Ecommerce UX: When A Great Experience Brings Business Value

Find out what makes user experience in ecommerce so vital for business growth, and how to maintain that growth in the age of personalization and connectivity.

Ecommerce websites and mobile apps usually have multiple goals: to generate sales, attract and retain buyers, cultivate positive brand image, customer loyalty, and more. The science that goes into achieving these goals is fairly complex. Pricing, content, shipping and return policies, customer support, recommendations, loading speed—these are just a few of the many factors that can determine the success or failure of an online store, an auction platform, or a subscription-based service.

In 2019, more than ever before, one of the top priority factors in ecommerce development is user experience (UX). Where digital commerce applications are concerned, the purpose of UX is to guide buyers through their digital journey, be it a B2C or B2B one. For ecommerce sites and applications alike, this means offering a platform that makes it easy for customers to obtain products and services, as a part of the overarching ecommerce CX.

Customer relationships with online stores and e-businesses continuously evolve over time. In the last decade, this evolution has been heavily affected by the rapid development of technology that created new channels and touchpoints and significantly changed customers’ UX expectations. In the age of high-bandwidth, connectivity, and mobile, meeting these expectations usually takes more than a reasonably functional website search and structure.

The Shift in User Expectations

Around 2011, the main factor making or breaking ecommerce user experience was the ability to comfortably search for specific information and products within a site. Today, the expectations have massively increased, requiring much more work in the UX/UI department to provide best-value experience and win customer conversions and loyalty. These expectations include fast loading speed, easy navigation, access to information and support, convenient extra features (comparison, personalized recommendations, purchase history, refunds, etc.), discounts as well as secure, quick, and painless checkout.

In retail, according to various studies, between 70% and 85% of online shopping carts are ultimately abandoned (Barilliance), resulting in lost opportunities for digital retailers. While a big part of those abandonment rates is due to outside circumstances, such as extra shipping costs and time, other factors (like lengthy checkout, the need to re-enter personal and payment information multiple times, glitches with discount code acceptance) are just what UX design can and should address.

Primary reasons for digital cart abandonment

Talking about mobile users, 4 out of the top 5 reasons shoppers don’t convert are UX-related issues, such as difficult navigation, effort-intensive data input, lack of comparison options, and no way to see product details:

Reasons for not converting (digital shoppers, US)

So, for checkout, customers’ minimal UX/UI expectations are: security, clicks and taps reduced to a minimum, no repeated input, information (but just the right kind and amount of it), comparison functions, and smooth and quick proceedings overall. It seems doable enough to cover, however it’s important to understand that this is one step in a whole chain of actions making up a digital shopper’s journey.

Yet, making it easy for users to find relevant products and convert as quickly as possible is just one of the things UX/UI is responsible for.

Make sure your UX strategy covers customers' pain points and expectations.
Today, minimal ecommerce UX/UI expectations are: security (20.2%), an absolute minimum of clicks or taps to navigate and check out (19.3%), zero repeated input (18.6%), accessible product information (19.6%), and comparison functions (19.6%

Ecommerce UX Goes Beyond UI

UI is usually viewed either as a subset of or a discipline related to UX design. Distinguishing between the two, however, can get tricky.

UI’s focus is on the elements of visual design and how they work together in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Say, a checkout form working properly, having optional fields marked as such, elements being screen-width sensitive and visually consistent with the rest of the website or app, etc.

Meanwhile, UX design considers the psychology of how visitors will be interacting with the touchpoints, as well as the digital customer journey as a whole. UI interactions are a big part of this, but UX is much more than just the mechanics. Does the checkout form have too many fields? Does it look suspicious (no https-certificate/lock icon in the address line, too much personal information needed)? Do you need to re-enter all of the fields in case of a mistake? Is there a confirmation screen after the form submission? An email with order details?

UX vs UI: what's the difference?

Ecommerce UX is about anticipating and guiding customers’ actions, reactions, wants, and pains toward a desired outcome. UI is a tool to help achieve that: by enabling product search, categories and listings; providing digital space for visuals, information, recommendations, and so on. While the importance of a clean, purposeful, and intuitive UI can’t be overstated, it is necessary to distinguish between the two, since UX encompasses strategies, goals, and interactions on a much more fundamental level.

Ecommerce UX vs. UI: what's the difference? Here is the explanation

3 Examples of Major Ecommerce UX Best Practices and Strategies of Today

1. Amazon: Defining Standards and Expanding the Reach of Shopping UX

UX should cover the entire customer journey, and while much of that journey will be determined by user interface, some aspects won’t be. Consider pricing, product selection, and customer feedback, among other factors. By paying close attention to them, a strong UX will help ecommerce websites establish profitable and sustainable relationships with their customers.

Take as an example what is arguably the world’s preeminent ecommerce multi-domain platform. "The Granddaddy Trendsetter” of online shopping, Amazon is the mammoth player no ecommerce UX conversation can go without. What started 25 years ago as a modest online book shop have grown into the definition of digital shopping for our generation.

Low costs, wide product selection, fast shipping, and exceptional customer service are not the only things making it stand out. The key ideas behind Amazon’s UX strategy are these:

A perfected search-driven, navigation-centered approach

Since its creation, Amazon’s search function has consistently been at the heart of its user experience. Autocompletion, spelling correction, filtering, categorizing, post-search personalization of suggested content, and other features combined create a simple and effective multigenerational user experience that has become one of the best UX practices for ecommerce.

Simplified to the max, linear checkout experience

The “1-Click purchase” technology (patented by Amazon and licensed out up until 2017) revolutionized online shopping in its time, and stays a great UX feature to this day. Overall, Amazon’s product page layout can be considered a solid standard. Extensive but highly-structured and easy-to-navigate, it provides information, price and feature comparisons, user reviews and ratings, estimated shipping costs, and more.

