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A few weeks ago we attended the ‘Multichannel Mastery’ from Ecommerce UK event, held in the beautiful One Moorgate Place. One of the speakers was Hash Ladha, the Deputy MD of Oasis and he had some brilliant bits of insight about retail customers and customer experience.

The X & Y generations

Essentially, the premise was based around understanding the split in the market between generation X and Y, and by accepting their general drivers and behaviours you can adapt marketing and business activities accordingly, resulting in more satisfied customers.

So, generation Y is anyone born after 1980 and generation X are those born before 1980. (Personally I think there is also a split between those born during/after the 90′s but he didn’t go into that during this presentation)

Essentially, generation X are rebels, they strived to be different, to make their mark and to do things that set them apart as individuals. Generation Y are conformists, and strive to fit in, hence the power of highstreet fashion trends and purchase decision are much more collaborative and ‘peer’ driven.

Also, generation X knew they had to work for future success and were happy to do so, generation Y have grown up with instant gratification – this changes the ball park completely for retailers. Another interesting point that Hash discussed was that generation X are now trying to move more into the path of generation Y, and are desperately trying to adopt similar behaviours and needs.

Instant gratification

Retailers to date have tried to adapt their business models, marketing, and selling techniques from generation X to generation Y. But really, there needs to be much more drastic measures. Mobile has introduced a platform for instant gratification and truly multichannel retail, which generation Y strives for and the retailer that gets this right will gain a huge advantage over its competitors.

Pure play retailers took this on board with great success, so the traditional bricks and mortar retailers need to catch up their customer experience to match the ‘instant gratification’ needs of generation Y.

Why look broadly at the differences in behaviours?

So, Hash found that by looking at the differences between the two generations there are clearly 2 key segments of shopper mentality, and so the delivery of customer experience needs to change to support this.

Oasis have introduced a number of initiatives that are based purly on the needs of generation Y – 90 minute delivery being on of their most successfull, and intriducing a shadow board where employees of Oasis in generation Y are paired to a management board executive to help them think differently (and more like a generation Y) about the business. These are great initiatives, brought about by Oasis really trying to get into the mentality of their target market.

Looking at this trend in general is an important starting point for understanding your customers overall mentality, as generation Y become more influential and generation X strive more and more to be like generation Y, any organisation that hasn’t recognised and started to act on these trends will be left behind. The next step for retailers will be to look more closely at specific target customers and segments to see how they interact specifically with their brands and adapt digital customer experience and in-store touchpoints accordingly to innovate and deliver a seamless multichannel experience.

It was a really interesting talk – what do you think about his findings?

Last week I had the privilege of presenting at Figaro Digital – Design & User Experience Seminar. It was certainly a good event with an interesting debate on whether or not research is worthwhile (you can probably guess which side of the discussion I was on).

My presentation – which you can browse through below – focused on tactical methods you can employ to optimise conversion rates so as to sell more online. The presentation is split into 3 sets of categories, outlining how you can:

  • Help users find products
  • Provide a perfect product page
  • Craft an easy checkout

All the guidelines and recommendations are based on our  research over the years on websites (mobile & desktop) that are selling online. I hope you learn something new and find something useful!

You can also watch the video of me presenting it over at the Figaro website – probably worth doing if you’re interested as there’s not too much text in the deck below.

Our recent Retail report evaluated the multi-channel e-commerce experience for 15 of the UK’s best known high street retailers. Next performed really well with scores of 4 or 5 out of 5 for the majority of guidelines, and it’s likely that it would have come top but for a poor checkout process (check out the report for the winner, it isn’t who we were expecting!). For Next, the guideline specifying that the ‘Checkout process is appropriate, effective and easy to use’ gave them no points at all. There are lessons here for everyone so pay attention…

The Next checkout process suffers from

  • Poor feedback following add to basket actions
  • Confusing login/register form (which you can read more about in my other blog ‘Most common checkout usability issue ever‘) and,
  • Incomplete and inconsistently displayed progress bar amongst other issues.

However, the worst offence by next in their check out process was the forced ‘Credit account’ that online customers are essentially forced to open… That is what I am going to look into in this blog post.

1. Reading the small print

However, the main issue with the checkout relates to the default creation of a Next credit account. After entering personal details, customers reach the following page:

On the face of it, this page is about whether to get free delivery by requesting the catalogue, and checking the terms and conditions box before proceeding to payment. Customers generally don’t read the terms and conditions but perhaps in this case they should.

There’s a lot of extra text on this page below the preference options dealing with separate matters, but buried between information about the invoice for the directory and viewing directory statements online, is the crucial text about agreeing to open a credit account and agreeing to a credit search being carried out.

