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Creating the ultimate user experience

Blending elements, cohesiveness, social media presence key in today’s e-commerce world
Would you enter a checkout lane at your local supermarket if it was blocked off? Neither would your online customers. The hurdles in the Piggly Wiggly world of shopping don’t receive any more acceptance online. Consider this: current statistics put cart abandonment rate on e-commerce sites right around 60 percent. Ouch. Now consider the fact that many of these net-based neglects happen before the consumer even starts to buy the product, and you’ve got an even more complex problem on your hands (or in your site).
While rescuing pitched purchases on your pure play dotcom may seem complex, in reality, it starts with one, basic element: Trust. A customer who has trust in your business, its products, and the security of your checkout process is much less likely to let their cart loose than one who is confused, fearful or untrusting at the checkout.
Know your customers, let commerce reign over confusion
If you don’t know who your core customer group is, you better step back a whole level and do some serious research. But, chances are, you’ve keyed in (and likely invested time and resources in researching) the core consumers that make up your site’s demographic. Good for you. Now, you’ve got to tailor-fit your site to speak to your audience. Basing your site’s design, navigation and upkeep on anything else is, at the very least, an insult to the very group you want to reach the checkout lane.
Another approach to the mentality of demographic-based site design is to make sure your site is designed to meet the needs of the visitor—not the business. While you likely have certain components built into your system to make the navigation of your site, sales, traffic management or even SEO optimization easier for your, you can’t lose sight of the customer. After all, in life, and online, they are always right. So don’t let them make a left turn off of your site.
Today’s online shoppers don’t just buy—they experience
Think of your favorite restaurant, one you could turn to again and again. What is it about the restaurant that you like? It’s likely not just a special dish, a favored maître d’ or an inviting atmosphere. Chances are, it’s a combination of the characteristics listed above.
If this restaurant served you the wrong dish, made you wait a bit longer than normal for a table, or had a light bulb out above your table, you wouldn’t just write them off and never come back, would you? Likely not, and you know why? Because, during your time as their patron, this restaurant has given you a customer experience indelible enough to make you not only return, but forgive many errors should they occur.
Try to think of the all-important “user experience” like the components of a great eating establishment. No one element is too overpowering and the seamlessness of a trip to the locale is pleasant and worth repeating. This is achieved due to a number of elements that come together without you even realizing it. From the chef in the kitchen making the perfect dish, tuned in to the palate of the customers he serves, to the aesthetically pleasing layout of the venue itself, your site, too, should have all elements working together, but with near invisibility, to allow users to like your site without being able to pinpoint one exact reason why.
Achieve user experience balance through blending
There is a couple of factors allowing customers to enjoy a site, and they are, quite simply, user experience and usability. And one cannot stand alone to make a site work. A site built on the tenants of great usability is not going to draw customers unless the experience from top to bottom is an exemplary user experience, as well.
Certain elements of a page can pay particular attention to this fact, and we’ll help give you some pointers below.
The Product Detail Page
Frighteningly enough, many e-commerce sites make a mess out of their product detail (PD) page. Many businesses spend too much time bulking up the look of their landing page, and make a streamlined process out of their PD pages. This is not a good idea, considering this is where your consumers are not only spending a bulk of their time, but it is also where they are deciding if a product or purchase is right for them. Take away the aesthetics or ignore the details, and you’ve sullied the user experience.
There are some simple tricks to perk up your PD page that have come up as of late. One consideration? “No-click” photo add-ons that allow a user to see alternate images of a product simply by scrolling over the main PD page’s image. This “no-click” feature can also be used to zoom or see different parts of a product. Other easy PD options help thwart the “cart abandonment” catalyst that is the “error message.”
The online checkout lane
There’s a reason we started this post discussing how the checkout process can be a gut-wrenching way to lose customers. Just like you didn’t want to go through that grocery lane that was blocked off, you also don’t likely want to get in the line that stretches out past the kiosk. When it comes to your checkout page, think efficient, seamless, and, most importantly, fast. Customers do not want to linger on your checkout screen—and you shouldn’t want them to. The longer they linger here, the more chances they have to rethink their cart contents or feel stuck.
Now that we’ve told you to make your sales end in a snappy manner, we need to add one small addendum. A checkout process that is too rapid fire can alarm shoppers, as well. How do you strike a balance? Make sure that all added costs, taxes, shipping and other post-purchase charges are shown in a manner that has a good rhythm, one that new and seasoned online shoppers alike can respect and understand. The last thing you want is your customer to end their purchase feeling as if they were taken advantage of by feeling they were notified “after the fact” of extra costs associated with their orders.
Offer visible security
Despite the well-built security systems that have evolved in the e-commerce world, customers online is still a bit resistant about exposing any credit card account information to a new vendor. Perhaps they were burned on a past site, or just have heard horror stories from friends on other sites. No matter the source of their trepidation, you must help solidify your customer’s trust in you by making measures to show the security of your site.
This may include well-recognized seals for security, or a small box detailing how identity is protected throughout the shopping experience on your site. Another addition you won’t regret is a footer outlining your privacy policy in detail as well as a link that goes into greater detail. Better safe than sorry, right?
Don’t let your pages be obese
How can a web page have a weight—let alone one that is gluttonous? It’s a strange concept to wrap your mind around, but here is how it is simply calculated: page weight equals file size. File size is determined by calculating all of the following elements on a page:

