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GUEST COMMENT 10 ways to improve retail experiences

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With UK online retail sales accounting for more than £100bn in 2014, there is an obvious incentive for providing consumers with a quick and easy way of purchasing products and services.

But the world of commerce is becoming an increasingly competitive field and retailers are having to find new ways of making their stores and web shops stand out from the crowd.

One major pitfall for many retailers relates to issues of usability and user experience, known as UX and the challenge to create connected shopping experiences throughout different channels. Poor user experience can be a major cause of underperforming ecommerce platforms and stores.

Instead of losing potential sales, here are 10 ways to boost shopping experiences of your e-shop or physical store to ensure that shoppers check-out, rather than log-out.

Shop Experience Basics

1) Correct search result pages

Whether shoppers are looking for a holiday in the sun or a new winter coat, initial search results are crucial to help them find what they are looking for. An indicator to find out if a web shop´s search function helps visitors buy or causes them to leave the shop, are analytics reports. The result data displayed in an analytics tool shows how many searches users perform in total, how many of them have to do a re-search and how many searches they abandon. Once search issues are identified, online user tests can help optimising the process by asking users for feedback and having them test different alternatives.

2) Increase findability

It goes without saying that when products appear to be categorised at random and are not intuitively found by the user, a possible online sale is often lost. Card Sortings are a great usability testing method, which can help determine how items are placed into categories. The method consists of asking users to organise products into different sections as they see fit and the feedback is a tried-and-tested method of avoiding the pitfall of organising a site based solely on stakeholder perceptions.

3) Test the navigation structure

A user who is unable to locate their current position within an online platform is likely to feel swamped by information that appears to be presented in an incoherent manner. Online Tree Testing is a simple way to help perfect your navigation structure. This testing method presents participants with the task of locating an item within a menu structure. The ease in which they are able to find the item, and the feedback this provides, can be invaluable, as was highlighted by a recent online usability study of European supermarket websites.

Retail experience trends

4) Offer social login options

Instead of requiring users to register before making purchases, providing a social login option allows them to log in through a social media account. Using social logins is a lot more convenient for online shoppers. They are less likely to abandon a purchase, as there is no need to enter personal information, which also takes significantly longer when surfing on mobile devices. Ease of use is always a big usability benefit, which increases user satisfaction. Another advantage: shoppers don’t have to remember different user names and passwords. There is no need to use the “forgot password function”, which is often a shopping barrier and cause of frustration. Social logins also facilitate integrating one-click purchasing for anyone who is logged in. The one-click buy option that uses stored credit card and shipping information to help users quickly make a transaction is also part of the reason why Amazon is so popular with buyers.

5) Consider social media shopping

Integrating buy buttons in social media platforms is an option most social networks are offering or considering at the moment. The aim is not just to showcase products, but to sell them straight from the news feeds. Whenever friends like or share a product, peers should have the possibility to click and buy on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Instagram uses a slightly less aggressive approach. By clicking on its like2buy button on an image, users are taken to the product page where they can then checkout. Although social media shopping offers a great possibility for web shops to use social media channels to increase conversion rates, there is one downside regarding the user engagement: potential clients are encouraged to have a relationship with the social media platform rather then engaging directly with the shop provider.

6) Update customer engagement programmes

Loyalty models like points-for-purchase programmes are not cutting it anymore. This practice has become so commonplace it is not enough of an incentive to turn buyers into loyal customers. There are more rewarding ways to incentivize shoppers such as giving them points for a certain action or type of engagement. If a shop sells health food and sports wear, one way to connect shopping channels, brand experiences and engage with potential buyers is to create a fitness app they can use to train and earn points for their next purchase. Retailers should also focus on introducing mobile loyalty programs instead of offering loyalty cards, which clutter up customer wallets. Potential buyers can then track and redeem their rewards using their smartphones.

7) Focus on omnichannel retailing

Retailers offering both online shops and bricks-and-mortar stores are aware that connecting user experiences in different channels is key to create lasting omnichannel experiences. By using click-and-collect services users can shop online on their mobile or desktop and collect everything at a store that is convenient for them. Approaches like click-and-collect not only serve as a convenient option for customers, but also increase spending. Macy’s told the publication Media Post: “We love this kind of sale, because [the customer has] already made her decision, she knows where to go in the store, and when she gets there, she almost always buys something else — spending about 125% of her intended order.”

8) Re-activate buyers with hyper-personalisation

Today’s hyper-connected consumers have changing needs and preferences and an ever changing behaviour. There is a need for creating personalised experiences to attract consumers – and more importantly – re-active buyers as soon as the stop purchasing. French cosmetic store Sephora launched a Beauty Insider loyalty programme allowing shoppers to save “loves” and both online and in-store purchases in a Beauty Bag. The programme displays products for sale within the store in line with a shopper’s profile, which is linked to specific customer attributes such as their skin tone. Buyers can access their information across devices. By using this persona-driven approach, Sephora offers shoppers relevant services and enhances their shopping experiences.

9) Facilitate multi-device usage

Multi-device user behaviour calls for multi-channel communication concepts. It is not enough to optimise purchasing processes to increase conversion rates. It is just as important to facilitate potential buyers to obtain the information they need about a product or service. One thing most retailers have to come to terms with is that people search for products online while browsing a physical store. It might sound contradictive, but providers should make it easy for them to find information by setting up wi-fi programmes and provide access to ratings, reviews or prices. They can even offer a low price guarantee in order to not loose a sale.

10) Make use of mobile payment options

According to online-survey Portal W3B, 30% of prospective online customers abandon a purchase as soon as they perceive their preferred method of payment to be missing. Enabling mobile payment in stores is just as important, as it expedites the in-store checkout process and increases customer satisfaction. Or as Oren Levy, CEO of ZooZ, a data-driven payment platform puts it: “Nobody wants to wait in a long line when they could just as easily click a few buttons to purchase an item on their phone.”

Creating lasting shopping experiences requires the will to gain both quantitative and qualitative information by becoming acquainted with shop and site visitors. Awareness of the needs – and feedback – of target groups can determine which issues are blocking potential purchases. Voice of the Customer surveys a type of remote user experience testing studies, are a great way for capturing user expectations, preferences and aversions – both while users are surfing on a site or are browsing a bricks-and-mortar store.

For the most comprehensive feedback it is also worth testing the whole online purchasing process, by asking users to find a certain product, place it in their basket and complete the check-out procedure. These task-based user studies offer a complete evaluation of a site and are a great starting point for those looking to increase sales conversions and the frequency of returning visitors.

Arthur Moan is UK managing director of UserZoom

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