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Earn the Customer with Customer-Centric UX Design

This blog is part of a series about how and why retail brands must “earn the customer” – their trust and loyalty – to remain competitive in a digital world. See the first post on "Earn the Customer with Unique Brand Content on Your eCommerce Site".

You know what they say about customer service: always put the customer first. It’s the same with user experience. Great user experience requires more than a beautiful site. First and foremost, your eCommerce site should easily enable customers to find and purchase the products or services they want. That’s why they’re there! Although this seems obvious, UX researchers at Baymard Institute report that the global average cart abandonment rate is 69.2%! That means that more than two-thirds of customers get to the brink of purchasing and then… walk away. What’s going on?  

Don’t focus on YOU, focus on THEM

We’ve all met that person at a party – the one who only talks about themselves – and then faked needing to go to the bathroom to get away. Don’t be that person when it comes to your eCommerce site: going on and on about how great your products are versus helping people figure out what they need. Instead, be a considerate host and ensure your guests are having a good time – in other words, an enjoyable shopping and checkout experience. 

Back in “normal” times, before Covid-19 put a damper on in-person shopping, online user experience for many multi-channel brands wasn’t a high priority because it wasn’t the biggest slice of the revenue pie. Now that more of us are shopping online (a trend that’s likely to continue post-pandemic), brands can’t be complacent about relying on in-store interactions and sales or even third-party marketplaces; instead, they need to work hard to earn the customer’s business on their own eCommerce sites. Otherwise, they risk losing out to the competition – lots of up-and-coming, hungry and innovative digital native or direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. 

Get the basics right

To start, take time to closely review and audit the user experience along the customer journey from research to checkout to purchase. Make sure to do it from your customers’ perspectives (you may want to invest in some user testing). Look at the basics. Can your customers easily find the “add to cart” button or is it buried on the page? Are you slowing down the process by requiring user account creation before purchase? Is the checkout process confusing? Do customers have all of the information – product details, sizing, cost, shipping, return policy, payment options – they need to feel confident to buy? 

Often customers can’t get this information easily while they shop, causing them to give up a session out of frustration. Also, surprises during checkout related to cost, shipping, out-of-stock inventory, etc. can lead to an abandoned cart. 

Make the virtual more tangible

Because they don’t have a physical store, many DTC retailers have done a great job filling in where they can’t compete with retailers that have physical locations. For example, they offer rich product description pages (PDPs) with lots of product details, great photography, illustrations/diagrams, video, guides, reviews and recommendations. 

What’s one of the biggest frustrations about shopping online? Finding the right size – for your body or for the corner in your room that needs a new chair. In fact, many consumers order multiple sizes of a product with the intent of returning the ones that don’t fit. Customers have a much better user experience when a retailer offers clear sizing charts or uses 3D models and augmented reality (AR) technology to help customers determine fit virtually. Customer reviews of clothing that include size/height/body type information also can be useful to help others figure out what will work for them. 

Review the returns

Returns are a part of the “circle of life” for eCommerce. Therefore, in addition to making the shopping experience hassle free, it’s important to take a good, hard look at your return/exchange user experience. It probably can be improved – in fact, Baymard reports that 54% of ecommerce sites have significant user experience issues with their returns process. And it could be costing you customers – Baymard also found that brands can lose up to 20% of returning customers because of a bad returns experience. In addition to evaluating the functionality of the returns process, also look at your policies to be sure they’re competitive with DTC retailers that often offer free shipping for returns and exchanges.

Don’t short-change customer service 

A 2018 study revealed that US companies are losing $75 billion per year due to underwhelming customer experiences. Consumers are so jaded by bad experiences that 17% of those interviewed in the study said they had such low expectations about getting their issue solved that they didn’t even bother contacting the company – they just took their business elsewhere. 

Leading DTC brands have taken full advantage of the customer service shortcomings of traditional brands to differentiate themselves through great customer service. They leverage multiple contact channels including chat and email and enable 24/7 service via chatbots and FAQs. This attention to customer service can result in increased customer lifetime value – 93% of consumers say they are more likely to be repeat customers at companies where they received excellent customer service, according to Hubspot. 

Design for conversion AND retention 

Another way to evaluate the effectiveness of your UX decisions is to look at user experience for new customers versus returning customers. For new customers, determine what is essential in their experience that gets them to make that first purchase, such as product information and imagery, customer reviews and an intuitive, streamlined checkout process. For returning customers, what experiences keep them coming back? These could include returns, subscriptions, smart recommendations, personalized shopping experiences and email campaigns. Designing for retention versus focusing on the quick sale helps grow customer lifetime value (CLTV), which ultimately increases revenue and reduces churn.

Improve your user experience to earn the customer

Many of the user experience considerations discussed above are table stakes for consumers – we’ve all been spoiled by the convenience and ease of Amazon. So, taking UX to the next level, what can you offer that Amazon can’t? Are there unique policies you can offer to create a super convenient online-offline customer experience? Madewell is a great example of how brands can go above and beyond. Can’t-get-it-on-Amazon services offered on their eCommerce site include free hemming, stylist advice, old-jeans recycling, same-day curbside pick-up and more. The uniqueness and customer-centric strategy of this type of hybrid model is a potential advantage for brands with brick-and-mortar stores, as well as why some DTCs have opened physical locations. 

As a parting thought, don’t forget to measure your success as you test new UX strategies and features, leveraging tried-and-true metrics like customer satisfaction, willingness to recommend (Net Promoter score), and task completion time. Interested in auditing your customer journey to find where you can improve the user experience? We’re happy to help – give us a shout.