Insights

New world, new users: Has your website audience changed since lockdown?

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Conversion Analyst at Visualsoft, Rachael Edwards, takes a look into how online audiences have changed throughout 2020 and how this could affect the way customers interact with eCommerce websites.

A lot of things have changed for the eCommerce sector since March 2020. Online services and websites have had to quickly adapt in order to serve a whole new world of needs and shifting habits. You might have noticed that the pandemic has sent an entirely new group of customers to your website. Customers who, up until their shopping habits were forced to change, may never have visited your website before, and may not be familiar with how it works.

So, what’s changed?

When the first national lockdown forced most of us into working from home and shopping online, we all thought (and hoped) it might be temporary. But here we stand, eight months on, still working from home and still very much shopping online.

It is this relative lack of ‘change’ over the last eight months that makes monitoring your online audience demographics more important than ever. This is because, the longer our collective shopping habits continue to be affected (i.e. more people shopping online for things they previously would have used the high street for), the more likely it becomes that online audiences and user demographics may be permanently altered.

This, in turn, means longer term changes may need to be made to eCommerce websites to cater and care for this new set of visitors, and also to deal with the increased levels of traffic that comes with it.

Here are some of the key changes and factors that may now be affecting your website’s audience base:

Has the device split changed?

Online shopping habits have swung heavily in mobile’s favour over the last few years. This means that many website owners have noticed that the majority of their visitors (sometimes 80% or more) are coming to the site using a mobile device. This has been the case for years within the eCommerce industry, so nobody ever really expected it to change.

Now, a huge chunk of the population has been forced to work from home for the majority of a year, and this is having a significant effect on the devices people are using to shop online in some sectors. The biggest contributing factor here is likely to be the removal of the daily commute, which means less mobile browsing time and more time spent on desktop devices while working at home.

With this in mind, it’s well worth checking your latest device split data in Google Analytics and comparing it with pre-lockdown data. If you see an increase in desktop users, this is an important change to bear in mind when considering any website optimisation strategies.

We have seen this happening for some of our clients here at Visualsoft. Here’s a sample of data from clients across different e-Commerce sectors, showing significant increases in desktop users during lockdown versus the previous year.


Desktop Users (% of Total Users)

Sector

1st Apr - 31st Oct 2019

1st Apr - 31st Oct 2020

% Increase

Jewellery

27.9%

41.2%

47.7%

Furniture

12.9%

15.7%

21.2%

Sportswear

21.2%

23.7%

11.8%


While other factors are also likely to be at play here (some of which we will cover in the upcoming sections of this article), the fact remains that many eCommerce websites will be seeing this increase in desktop users, and would benefit from adjusting strategies accordingly.

If, like many, you are seeing this increase in visits from desktop devices, it’s a great opportunity for adjustments to your optimisation strategies. Even if you currently gear most of your optimisation efforts towards mobile UX (always a good way to go in general) then it’s worth looking at new opportunities for desktop-specific UX improvements to ensure you’re looking after this newly-increased desktop audience.

Tip: A great place to start with this is to conduct a round of desktop user testing or launch a survey to assess if there are any problems being experienced by desktop users you could address.

Has the age demographic changed?

Some eCommerce brands are reporting a shift in age demographics among their website visitors lately, with a larger proportion of visitors coming in from older age groups than ever before. The closure of the high street is one potential cause of this, as people who would ordinarily prefer to shop in person (a common trend in older generations) are now forced to switch to online shopping.

This means many websites typically used to catering almost exclusively for a younger audience may now be seeing an influx of customers from a much older age bracket. This, in turn, means that subtle changes may need to be made to the website experience as a whole to ensure that there are no glaring issues that could be alienating an older audience.

Note: This increase in older visitors could be a contributing factor to the previously mentioned increases in desktop visitors to some websites, as desktop devices are typically more widely used by older audiences. It is also worth bearing in mind that any websites whose core demographic already consists of an older audience may be among those seeing the biggest increases in desktop traffic.

Checking conversion rates against the various age brackets will also help you identify whether or not certain visitor groups may be struggling with using your site. Age and device type are the most common demographic changes to keep an eye out for as the pandemic continues, and something to monitor long after things start to get back to a relative normality.