  •  Every line of code.
  • Anything that gets loaded when the user first hits the page.
  • Every image on the page.
  • Libraries on the page (i.e. JQuery, MooTools or even Flash-shared objects)

When you think about all these contents, it’s easy to understand that it doesn’t take long before you can have a pretty bulky webpage on your hands.
Luckily, web developers are making strides in the realm of shedding some of the cyber poundage of page weight. Through efforts such as Safari 4 Beta, a browser that comes ready to handle not only CSS animation and effects but also HTML media tags, the future of page weights may be a bit lighter (and brighter), with a faster, more efficient user experience as the end result. Stay on top of these trends, and use them as a sort of diet for your page’s weights.
Embrace the undeniable power of SoMe
Love it, loathe it, or not quite sure about it, social media (SoMe) is integral in making your site’s user experience come full circle. SoMe is the number one way to engage customers, both in and outside of your site, increasing their loyalty and return rates.
SoMe of the numbers
But don’t take our word for it. Let the people—and numbers—speak. A recent survey by media researcher Cone dug up the following:

  • 56% of SoMe users that say their connection with a company is strengthened when they can interact with them via SoMe.
  • 60 % of all adults who now use SoMe
  • 85% of SoMe users that think companies should use their SoMe presence to interact with customers
  • 93% of SoMe users that feel a company’s SoMe presence is a necessity.

It’s strange to think the SoMe beast that is Facebook is just five years old. Still, it’s rapid pace growth in just half a decade shows the power of SoMe—the site has over 175 million users year to date.

So don’t turn a blind eye to SoMe. Embrace it. Need some pointers? Consider the following:
On your site:

  •  Allow customers to leave customized reviews, complete with a profile name and picture.

Have dynamic changing content on your site (read: a blog) and attach it to an RSS feed.
On SoMe:

  • Make sure your customers can show their love for your product and/or site through any SoMe venue they chose, including Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Tumblr, Pintrest, or StumbleUpon. The list could go on, but the takeaway is this: Key into which SoMe sites your demographic likes the most, which SoMe trends are most popular now, and make sure your brand has visibility on them.

Quizzes and questions
Sorry, we didn’t tell you, but while building your customer’s ultimate user experience, there’s going to be a quiz. And a poll. Here’s how they should look:
The quizzes

  •  Think you should send just one e-mail out to your entire customer base? Think again. Each e-mail promotion you take on should have two versions, with distribution split 50/50 between your e-mail marketing base. This gives you the power to track which campaigns garner the most success and help you figure out how to fine tune future campaigns so success is far from 50/50.

Polling the group

  •  Ask a simple silly question, but one that is key to your demographic. Got a target market of near-retirees? Ask them which investment strategy they’ve chosen for their retirement, a ROTH IRA or a traditional 401k. Make the question easy to answer, but worth their time, and make sure the answers can be used to help you better understand what makes your customers tick.

Fonts and hues have a lot to do
You know that landing page we called you out on for spending too much time on the design and concept? Time to be honest—are your other pages a bit “blah” in comparison? Your entire site needs to strike that delicate balance between readability and an aesthetically pleasing nature that keeps the user experience congruent and flowing.
Don’t be overwhelmed: Smart design can be easy.
Here are a few thoughts:
Don’t make them squint:
While it can seem like a great, compelling way to get readers, using fonts that are hard to read or abrasive on the screen can turn off a customer quicker than you can say “bye.” You don’t have to avoid fun fonts or turn off Topsy turvy typography entirely—just consider these elements more as graphics, not textbox worthy.
Keep them out of the red.
What do you think when you see red type? Something has gone horribly wrong, right? Well, here’s a secret—your customer feels the same way. If your stomach is dropping thinking of the heavy splashes of red in your branding and logo, don’t worry— you can still use the hue. Just avoid dropping it into the text when you’re trying to get the user’s attention in a positive way.
Stick with it
Harmonious text isn’t that hard—you stick to the same few types of copy for headers, subheads and copy. However, this does not mean you’ve created a well-defined style guide on your site. In order to accomplish this, you need to think more in terms of an ongoing work that mirrors the company, but also grows and evolves as your company does.
This may mean that your style guide changes over the years of your site’s existence. Never fear—this is not an e-commerce sin. If you’re worried that the complexity of balancing your site’s copy and its style are going to become a big, tangled mess on the web, consider creating two guides—one for each element, copy and style, and keeping them separate but equal throughout the evolution of your dotcom success.
Exhausted yet?
Good! Working to create a well rounded, constantly evolving customer experience takes time, research, dedication, and the ability to try things that scare you. The good news is, the results of this process pay dividends, those you can see in gross income, increased customers, and with a growing base of buyers that see your site, your products and your online presence as more than “a stop and shop”—but rather as an experience. Users may not understand that they enjoy your site’s well-done, consistent experience, but, much like the great pasta and beautiful chandeliers at the favored restaurant of yours, you know that a return trip is in the works.
So enjoy! And, for now, Arrivederci !