Emily Strachan

Form Follows Function

Clients sometimes assume that build success relies solely on an appealing interface (Forbes). However, online retailers must not compromise user experience for aesthetic and our Head of Platform, Sarah Louise Taylor, has highlighted why…

My first flirtation with eCommerce happened in the late 90s, when the online publisher I worked for experimented with selling short-run fashion collections. Back then, security and user adoption of internet shopping were by far the two largest concerns, however the sector quickly gained the traction and tech it needed to grow and quirky little sites that sold books (Amazon) and novelty wallets (ASOS) famously became internet giants.

By the time I joined Visualsoft in 2009, eCommerce was a force to be reckoned with, and the key quandary for retailers had shifted from ‘Will people actually shop online?’ to ‘How do I beat the growing competition?’. There were several answers to that question, including competitive pricing, effective online marketing, and impressive store designs that customers could gaze upon while waiting for sites to fully load on their desktop computer. Today, all those things still remain important, however thanks to much smarter devices and much faster internet speeds, customers expect to achieve their objectives (e.g. buy a shirt, check an order status, compare alarm systems, etc) as quickly and effortlessly as possible. This means that creating a positive, intuitive user experience – which builds the momentum needed to achieve the desired action from users – should absolutely be a top priority for online retailers.

Of course, this isn’t a revelation – UX has long been hailed as the king of conversion, however it’s still an afterthought for many online retailers. It’s not uncommon for store owners (and sometimes even eCommerce providers) to focus more on how a store looks rather than how it feels, and by placing priority on ornamental imagery and superfluous effects they’re unwittingly creating sites that are bloated, slow, and difficult to navigate. Unfortunately design-heavy, poor-performing sites are a literal turn-off for customers, and often the root cause of weak conversion rates (Web Fundamentals).

Strong user experience is certainly high on the agenda at Visualsoft – earlier this year we worked closely with Google and a number of leading online retailers to improve the performance of our responsive solutions on smartphones and tablets (you can see the impressive results for yourself here). We’re also currently enhancing usability across a number of key areas for stores on our platform with the specific goal of boosting conversion rates, and we’ll soon start the initial production phase for our next-gen, performance-first wireframes (a combination of Progressive Web App and Accelerated Mobile Page functionality).

As an eCommerce provider, the continuous improvements we make to our platform are immediately available to our clients, however there are also actions retailers themselves can take to maintain and enhance a store’s UX:

  • Ditch distractions – Every element on your store should have a defined purpose, and if it doesn’t, lose it. Great designs are often invisible.
  • Simplify journeys – Identify and review every step a customer needs to take to complete an action on your store (e.g. make a purchase, get further info, compare items) and where possible, refine or remove steps entirely if they’re unnecessary. Remember that the aim of strong UX is to help customers achieve an intended action as seamlessly as possible.
  • Set clear objectives – If you’re adding new functionality to your store, be very clear on what it needs to achieve and judge its success on whether it fulfils its objective (rather than how it looks).
  • Know your customers – The more you understand your customers and how they interact with your store, the better you can adapt your offering to suit their specific needs/preferences (analytics tools are crucial here).
  • Review and revise – What works well at present, won’t necessarily suffice in the future as expectations continue to evolve, so take time to regularly review how customers are using your store and keep on top of any friction points!

The bottom line is, people will always be dazzled by attractive artwork, but looking pretty doesn’t cut it if your store isn’t converting as well as it could be, so never sacrifice performance for the sake of indulgent design. Customers don’t want decoration, they just want to shop – make sure your UX isn’t stopping them.

Related articles: