How to Build an Effective eCommerce User Experience

How to build an effective eCommerce user experience
Source: Stencil

The world is beginning to understand the value of user experience (UX). For many years, designers had to fight to convince organizations that UX was important. Fortunately, things began to change around the launch of the iPhone. 

With the iPhone, Apple embraced user experience to its core, creating a mobile device that set a new standard for tech simplicity. And on a higher level within the world of design, the launch of the iPhone meant that a massive global company was finally leading the web toward an emphasis on user experience. 

Ever since, UX has steadily grown more common. Businesses now prioritize eliminating friction on their websites and mobile apps. When was the last time you ordered an Uber, bought a ticket on the way to a show, or used your Apple Watch to make a payment? When was the last time you bought a product using the Amazon app? All of these everyday conveniences were a direct result of bringing UX to the forefront of design and business decision-making. 

But what is user experience? And how do you use it effectively within eCommerce? In this article, we’ll explore how to build an effective eCommerce user experience. Let’s dive in. 

Define user experience (UX)

Let’s start with a good foundation. What is user experience, anyway? At Anatta, we borrow our definition from Nielsen Norman Group. 

As Nielsen Norman Group defines it, “‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

The company went on to say, “True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

User experience vs. customer experience

In the last section we discussed Nielsen Norman Group’s classic definition for user experience. But lately, people have pushed back against that definition with a valid point: is user experience the same as customer experience? While these two experiences may have a lot in common, they’re not necessarily the same. 

These days we talk a lot about customer experience. When NNG comes out with a definition of UX, they’re really talking about CX because they’re speaking specifically to how a customer experiences your website, brand, and product. It’s the relationship you form with a company. 

User experience has become more complex over the years, especially within eCommerce. It’s no longer just about what happens on the screen. The trend in user experience lately is to include the entire shopping experience under the term of UX, from someone’s first time on your website to the day they unpackage their order, and beyond. 

5 levels to reach a personalized eCommerce experience 

The ultimate goal of user experience is to create a tailored, personalized experience that resonates with users. But what does that mean for your organization?

In practice, creating a user experience that resonates can be broken down into 5 different levels. Of course, not all of these levels will immediately be available to every team. Some of these steps require more team members or resources that not all companies have access to. But as your organization grows, these levels can serve as benchmarks for making future hires or tech purchases.

Here are the levels to build a personalized user experience: 

Level 1: Usability

If there’s friction, we need to remove that friction. That’s the essence of usability. Friction might include bugs in a website or app. It might mean screens that are visually difficult to see. Is your website both desktop and mobile friendly? 

In this stage, you’re trying to make the foundational navigation of your site or app as simple as possible for the user. Usability covers the basics of user experience.

Level 2: Experimentation

The next step up from usability is experimentation. Many companies call this step conversion rate optimization. This is when you create certain hypotheses and run literal experiments using copy, design, and navigation to see what variables cause users to take certain actions. The idea is to measure the performance of each variable to improve conversions, as well as to learn how users behave on your website. 

What improves the average order value? What drives more people to make a purchase? That’s what this portion of user experience is all about. Once we identify certain segments or patterns of behavior, we can move into the next face: segmented testing. 

Level 3: Segmented testing

After experimentation comes segmented testing. This is experimentation for a more focused group of people who follow certain patterns. In other words, this is a step toward a more tailored experience. 

During the segmented testing level, you create dedicated campaigns based on individuals and varying merchandise. Once someone arrives on your website, you can use targeting to test how certain products perform for different people. In other words, you’re dividing your conversion optimization efforts to smaller cohorts of customers or products. 

Level 4: Personalization

After segmented targeting comes personalization. At this level, you’re diving deeper into each segment to provide a live personalized experience that’s unique to each user based on certain behaviors or data about them. A customer in North Carolina might receive different recommendations than someone visiting your website from California, for example. 

Level 5: Artificial intelligence- and machine learning-based personalization

The final level uses AI and ML to make predictions about future user behavior based on past behavior. This level of personalization and prediction is based on various factors, including the user’s cookies, past orders, etc. 

When someone visits your website, they’re bringing certain data with them. Based on what they previously browsed, what times of day they spend the most time on certain websites, and more, you can make predictions and forecasts that inform future campaigns for that user. 

Where to start optimizing your site experience 

Now that you know the core levels of eCommerce UX, where do you even start? 

While every organization is different, I believe these three steps will get your organization started on the right foot. 

  1. Start with usability: The foundation should be to address all friction in the user experience. Eliminate bugs, improve accessibility. Make the website useful. That’s the foundation of user experience. And while it’s at some level obvious, there are still tons of broken websites across the web that don’t get even the basics right. 
  2. Remove anxieties: Now it’s time to build confidence with the user. How do you convince users that this is the product for them? Optimize by removing anxiety. Removing anxieties means presenting clear information about why your product or company is different from competitors — and why it’s perfect for the visitor. This involves conversion optimization, presenting social proof, sharing the ingredients and results of your product, and making customers feel safe in their purchase. 
  3. Motivate: This part of your UX strategy involves using psychological principles to nudge people toward a purchase. There is a fine line between best practice and dark patterns. You’re not trying to trick the user into something they don’t desire. But you are trying to motivate them to take action. Using language like “only three in stock” when that’s not the reality is a dark pattern. It’s lying. Using scarcity and urgency to make the user more likely to buy based on a false premise. However, when the narrative is done well to communicate the benefit, it’s pure motivation. 

When you are just starting your eCommerce company, you want to do these steps in their current order. But once you’ve been running a while, all of these strategies will be operating together, all at once. You will constantly optimize for improved usability, fewer anxieties, and greater motivation.

The power of having a good eCommerce user experience

UX provides the right content, at the right time and place, to the right users. It puts a product in the hands of a customer through the least amount of friction possible. When customers are treated well, it stands out. Many eCommerce companies are unrecognizable from one another. They’re faceless brands with nothing unique about their shopping experience. Great user experience helps you stand out and make a lasting impression that keeps customers coming back again and again.

But great user experiences don’t happen by accident. They begin when you create an eCommerce user experience strategy that considers every step along the customer journey. Every step builds a relationship between your brand and the customer — and ideally creates a shopping loop that keeps the customer buying from you for years.

Did you enjoy this article? You may also love our recent piece: Marketplace vs. Your Own Website: What’s Better in eCommerce.