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As part of the multi-channel shopping experience analysis for this year’s Retail multichannel experience report (coming soon – watch our twitter feed for its release!) I evaluated how well companies make their customers aware of the different channels they do business through. So, for example, do high street bricks-and-mortar stores champion ecommerce channels or other ways of shopping?

A good example (shown in the image on the right) is from a Debenhams department store in Westfield shopping centre. Even if I don’t have access to a smart phone, by using these online shopping points in-store on every floor, I can scan items I don’t want to lug around with me, buy them online and have them delivered. It also draws attention to the rather good Debenhams online shopping experience.

Are there any more good examples of cross-channel publicity?

Boots scored quite well for this guideline too, but I can’t show any photos in evidence of this because when I attempted to take a picture of a cardboard stand that allows customers to order items in a Christmas catalogue I was approached by a very agitated security guard. He told me that taking pictures in the store wasn’t allowed and he wouldn’t let me leave the store until I’d deleted the photo. It was apparently against company policy. Actually, he ordered me very aggressively to delete other photos I’d taken in other stores thinking they were other images of Boots (although in a potentially foolhardy act of defiance I resisted that – never try to forcibly destroy a UX consultant’s data…)

A check of the law reveals that shops are strictly speaking private property, and there’s no general restriction on taking photos while on private property, provided the photographer has permission to be there. Presumably, members of the public have permission to be in shops. However, the owner has the right to impose whatever conditions he/she wishes on entry into the property, including a restriction on photography. But since Boots don’t publicise their no-photography policy it’s hard to understand how people would know about it until it was too late.

Does it matter if people take picture in stores?

So, why the draconian measures? I wasn’t given a reason but some companies could be sensitive about the theft of ideas, for example, someone taking a photo of a designer dress could be stealing information to make it on the cheap. Although, a cardboard gift-ordering stand hardly feels like the stuff of industrial espionage.

Does it matter? Well, camera phones are ubiquitous now, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that people will take photos if it’s useful to do so. If you’re in a shop and you’re not sure about a product, you can take a photo of it and email it straight away to get someone else’s opinion. If you can use a barcode scanner app or use QR codes to check the price of the same product elsewhere, why shouldn’t you be able to take a photo of the product number to do the check later? That’s just consumer power and potentially could work in favour of the retail industry so should perhaps be considered as a positive for increasing conversion, and should perhaps be encouraged.

Beware the influences that effect brand experience!

Now I come to the most important point of this blog post, a security guard is still an employee of the company in the same way as a shop assistant and so is representative of the brand. In the same manner that sales assistants are delivering a brand experience by their tone of voice and physical appearance, so is a security guard. Just take one walk down Bond Street and you will see that the luxury brands have got this down to a tee and their security guards are all very well presented, polite and helpful.

My experience with the Boots security guard may have been a one off but it was an eye-opener for me proving how every channel and interaction that a customer has with the brand or that might be associated with the brand, be it website, advert, sales assistants or security guard it all influences perceptions and feelings towards a brand. So it might be advisable for brands to keep this in mind and ensure that even security guards communicate with customers in a manner that meets the same standards as would be expected from every other member of the store. Unnecessarily aggressive behaviour doesn’t do brand image any favours.

But, hey, Boots all is forgiven – I’m still giving you a good score for your multichannel customer experience!

If you want to be one of the first to get hold of our Retail multichannel customer experience report, sign up for our newsletter or keep an eye on our twitterfeed over the next few weeks!

If you have you had any interesting experiences that have altered your perceptions of brands, we would be really interested to know – please leave a comment below!

Terms like multichannel marketing and multichannel business strategy have been cropping up a lot in articles, industry news, board meetings, brainstorm sessions, presentations, workshops … you name it. This prefix has been going around for a while now and has become a must have strategy for most businesses.

What’s interesting though is actually seeing it being put into good use. Having recently completed a few multichannel e-commerce projects for high street brands, I realised that there’s much room for improvement in making multichannel shopping a better experience. We know that a lot of businesses have multichannel offerings (e.g. website, high street store, call centre, catalogue, magazine) and a lot of consumers are multichannel shoppers. For example a persona we created for a client (based on real user research) called Sally. She has a tendency to read an email on her mobile devise that sparks a desire to buy something, she then browses through a selection of products online on multiple websites, checks out the products in a store, compares store prices with online prices, then goes home and purchases the product(s) online and waits for it to be delivered.

It all sounds pretty straightforward, but what can a business do to improve this process to create a truly seamless multichannel experience?

  • Remember the whole customer life-cycle:

The first step is to really understand how your brand interacts throughout the entire customer life-cycle. Understanding consumers’ buying behaviour via different research methodologies (e.g. ethnographic studies, interviews, diary studies) can provide rich insights into the details for the design that will make a big difference. In short, putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and listening to what they have to say (in a structured way) and watching what they do is a great way to glean insights into how to develop a multichannel experience and get it right.

  • Design each interaction properly:

There are several structured processes and tools from multidisciplinary fields (…pun not intended) that can be used to improve multichannel customer experiences. Starting with the concept of designing for multiple touchpoints taken from the field of service design is a good plan.

As consumers usually come in contact with a brand from different points (or channels in relation to this article), which you can pin down with good user research, it is important to identify and focus on each interaction to ensure that the customer experience is designed for its purpose every time. Following that, the challenge is to ensure a seamless transition from one touchpoint to another and a consistent brand representation throughout. More about the topic of service design can be found in this brilliant book This is Service Design Thinking.

The most important aspect however is that different businesses have different priorities, so always adapt and apply these concepts so they fit with the business strategy and target market. I’m sure there are more ways out there that have been successfully implemented to make this work, it’ll be interesting to know what you think in the comments below!

By the way, if you are involved in the retail sector or are interested to learn which brands have created the best multichannel customer experiences and how to do the same, then join up for our newsletter on our homepage or follow us on twitter to make sure you get your hands on our Retail Multichannel Report first!

Picture from New York Times Fashion&Style: Next step for fashion label – Cyberboutiques

It’s that time of year again when your friends and colleagues are talking about going on holiday but you haven’t booked anything… What is the first thing you do? Well other than despair and wonder if the UK will be hot enough this year not to go abroad (probably not), I usually get online and start looking at pictures of gorgeous lapping shores, colourful market towns, and a certain theme park in Florida – but then what, should I just go for it and book it online? What is holding me back?

According to our latest travel poll results, most people that look at holidays online are most influenced to ‘book now’ if they are being shown cheap deals. This is what we, as the consumer, have come to expect. The second thing that would help us to part with our credit card details and book that dream holiday is a review, feedback from other people.

I have to agree with the 1000+ people in the poll, these things are definitely what I look for. The ideal website would be one that might show a price comparison, because then I don’t even have to do any research elsewhere to check I was getting the cheapest deal, and then show me reassuringly honest comments so I feel a level of trust that this great deal won’t have unexpected catches once I get there.

But is that really enough? I still haven’t clicked on ‘book now’, I wonder why…

Have you booked your holiday for this year? What are the top things a travel website would need to make you book online? Leave your comments below… (Also, if anyone has any suggestions on where I should go on holiday this year it would be greatly appreciated!)


It’s crystal ball time again, the time of year when we like to get on our soapbox and become the modern day Nostradamus.

2010 has been a really interesting year for ecommerce. The economic picture is still not rosy and web managers have been under increasing pressure to halt the decline in traffic.

For years the online channel had been experiencing meteoric growth and web marketers could do no wrong – build and they will come. However, as the economy beat a hasty retreat, consumers became more conservative and looked to the web to research ways to save money. Voucher code sites blossomed. The number of searches declined and more people used long tail search terms to find what they wanted. In the email industry, open and click rates suffered. Blanket emails, once the preserve of the majority of retailers, suddenly stopped returning a profit.  The UK affiliate space became cluttered with discount websites.

The net result has been the need for digital marketers to be savvier, using Internet technology to increase personalisation and segment offers. It’s common sense but the margins are now so much tighter that it can’t be ignored. As the Board increases its scrutiny of the numbers, web managers are under more pressure than ever to deliver. The industry is maturing and a more commercial model is emerging; about time too.

As a result, there is an increased demand from employers for commercial skills like business analysis and financial planning. Web managers must be multi-disciplined, understanding digital marketing whilst knowing how to manage the numbers. Web analytics and website optimisation is more important than ever and investment in these areas is, thankfully, on the rise.

What remains to be seen is how far web teams will go with the unglamorous side of ecommerce. We’re predicting that site optimisation, investment in mobile platforms (including tablet devices) and better integration of social media with customer service will be key themes for 2011.

Our Webcredible article takes a look at why these trends are likely to be important in 2011.

Please drop by and share your comments.

Photo credit: danielbroche via Flickr/Creative Commons

There’s a lot in the media about the future of the utility sector with smart metering,  smart grids being green and the tussle of running aging assets versus much needed investment… but there is not so much about focus of the short term… online presence.

Our latest report into the usability of the leading UK energy and water supplier websites shows there is still some way to go in the online user experience for the energy and water market.

What was particularly surprising was there was no difference in average score between the energy suppliers (operating in a deregulated market) and the water companies (non deregulated).

The results were as follows:

Energy suppliers Score out of 5
1. British Gas 4.3
2. Scottish Hydro 4.3
3. First Utility 4
4. Utilita Services Ltd 4
5. Good Energy 3.8
6. EDF Energy 3.8
7. Npower 3.3
8. Green Energy (UK) plc 3
9. Scottish Power 3
10. Ecotricity 2.8
11. E.ON 2.8
12. Equipower (EBICo) 2.3
13. The Utility Warehouse (managed by Telecom plus PLC) 1.3
Water suppliers Score out of 5
1. Thames Water 4.3
2. Anglian Water 4
3. Severn Trent Water 4
4. Southern Water 4
5. Yorkshire Water 3.8
6. South West Water 3.8
7. Wessex Water 3.5
8. United Utilities 3.3
9. Northumbrian Water 2.5
10. Scottish Water 1.8
11. Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water 1.3
12. Thames Water 4.3

Our report looked at an increased number of suppliers this year and is now available to purchase and download.

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