It’s easy for customers eager to complete the checkout process to miss this information because of the other visual clutter, but it’s also likely that customers won’t be expecting a credit account to be opened since the vast majority of ecommerce transactions just prompt for a credit or debit card.

2. Where are you in the process?

If customers press the ‘Complete’ button, and the credit account isn’t successfully created, the following page is presented:

This is likely to confuse and surprise customers who weren’t even aware that Next was trying to set up a credit account for them. It’s also potentially confusing because the progress bar has disappeared and it’s not immediately clear where customers are in the process. Payment symbols are displayed but the expected payment page hasn’t appeared. There’s a button but the label ‘Continue shopping’ is usually associated with ‘exit the basket page and return to the main site to browse more items’.

3. Forced further actions

However, if customers press the ‘Complete’ button in the previous page, and the credit account is successfully created, delivery details are checked and the goods are automatically sent to the registered address:

The page encourages customers to ‘relax’ but they’re unlikely to relax if a) they were unaware that a credit account was being created and b) they didn’t want a credit account in the first place.

The option to pay by debit or credit card is offered, but as a less prominent link rather than a more obvious button. Even if customers only ever intended to pay immediately (rather than open a credit account) this option isn’t provided. You have to open a credit account and then close it. But you’d better be quick:

If you take too long to decide, then Next decides for you and assumes you’ll be paying through the credit account.

In a conventional checkout process (one that customers are expecting), customers will be looking for a confirmation page before payment just to check that everything’s correct. In the Next checkout process this does happen before payment but the consequence of confirming is that the goods are automatically sent. Customers can’t bail out of the process at the last minute by not providing payment details because by this time, the goods are on their way.

This is a poor customer experience because some customers will rightly feel they’ve been forced or tricked into a credit account they never wanted. At least in a physical Next store, the option to open a credit account is explicitly offered before you pay.

The consequences

Multiple credit card checks are known to impact negatively on credit history, so customers who never planned to open a credit account would justifiably feel aggrieved about Next performing one by default. Following customer complaints, Next announced that by August 2011 it would only implement ‘soft’ credit checks that don’t leave a mark on customers’ credit history. Even if this has been implemented, wording in the checkout process only refers to a ‘credit check’ so it’s unclear what the impact on credit history would be.

A more transparent approach that gives customers control would be to offer the option to open a credit account (with all the undoubted benefits that go with it) at the payment part of the process rather than immediately after personal details are registered. Have you experienced the shock of having a credit account with Next, or any other retailers? Let us know in the comments below!

There’s a usability issue so common that I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen customers stumble on it. At first glance it might not be an obvious usability issue, but years of user testing and user research later it proves to be a problem for a large proportion of users across a broad spectrum of profiles. It happens right at the start of the checkout process with the form to either log in or register:

When presented with a log-in form, users are often naturally drawn to start filling in the edit boxes on the left to sign-in. They don’t read the surrounding text – they’re only interested in getting through the checkout process quickly so they can complete the purchase. They don’t even notice the button on the right that is for new customers who don’t have an account already.

This is fine for existing customers, but new customers are likely to believe that the sign-in fields are the start of the registration process and if they have an account or not they would expect to move the process forward without entering new information on a new form. This is often not the case.

Providing an error message stating that ‘details don’t match the system’ may not resolve the situation. For customers that have many online accounts it’s feasible that they won’t remember if they have an account or not, but the error message assumes the customer is doing the right thing in trying to sign in; it suggests that an account with this email address exists and that the password is wrong. Perhaps the customer will enter the password again or a different password, and may not realise the issue lies because they are filling in the wrong form.

Meanwhile, customer frustration and anxiety increase and the item remains tantalisingly unpaid for, increasing the likelihood of checkout abandonment. This is where a usability and user experience show their worth time and time again – no retailer should have this issue on their website if they are looking to optimise their sales and conversion.

It’s likely to be less of an issue if the new customer register button is on the left and the login fields are on the right because, since users naturally scan a screen top left to bottom right, they’re more likely to notice the button and decide if it’s relevant for them. But it still forces customers to decide whether they should register or log in, and the choice isn’t visually equal or obvious – it’s still tempting just to fill in those edit boxes. To try to eliminate this checkout usability issue, the choice has to be translated into the question ‘Do I already have an account with this company or not?’

Surprisingly, in our Ecommerce Retail report only 2 companies out of 15 presented the login/registration in a design that we recommend to our clients to resolve this issue:

Integrating the login/registration into 1 form means customers aren’t faced with the choice of whether to log in or register. They have to enter their email address in either situation, so that’s a no-brainer. Instead, the choice is presented as a simple question: ‘Do you have a password?’

Of course, they still have to remember if they have a password or not, but the particular confusion generated by the Next form and not knowing if it is your password that is wrong, or the fact you don’t actually have an account can’t happen. By answering ‘No’ they signal their intent to be a new customer. By answering ‘Yes’ they’re declaring they have an existing account – they’ll make sense of any error messages subsequently generated for a wrong password or non-existent account in this light.

