelligence are just two examples where technology has been, and is continuing to be leveraged to enhance digital experiences. Whether it’s chatbots, personalised product recommendations or virtual changing rooms, the nice-to-haves are increasingly becoming need-to-haves in a competitive online marketplace. A blend of creativity and technology is undoubtedly necessary for businesses, big and small, to build impactful digital experiences.
Whilst for the time being many aspects of our everyday lives are unrecognisable, what is evident is that our capacity to adapt has shone a light on potential futures across various industries. And as the proverb goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, or perhaps in the case of COVID-19, transformation; Retail’s ability to adapt is largely owed to the potential of digital.
How exactly the future of e-commerce translates into human experience will rely upon businesses’ capacity to understand their audience. Indeed, the task of elevating your e-commerce site above the competition will require a great sense of empathy to continue to provide value to your customers in the midst of a global pandemic and beyond.
Knowing when it is appropriate to create an immersive online experience or a 2-click purchase journey, for example, will ultimately contribute to the success of your e-commerce site. A thoughtful balancing act which harnesses audience insight, technology, and ultimately creativity is evidently needed to cater to the needs of tentative consumers and deliver experiences with impact.
As consumers look towards businesses and brands that offer a reliable, convenient and inspiring service, online retail has a lot of room to grow. If you’d like to work with us to create a memorable digital experience, drop me a message directly or get in touch with one of the Yoyo team.