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Making your customer the lead designer

Andy Gault, Director of e-Commerce, Screwfix explains why a mobile-first approach to design may not always be the right answer.

There is nothing more frustrating than going into a shop and finding it akin to the Crystal Maze so making it difficult to locate the product you are wanting to buy. It can feel like the shop has been designed to suit the business. Layouts tailored to the building and operational efficiencies, product adjacencies that probably make sense to the buying team’s reporting hierarchies but not the customers’ natural thought process. If shopping is a sport then this isn’t a fun game and you end up weighing up the balance of how much effort you want to put in versus how much you want the product.

At heart the web shop is the same as any other but it is built with clicks rather than bricks. A retail website is an operational entity, a shop, often the biggest in a business and therefore shouldn’t be viewed as something different bolted on to the side. So what approach can be taken when looking to improve it?

Devices and technology are important but not the starting point. They are enablers to allow customers to shop with us in the way that’s most convenient for them. At Screwfix, the approach to web development has been through a customer first strategy. In every decision we take, the first question is ‘how does it benefit the customer?’ The methodology taken has 3 stages; as with building a physical store you first create a solid foundation, then erect the structure and improve the interior. Online this becomes:

1) Designing for behaviour;

2) Building for ease;

3) Optimising for relevance.


Our start point is always the customer not the device. First, and foremost, the web is a shop and people’s shopping behaviours are very similar online as they are traditionally, just faster and more unforgiving. To take a mobile first view is great due to the rise of mobile, but the danger is that this may create a disregard for the needs of customers who use desktop or tablet. Customers are not fixed to one device. Google research suggests average devices per person in UK used to access the net is 3.3. It is also increasingly difficult to define standards by device type due to the proliferation of different screen/browser/OS configurations. The priority is to ensure that the journey and experience is consistent for customers at whichever point they are accessing your shop.

The device is the means to an end and that end is the web shop. Customers want the whole shop, in a single shop, served appropriately to their requirements at the time of access. At lunchtime, for example, desktop activity dips as desk-based tradesmen take a break whereas mobile spikes as site-based tradesmen click and collect. Therefore, device optimisation is more about serving the web content appropriately to the customer based on the context of their visit. Devices themselves are strongly indicative of the environment the customer is in at the time and this is at the forefront of our thoughts when designing what is rendered and when.


Therefore, if we are building a website for what the customer wants when they want it we need to understand what they do. We are clear that we are constructing a shop for the customer not the retailer. Our decisions, the ones that form the UX, are built on data – customer data. We have invested considerable time and resource in collecting and then collating taxonomic, customer and web analytic data. This serves to inform the decisions we make in building our shop – the hierarchies, ranges, content and filters. There is something there for all our customers and we endeavour to allow them to remove what isn’t relevant as they so choose. Rather than building to established practices, like ‘above the fold’, we build on customer data and then test with our customers before moving to roll out.

We don’t have a single customer type so cannot create the single perfect experience. Our site is used by different customers for different journeys. ‘Tradesman’ is not a single type. The needs of the plumber are very different to those of the key account maintenance business. The data allows us to understand these needs. It can be seen in the metrics, for example time on site. The tradesman wants to be in and out of the shop as quickly as possible (time is money) whereas a serious DIY enthusiast has more time to indulge in their hobby. We have worked hard to use the data to make the journeys easier, to get customers to the right product quicker and this has led to a significant, controlled reduction in page views and a material increase in conversion rate.

This data is used to design a shop that is clear in layout but leaves the flex for customers to decide where they want to go for what they want to get. It is a simple principle that looks to clarify our propositions, making them easier for users to understand and then go onto purchase. The recently redesigned lister page is an example of this. An electrician buying a family of wiring accessories can shop directly from it, adding items to their basket, choosing the fulfilment route at the same time, without having to go in and out of product pages. A customer shopping for a power tool can get a quick view of the tool from the rendering of key bullet points before then going deeper into the favoured products. The shop is designed so that navigation is clear and inclusive while offering multiple relevancies.


A richness can be added to the customer journeys by optimising the interactions. In the first instance done for the customers by the customers. We utilise the real-life hits to refine the shape of the shop wherein customers create their own pages by following the hierarchy and then interacting with facets creating tailored pages. We’re able to then use these, where there is volume, to create resolved pages that link back in with paid and natural search, landing search journeys in highly relevant places. It is good for customers – as can be seen from the conversion rate running double to the average – and it is good for Google too since it’s creating a bank of highly relevant long tail pages.

You can take a single story, deliver it in the same way but with a different voice. In the case of outbound messages from the business relevancy can be increased. Using the example of broadcast email we have made it live at the point the customer opens it rather than when we send it. So, if a Wednesday send is opened by the customer on a Thursday they see the Thursday deal of the day. If we talk about workwear to our customers then everyone gets a workwear email but the deals rendered are contextualised to the weather at the location the email is opened or the type of customer who is opening it.

There is an ever increasing urgency to act in the now. For the tradesman time is money, if they are shopping they are not working. Also customers are only ever one click away from leaving your site. Remove the pain points and react to the intentions displayed through behaviour at that point. Screwfix’s click and collect journey is a prime example – the stock is live, it is accurate and at checkout is guaranteed. Furthermore it is available to collect in less than 5 minutes. Perfect for the tradesman ordering on his mobile from his van in the car park. Getting this right is important and pushing it to the fore on mobile is imperative when data suggests that in the UK 80% of conversions driven by mobile advertising occur in store.

Having the customer at the heart of the journey has given a clarity of purpose in our web development at Screwfix. The approach though isn’t peculiar to our business or customer. The successes achieved and the expertise of the team are being transferred into a ‘Brilliant Basics’ programme in Kingfisher. The opportunity being to utilise the success of a customer approach built on data to create a unified digital model that meets the needs of customers improving their homes in other OpCos. The customers may be different types, with differing journeys but using the same approach built on content, search and analytics, a better platform can be built for the benefit of all and tailored to the local markets.

Using customers’ behaviour as a base for decisions, building a structure that mirrors their needs and offering increased relevance through optimisation should mean your shop is the one where they feel they can win and one they chose to return to. There will always be more that can be done to improve the experience for customers and the key factor is to listen to customers. They are always telling you things. The beauty of the web is it allows you to see more of this than any other channel. Through data you can view customers’ behaviours, you can learn what is important to them on and in the shop and you can see how they like to receive the response you have built to this. By reading the signals, key KPIs and core sales, you can continue to evolve and improve the delivery by putting the customer first.

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