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Guest comment: Great usability leads to purer brand experience

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by Albert Pusch

For online retailers, 2011 is the year that they will need to focus on usability if they want to add value to their e-brand and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Up until now the focus has been on content, but the reality is that everyone has the right text and pictures, so making yourself standout from the crowd is becoming more difficult.

However, as consumers are getting more used to shopping online so they are becoming more demanding of the websites they shop at, and this is where the real opportunity lies.

The ForeSee E-Retail Satisfaction Index, which was published in the US at the end of 2010 backs this up. The survey reveals that: “Apple defies conventional wisdom because it achieves the highest customer satisfaction despite scoring below its rivals on perceptions of prices. However, Apple scores much higher than the others in website functionality, which is the most important driver of customer satisfaction for all three websites.” This clearly shows that it’s not good deals or cheap prices that affect people’s web experience, but the quality of the online store’s e-branding.

But etailers need to understand that creating good ebrand experience is about much more than good design; while a site may look great, if it lacks functionality and is hard to get around then this will have a negative impact on the brand’s online experience.

Retailers need to start by looking at ease of use and navigation. When people come to their site, they need to be able to find what they want quickly and easily, alternatively if they are encouraging those same visitors to browse their site they need to ensure that their on-site navigation is intuitive, and offers people the ability to hone down what they are looking for.

Perfect your navigation and search tools

For example, few people are going to work their way through 20 pages of trousers, so faceted navigation is imperative, this allows the user to filter their search by different attributes, such as brand, colour, style, size or price range. Even if people don’t buy in the first instance, they will remember how good or bad the level of service was – exactly as they would in the real world.

Another way to ensure that visitors can find the right products is through the site’s search function – particularly if the retailer stocks a lot of different products. Another study, this time by Marketing Sherpa, has revealed that people who use search are three times more likely to go on to purchase than others, so evidently this is an important area to get right.

Within this, there are a number of ways that brands can enhance their ebrand experience: from using error tolerant search to looking at the way search results are presented or using the data they have to create relevant recommendations for shoppers. But whatever they do, the message for 2011 is simple: If you want a competitive advantage for your online store and you want to add value to your e-Brand, you need to focus on usability to enhance your customer experience.

Albert Pusch is head of marketing at FACT-Finder
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