The festive season is upon us, but this year, it’s different. Covid-19 has cancelled many of our favourite activities in the lead-up to Christmas, affecting thousands of businesses that benefit from a boost in revenue over the time. And of all these activities, it’s arguably in-store shopping that is feeling the pinch the most.
The high street has been on the decline for several years now, but with lockdown imposing closures, this has accelerated, and ecommerce businesses have stepped in. The pandemic is estimated to bring in an additional £4.5bn in UK online sales, while physical stores are predicted to lose out on £3bn of business. Meanwhile, in-app shopping activity has spiked over lockdown in Europe, with a 35% rise in ecommerce app installs - 12% higher than during the festive season last year.
The Christmas season – a peak period for spending – has really underlined how consumer habits have changed. Last week, online spending was up 56% on last year. And this week, two more retail giants announced closures as they felt the sting of moving too slow, too late. In the case of Arcadia, its collapse comes after years of its revenue being soaked up by more agile ecommerce competitors like ASOS and Boohoo – both of which held exceptionally high Black Friday deals at 70% and 90% this year.
But perhaps most worryingly for the high street is that this trend isn’t going anywhere. 17.2 million people in the UK now plan to make a permanent change to their shopping habits. If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now: retailers need to invest significantly in their digital offering in order to stay competitive. And that means an unforgettable customer experience.
What is customer experience?
Customer Experience (CX) looks at the entire end-to-end customer journey through a series of fluid touchpoints, with the aim of improving customer engagement. It encompasses every interaction – from first exposure (e.g. word of mouth referral, an advertising campaign, social media) through to satisfaction surveys, customer service handling and check-in calls/emails. A strong CX design can build customer loyalty, boost employee satisfaction, improve revenue gains by as much as 10 percent and reduce costs by 15 to 25 percent in two to three years. With many consumers today, their online experience will be their only one, so how can you ensure that your UX design mirrors your CX vision? For us, the key lies in three main rules: make it personal, keep it logical and offer up control.
Make it personal
A positive customer experience should be more than just positive – it should be simply unforgettable. And that means personalisation. Personalisation helps to streamline the customer journey by delivering specific, targeted communications and messaging from end-to-end, making the user feel ‘special’. 77% of customers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised experience.
And the key to getting personalisation right? One word: data. Using data analytics, ecommerce businesses can determine customer preferences, habits and thought processes which can in turn help to inform UX designers about the direction of the customer journey (e.g. at which point customers are likely to check out, commonly searched for items and prominence of most popular/important tabs).
To create strong personalisation UX designers should focus on achieving a joined-up experience across different devices to establish a ‘single view’ of each customer. This information can then be used to create personal interactions, such as using smart beakers to trigger real-time communications and targeted messages for customers in-store. Alternatively, a CRM system that triggers personalised SMS messages letting a customer know their size is in stock or recommendations based on historic preferences can make the experience feel unique. In the future, this single view could be scaled to showroom-style stores which enable viewers to try and buy outfits virtually, order online and deliver to their home address, all through a single application - helping to bridge the gap between remote and in-store shopping. Some retail businesses are taking this even further, using augmented reality (AR) to help customers virtually try on or test out new purchases – such as placing a digital copy of furniture into a room.
Keep it logical
Humans are natural logicians, obsessed with joining the dots, filling in the blanks and making sense of seemingly unrelated stimuli. Part of customer experience is looking at how sequencing helps shape human response – and taking advantage of it.
For instance, we are more likely to recall the high and low points of an experience as opposed to individual events. We are also more likely to tune into the frequency of positive/negative aspects to form an overall impression of the experience, irrespective of the actual ‘strength’ of each aspect (with the exception that unpleasant beginnings and endings have a stronger impact). This information can be used by UX designers to complement the overall CX experience, by segregating positive experiences, consolidating negative experiences and ensuring that the journey ends on a positive note. That could mean a process that minimises the ‘pain’ of buying multiple items from different providers by creating an easy payment flow, enabling one payment to be made for multiple items (e.g. bundles) and providing the option (see control) of storing card details or linking up with PayPal. To consolidate pain even further, you can request registration details and payment at the same time. This negative experience can then be juxtaposed by CX designers with multiple positive experiences and balanced out by ensuring that the journey begins positively (with a personalised message) and ends positively (with a gift voucher for next time).
There’s a whole raft of tips that UX designers can follow to ensure that the process sequence is logical. This includes the law of proximity, which shows that objects close to each other are grouped together in the human mind, the law of similarity, which states that similar aspects should be visually matching, the law of closure, which shows that when we see a missing part in a chain our brain looks to fill the gap, and the law of figure ground which applies visual perception (background vs foreground) to manipulate the focal point on screen.
Offer up control
We all like to be in the driving seat, and customers flexing their purchasing power are no different. The more control we have, the more choices we feel responsible for and the greater our sense of power over our environment. From a UX perspective, this means giving the consumer as much decision-making power as possible, without overloading the brain with information. From simple drop-down menus instead of excessive lists (Hick’s law), to clear signposting and visibility of processes (e.g. order tracking) – control is about visibility.
In the digital age, control is also about independence – consumers want to feel self-reliant. That means enabling consumers to manage their entire journey single-handedly through clear processes that follow customer habits (website displays, placement of buttons, recommendations). Other technologies that are becoming increasingly popular are chatbots and AI to help customers find the support they need and ultimately reach decisions faster.
The bottom line
The road to outstanding customer experience is convoluted, with multiple different avenues, alleys and off-the-beaten track paths to explore. Influencing user experience makes up just one of these, but in the age of digital transformation and especially in the era of virtual retail, it’s a pretty major one (you could call it a high-speed motorway). To stay ahead, to build a brand with longevity and a loyal customer base, and not just one to survive the Christmas season (and the Covid-19 pandemic), it’s imperative to buy into customer experience. So hold onto those three golden rules: make it personal, keep it logical and offer up control. And remember, as Martin Newman, Consumer Champion, says: ‘Customer Experience is for life, not just for Christmas’.
Do you need support with building your business for the digital world? Whether you’re an established ecommerce, or just getting started with your online offering, we can help. Reach out to me – firstname.lastname@example.org - for more information.