April 18, 2014

Who is your e-commerce site missing out on?

Recently one of my friends decided it was time to pop the big question to his girlfriend, and had asked for some help in searching out a good company to purchase the engagement ring from. As two web industry folks, our online search quickly turned from excitement into frustration as we started to see a trend in online versions of local and national jewelry stores - poor usability structures and very few mobile/responsive sites.

Here'€™s some quick stats to keep in mind from the 2012 Canadian Internet Use Survey:

  • more than half of internet users, 56%, purchased goods and services online
  • 77% of Internet users did research on goods/services or window shopped
  • 69% of internet users aged 25 to 34 were most likely to make a purchase online
  • the value of orders placed online reached $18.9 billion, up 24% from 2010 when the survey was last conducted
  • 58% of Canadians accessed the web on mobile devices

So I'€™m thinking it would be safe to assume my friend and I haven'€™t been the only ones turned off by the online shopping experience in the last while. While customers may not be purchasing rings online, they'€™re most likely researching and comparing online before visiting the brick and mortar locations -€“ both on mobile and desktop computers.

So what does this mean for your website -€“ are you missing out on key audience users? It comes back to the basics of why you created your website in the first place.

Who is your audience:

  • Sure, the basics like age, location, education, interests & tastes, etc. are important to know for the products/services your provide. But let'€™s dig deeper.
    • Which devices are they using to view your site?
    • How often are they returning to the site before they make a purchase?
    • What information are they looking for with the kinds of products/services you offer?
    • Will they share your site's information on social media before/after purchasing?
    • Do they base their purchases on consumer reviews/referrals?

What are your goals:

  • Do you want visitors to make a purchase on your site or motivate them to visit your business for in-store purchasing?
  • Are you looking for client referrals?
  • Does your mobile and desktop versions of the site provide the same features/functionality? If not, how does this affect your goals?

What do you want your users to do/achieve on your site:

  • Do you want users to contact you (using a webform, a live chat app, via telephone/Skype, etc) to gather information or make a reservation?
  • Gain knowledge by reading content or downloading documents/forms?
  • Visit your store based on the site's call to action?
  • Make a purchase online?

Once you have figured these out, then it's time to evaluate if your site'€™s design (both visual and usability based) is helping or hindering your goals. Coming back to the engagement ring search, the most common complaints we encountered were:

  • Full visual representation: many sites did not provide an option to view the rings from multiple angles, and did not provide a zoom in function. Many of the images did not truly represent the ring's actual size, proportions or colouring. Few provided videos as an alternate way to view. Lastly, being able to 'view all' on a product listing page is a great alternative rather than being forced to page through limited numbers of items on each page.
  • Include product specs your customers are looking for: we've received detailed information about the main centre diamond, but what about the pavé diamonds along the band -€“ what are their 4 Cs? Where were the diamonds mined? Is there a wait time for the ring to be produced? If so, how long?
  • Build your own ring: an interactive method to put together the components of the ring sounds fun - until you're stopped mid-process due to poor usability design. Make sure each step of the process is clear and necessary -€“ do not include extra steps/information that may distract or confuse the user.

In the end my friend did find a gorgeous ring -€“ offline. The time spent searching online did help to narrow down his prospects but did not result in selecting the company or the ring itself. While this scenario was specific to one industry, many of the principles mentioned above can be applied to numerous services/products currently offered online.

Speak with your web designer if you feel your ecommerce site is not quite resonating with your customers the way you'd like it to. Having the site audited based on today's best web practices will likely provide you with suggestions of how to update and connect better with your clientele.

Source: Statistics Canada: Individual Internet use and e-commerce, 2012

Image: Seth Lemmons