Next, we’ll look at a few aspects of your website that could be affected by these shifts in demographics, and what to look out for.

User perceptions & messaging

Users from different age groups are likely to perceive messaging and features in different ways. One such example that has recently become apparent here at Visualsoft is the perception and understanding of ‘Pay Later’ credit services, such as Klarna, among older audiences.

Younger audiences (particularly those who frequently shop on fast fashion websites) are likely to be more familiar with these types of services, their brand names and what they do. This means that prominently displaying the logos of these services and using promotional messaging is incredibly beneficial to conversion rates and customer confidence among this type of audience. However, this isn’t the case for everyone!

User testing on websites with a typically older user demographic has shown a relatively high level of confusion or lack of awareness on what these services are. This means that the type of messaging that might work wonders for conversion rates among younger audiences could have zero effect on older audiences. With this in mind, messaging and the type of imagery used may need to be tweaked for any websites who are seeing an increase in older users visiting the website, or consider implementing education pieces around topics

Tip: Once again, surveying and user testing can come in handy here. Age isn’t the only factor that could affect messaging perceptions and awareness, so collecting qualitative feedback from real users can help you identify any messaging that isn’t hitting the mark, and why.


Site speed

It’s no secret that the eCommerce industry as a whole has seen a huge boom in popularity and traffic since the start of the first national lockdown, and this shows no signs of changing, particularly as we head further into peak season. With an increase in consumers having little choice but to shop online, including the entirely new user groups we’ve talked about, the pressure is on to ensure website load speeds can cope with this increase in demand.

Now is the time to speed test your website and make sure everything is working as well as it should be, and that nothing is hindering your load times.

Image size and format is a key contributor to load speeds, so you should ensure that all images are formatted as JPEG 2000, JPEG XR or WebP files where possible. These formats are easier to compress, which makes them quicker and easier for your site to load. At the very least, all images should be compressed before uploading to the site, regardless of format, to prevent any unnecessary load strain.

You can also check your site to see if there is any unused Javascript that could be removed, or any third party tools that are having adverse effects on load speeds. There will often be alternatives for these tools available that do not cause such a strain on page loading, and these are worth exploring when potential load-time savings are high.

Navigation & merchandising

The format of your website’s navigation and the way in which products are merchandised on your website needs to be optimised according to the user demographics of your site. This, we know. But if those demographics have changed and evolved since the start of the pandemic, it may mean that your current setup needs to be tweaked to ensure everything makes sense to any new users who may now be visiting.

Key examples to look out for include navigation icons such as the burger menu on mobile websites. Not all users are familiar with this type of icon, traditionally used to open the main navigation menu, with users from older age brackets being least likely to recognise it. A/B testing here at Visualsoft has shown that simply adding the word ‘Menu’ beneath the burger menu icon can help offset this problem – a relatively simple change but well worth considering if you’re seeing more visits from older users.

Merchandising settings are also worth reviewing as we head into the business end of peak season. User preferences on sort order, for example, can vary depending on the device type being used, so being aware of overall preferences can help you ensure your website is set up to cater for them. The great news is that sort order usage can be tracked using event tracking in Google Analytics, which means you can easily see which is the most popular and use this as the default setting on your website.

Less affected by demographics, but equally worth looking at during peak season ,is how your website displays out of stock items. Customer comments during our user testing sessions here at Visualsoft have indicated that showing out of stock items in product listings can cause problems for users. Hiding these or clearly marking them as ‘Out of Stock’ can help reduce friction and eliminate unnecessary clicks, and we have features available on the Visualsoft platform to do this.

Final Thoughts

Pandemic or no pandemic, continuously monitoring Google Analytics for changes in your user demographics is simply good practice. Now more than ever, it is especially important to stay on top of any changes as the situation develops and the e-commerce industry continues to adapt.

As the world gradually returns to a state of relative normality, we may also see a return to the mobile-dominated user demographics we’ve become accustomed to seeing. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the day-to-day lives of millions of customers are likely to be affected long term, if not permanently.

With this in mind, a more granular awareness of your website’s main demographics is going to be fundamental to ensuring your UX is meeting the needs of your customers in a post-pandemic world.

Want to gain a better understanding of your website users?

Let our CRO team know using the form below or give us a call on 01642 633604.