Having everything a customer might need on one page and providing a simplified checkout experience are not the only things Amazon is going for here. The appeal and convenience of creating shopping lists, repeated one-click purchase and delivery options, and automatically scheduled delivery of supplies by subscription add to the brand’s exemplary checkout process too.

Personalization that heightens customer engagement

Even though Amazon’s general motto concerning visual design seems to be “if it ain’t broke don't fix it,” what does change significantly from customer to customer is the recommended content and home page experience.

When a customer opens, they are greeted by carefully personalized ‘cards’ with items and categories based on previous browsing sessions, special deals, a list of Amazon’s perks, and so on. While not unique to Amazon, this personalized approach makes it easy to pick up from where you left, and encourages revisiting previously viewed or purchased items all while giving new opportunities for shopping every day.

Amazon home page personalization

Future-proofing with multi-platform reach, voice UI, and connected services

By now the scope of Amazon’s ecommerce user experience has expanded far beyond the original website. The company has successfully ventured into the domains of multi-purpose mobile apps, personal and home devices (Kindle e-book reader, Amazon Echo, Fire TV Stick), digital media and entertainment (Prime TV and Amazon Music). All of those create a true digital ecosystem and provide a streamlined, interconnected customer experience.

By constantly evolving and trying new things while staying true to what works, Amazon adapts and reinvents itself as a company. UX-wise, it remains a global ecommerce force to be reckoned with.

Amazon's principles of successful ecommerce UX: make it simple, informative, and convenient. Personalize, anticipate needs, and balance between innovation and sticking to what works.

2. Netflix: Harnessing the Power of Machine Learning for Next-Level UX Personalization

Amazon’s targeting and recommendations are impressive, yet nothing compares to the ultimate king of data-driven product content personalization—Netflix.

Screenshot: Netflix homepage personalization
We like to think of our service as really not a single service or a single product, but 140 million or so products because each user—each profile—gets their own customized, personalized experience.
Tony Jebara, Director of Machine Learning, Netflix

UX/UI and marketing have always been considered if not opposites then somewhat adversarial by virtue of intent. After all, the top marketing objective is to bring value to business, while UX is supposed to level up value for customers. In reality, as digital transformation advances and the focus on CX becomes the law of the land, the intersection of UX design and marketing only expands from content strategy to customer profile management and adding value via personalization.

In the case of Netflix, constantly upping the value for customers is not only the brand’s big selling point but the core business model driver. What started 20 years ago as a basic DVD rental website, by now has completely transformed the way we experience movies and TV shows.

Netflix not only changed watchers’ habits (like, it really encourages binge-watching) but also influenced the way commercial video content is created and produced today. How? Through licensed video streaming, instant subscription-based access to content on multiple platforms, the “autoplay next” function, a highly intuitive, “invisible” UI, and an AI-powered state-of-the-art recommendation system.

Netflix - machine learning

Through the complete personalization of on-page content, layout, imagery, search results and other aspects of the UI, each user gets 100% unique experience fine-tuned to their particular tastes. Combined with the vast selection of original and licensed content, cross-platform access, marketing, affordable prices and localization in more than 190 countries, this laser focus on personalization is what drives acquisition and retention of paying customers for Netflix on the global scale.

While few companies can boast the reach and traffic comparable to those of the video streaming giant, its approach toward suggesting different facets of the same content to appeal to different customers makes a great case for a hyper-personalized ecommerce UX based on big data and machine learning.

Netflix puts a capital 'P' into personalization. Learn how the streaming giant uses machine learning to redefine UX in digital entertainment.

3. Sephora: Designing Hybrid Ecommerce UX for the Mobile Era

While more and more users become mobile-first and mobile-only, there is still a significant time-to-spending gap between desktop and mobile shoppers. However, the reasons for this gap usually lie in either a less-than-optimal UX or the fact that mobile users tend to spend more time learning about the product or service before the purchase. This brings new challenges and opportunities to mobile commerce projects, all of which heavily influence UX/UI in their own way.

Digital shoppers: the gap between time spend browsing and conversions (mobile vs desktop)

One of the most noticeable examples is Sephora. The global make-up retailer uses a combination of traditional best ecommerce UX practices and data analytics to evaluate the customer journey from start to finish and adapt their offer to it.

Through a great conventional mobile storefront UI and a variety of in- and out-of-store mobile points of engagement, Sephora creates a UX approach they call “Seamless Omni-channel Experience for Users.” This includes integration of augmented reality, 3D make-up try-on and live assistance, beacons, digital customer ID doubling as a loyalty program card, a fully CRM-integrated recommender engine, image and barcode search.

While still striving for a seamless experience across devices and channels, Sephora’s ultimate bet is on full employment of what mobile can offer. More and more retailers go this route in Europe and North America, with other regions to follow. With the next large wave of mobile-first and mobile-only internet users emerging in Asia, Africa, and South America, this trend is well on its way to become truly global.

Sephora's ultimate UX bet: combine online, on-site, mobile, and other touchpoints into an interconnected, personalized customer experience.

A Balance Between Standards and Innovation is Key

Each unique in their own right, the three great UX influencers above sport enough similarities: simplicity of interactions, secure transactions, effective use of visual elements, feedback and reviews, a highly functional search and catalog browsing, strong sense of branding, and more. These are the staples of great ecommerce UX patterns, along with the overall focus on retailers’ offers without overpowering with information or gimmicks.

Living in a mobile-first world of personalization and connectivity changes many aspects of today’s customer journey. Digital experience is what undergoes the biggest, most striking overhaul. By building on top of traditional patterns and best practices, adapting ecommerce UX to the changes, and expanding the touchpoints, digital retailers can win customers’ attention and loyalty and create a truly lasting, value-driven relationship.

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