Today we’re going to talk a little bit about buying shit online whilst you’re drunk. And buying flowers for your mum. And how you shouldn’t go do porn. (…) Yeah.
E-commerce is a monstrous beast. It constantly and consistently evolves. With a trillion UX studies on the topic and all sorts of guides at our disposal, we’ve got a bucket load of toys to play with—all designed to get maximum conversion out of our online visitors.
What used to be reserved for behemoths like Amazon and eBay is now widely available for anyone that can afford it: personalisation suites, which leverage intricate data analysis to present me stuff I don’t need, but will buy—because it’s relevant to me. Meanwhile, ever-increasing bandwidth allows us to push stunning full-bleed multimedia to engulf users in brand-driven imagery and video.
It’s important to understand the difference between intentional and unintentional users. The latter require persuasion and are generally open to offers, deals, and any of the aforementioned tools that are designed to make us aware of the full offering of the platform at hand.
The intentional user is a different creature altogether. It generally knows what it wants. And it’s here where we (still) find a gap between offering and needs. A gap that costs you money and leaves your user frustrated.
More often than not, trying to do too much only adds noise and distraction, and leads away from conversion, rather than driving toward it.
Here are four examples:
Don’t over-guide me
Having lived abroad for the last six years or so, I’ve become very adept at ordering flowers online. This includes wine, chocolates, balloons—you name it—to mark special occasions. I’m a terrible son.
What I’ve found is that this type of website has a very focused product offering, so it tends to guide you through the products and through to checkout as quickly as possible, sometimes at the cost of losing more business.
During the purchase journey, you’re guided along additional stuff to bolt onto your order. And that works, considering that the majority of the cases in which you’re ordering flowers online, it’ll be as a gift. After all, what’s another $10 for a card or balloon to go with your flowers that were a feeble attempt to buy off your guilt in the first place, right?
Some sites are really good at this, but a lot of them seem to over-guide. What if I want to order flowers and a case of wine and a set of balloons? Instead of [Add to cart], we get an [Order now] button that launches me directly to checkout. This completely annihilates the possibility of me going on a spending spree. Wait, I’ve got more money to spend! Let me do it!
Style over substance will lose you customers
In a similar vein, we see restaurant sites focusing on branding, pushing concept over functionality and making it incredibly hard to get to the content that the intentional user is actually looking for: contact information, opening hours and making a reservation.
Don’t get me wrong. I perfectly understand the importance of branding and the need to drive your concept. It’s what sets you apart in an industry that’s incredibly saturated. And it’s refreshing to know that your steak is better than the steak next door because your menu is designed much nicer and your farm-to-table concept somehow subconsciously sells me on the idea that I’ve done something good.
But when I have to go through all your cute animations, image galleries and manifestos before I can make a reservation or find out if you’re going to be open, you’ve failed. Form should never trump functionality, and if it gets in the way of me getting my meal, I’ll go somewhere else instead.
Remember your core offering
Ever book a hotel stay directly from the hotel's website? The war on online travel agents (OTAs) is alive and kicking; hospitality vendors are working hard to compete with the likes of TripAdvisor and Booking.com as the role of a hotel website has changed over the last half a decade or so (a topic for a different day).
The core offering of the hotel website in 2015 has changed to a much more validation-oriented role, where the user is most likely visiting from a third-party website, looking to validate the impression they have formed of the hotel elsewhere. A part of this is branding (making sure that the 5-star review on TripAdvisor isn’t sending me to a website that consists of animated gifs and Comic Sans). A large part is also price-checking—to check if I can get a cheaper deal directly from the hotel itself.
So whilst having edge-to-edge imagery of azure-blue waters and endless beauty stretching as far as the eye can see works wonders to convince me I should spend my vacation days on your offering, please don’t hide your availability-checker. That’s counterintuitive. We know from A/B testing and real-world analytics that this is one of—if not the most—sought-after functions on your hotel website. It may seem minor to you, but hiding these core offerings from your end users has a real effect on your conversion.
Ensure your technology is solid
The season is changing and I need a new wardrobe. I’ve got a spare hour or so and I’m hanging back on my couch whilst watching a rerun of Friends, so you know you’ve got my attention. Your website is mobile responsive and browses beautifully on my iPad. You’ve given me a basket and your interface is tidy and clear. You’re not hiding important calls to action and I’m having fun chucking things into said basket.
Now I’m about an hour in, and I’ve gone through over a dozen categories on your platform. Thus far I’ve racked up close to a grand and now I’m ready to check out. I click on ‘check out’. I enter my details and click on ‘login’. Something goes wrong. They’re the wrong details. Now I get this:
“Your cart is empty. Click here to return to the catalog.”
You’ve just lost yourself a customer. More importantly, you’ve just lost yourself a grand of revenue. If the user journey is broken after so many steps, all your effort to get them there was for nothing. Make sure that the crucial steps are solid, stable and idiot-proof.
Also, you now owe me a new iPad. Turns out in a fight between the iPad and the floor, the floor wins.
You know what a good litmus test is? If I can drunk-buy your crap. If I can come back steaming from the pub and hit a couple of buttons in your interface next to a shiny picture of stuff I don’t really need but want, you’ve done an amazing job. It’s the reason why I’m an Amazon Prime member and have shiny stars on eBay: I can only assume they’ve got a whole team dedicated to testing this.
Clever interface design, innovative technology and branding collateral all have their merits and place. They need to be well thought through and balanced. They’re incredibly powerful tools to connect and engage the unintentional user and—in a way—to validate the commitment the intentional user has. When done haphazardous however, they can become a barrier rather than a stimulant.
It’s 2015 and we should know better. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Or as Kumar eloquently put it "… just cuz you’re hung like a moose doesn’t mean you gotta do porn."
So yeah, don’t do porn kids. Now take my money and give me my stuff.
Ferdi Wieling is executive creative director, emerging markets, Southeast Asia, with Reading Room