Because the design is more streamlined, there’s less visual clutter, and less for the customer to consider. Customers will always make mistakes but the checkout process should be as smooth and short as possible.

So, why do so many companies persist with the clunky Next-style form that could see customers entering password after password and then when realising they perhaps don’t have an account having to re-fill a different form to sign up? I don’t know! But giant of Ecommerce, Amazon, go with the streamlined design as we recommend to our clients, which says it all.

Have you come across this checkout usability issue? Have you been stuck in the sign in or register loop and ended up typing in your details numerous times into different forms just to be able to buy something? Let us know in the comments below!

As a company, Apple ploughs its own furrow. It has been a hugely successful innovator in terms of its business model and service delivery, re-inventing the way we interact with mobile devices and consume music. So it’s a surprise that the company ends up mid-table in our recent Retail Ecommerce Report. Why hasn’t a company that prides itself on providing the services and technology people crave, that commands such devotion and respect, not trumped the likes of John Lewis and Marks and Spencer. The short answer is that it performs brilliantly on some guidelines and poorly on others.

Some may argue that Apple operates by a different rule book, that their unique way of doing business can’t be judged by conventional guidelines. However, the report investigates the experience of buying and interacting with the brand across multiple channels, rather than the desirability of their products or the persuasion of their brand. The unusual level of corporate good will towards Apple products might outweigh some negative aspects of the experience of buying them, but that’s not to say that improvements can’t be made.

Here is an overview of our findings of Apple’s multichannel customer experience:

  • Mobile customer experience:

As you’d expect, the company excels with its mobile Apple Store app. It opts to put its effort into an app rather than bothering with a mobile-optimised site, which makes sense given its business imperative to steer consumers towards its unique platform for apps. However, it could do more to point customers towards the app. The retailer Next, for example, gives a choice between the app and a mobile site when customers search the web for the company on a mobile device. Apple just loads a site that isn’t optimised for mobile which is not best practice.

  • Cross-channel Mobile and In-store  customer experience:

What really stands out though is the way the company integrates the app with an in-store experience. With the app you can make reservations to join workshops or get 1-to-1 technical help. The design of the app is in tune with the mobile context of its use – ‘I’m out and about, I want to try out the new iPhone, where’s the nearest store, I can be there in an hour, let’s make an appointment…’

  • In-store customer experience:

This leads to the other genius aspect of the Apple retail experience. Apple Stores aren’t really like stores at all. They’re places to admire and try out Apple products. They’re more like demo spaces at slick trade fair stands, or the interactive areas of a science museum. At one

level this helps position them as places of consumer worship where devotees can queue up for product releases and place half-eaten apple cores at the shrine of Steve Jobs. At another level, it’s offering a successful and practical customer experience – lots of eager, knowledgeable Apple geek staff who can’t wait to answer your questions about the products. You can buy there if you want, but the idea is really to get you hooked with no pressure to buy straight away. They’re expensive, luxury items after all – so maybe you need some time to think about it… Apple stores make a confident statement that the shopping experience can be new and different.

So what is going wrong for Apple’s cross-channel customer experience?

Perhaps the way the stores are set up explains why the company didn’t do so well with the multi-channel aspects of flexible customer service. The report examines how easy it is to buy something online and return it in-store. Apple Stores wouldn’t allow me to return the lower value item I bought via the website. The bemused manager claimed it was because they didn’t stock the item in the store. But the stocking policy of the store is of little concern to the consumer. Perhaps it’s possible to return an iPad or an iPhone, but it shows the stores aren’t really designed with the more day to day transaction of money and goods in mind. Perhaps this is due to business prioritisation, or maybe it’s an oversight.

There are other aspects of the experience that don’t match up to the performance of other companies.

  • The lack of ways to manage product search results on the website. It’s true that the site sells only Apple products so perhaps search functionality isn’t that important. But a search for ‘iPhone’ yields 99 results with lots of choice combinations on colour and memory capacity but no sort or filter options to help customers drill down to the right product.
  • And, curiously, while the app does a great job of showcasing the strengths of the physical stores, the website doesn’t - again against best practice multichannel retail.

Steve Jobs was famously obsessive about the details of all Apple’s offerings but the details seem to be missing. At the risk of incurring the wrath of Apple devotees, the verdict on Apple’s multi-channel retail experience is that it’s inconsistent.

What do you think? Should Apple be considered outside the realms of our retail customer experience report due to the nature of the brand? Or do you think that they have, in fact, forgotten some key aspects that matter to customers?

Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!

Images are from Apple’s Covent Garden store information or screen shots from Apple products.

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