Blue Eyed Sun
Envelopes LTD
Jo Clark Design
Denby Brands

Why user experience matters

David Fairhurst gives his expert advice on how to guarantee search engines and make sure your web users love you

Imagine this scenario. You have a brand new high street shop. All of your shelving and display units are well laid out in the best way to entice customers to browse through your wares. All good so far? Excellent. Now imagine that for 70 per cent of your products, you spray paint over packaging, making details of what's actually contained in that packaging illegible.

No sane retailer would of course do the above; it'd be the death knell for sales and would lead to almost immediate bankruptcy, but sit down and relax for a minute because you might be shocked to learn that many online retailers do exactly this with their websites every day.

Virtual sales person

In your bricks and mortar store, you obviously spend a lot of time making sure customer service is at a high level and interaction with customers is focused on maximising spend. On a website you don't have the provision of a salesperson to answer potential customer queries and have to rely on product and supplemental information to do all of your selling for you. In effect, the content on product pages has to take on two tasks; that of the product packaging and that of sales person; getting product descriptive information wrong is therefore a massive blunder and will lead to poor sales.

Even worse, consider the fact that in an online store, customers aren't able to touch and see the products you're offering before purchase; the best we can do on a website is to provide large, detailed images and perhaps some product videos for more technical/dynamic products. Miss off the images or provide low quality imagery, and conversion rates drop even further than if a description is missing.

What customers really want

A recent Which? report on online shopping behaviour highlighted which online shops were regarded as giving the best shopping experience. More importantly, the report laid out exactly why the panel of experts and public thought each experience was good or bad. It's probably no surprise to learn that the online shops which were consistently rated with high feedback scores were those which gave lots of product information and put no barriers in the way of a purchase. The leader of the pack here was, specialist in household appliances. AO were praised for bountiful amounts of on-page content including large, clear images, videos and reviews as well as of course full descriptions for each of the products. We can therefore deduce that what online shoppers actually want is as much product information as possible, laid out in an easy to absorb manner. This gives the online shopper everything they need to know about the product they might potentially be purchasing and makes the possibility of that purchase much higher. Add to this free delivery (with the option of same day delivery in some cases) and you can see why got voted the best online shopping experience.

Take a step back

Now that we know what's needed for a really great online shopping experience, take a step back from your own website and view with the eye of a typical website user. Do your pages give all the information you need as a purchaser? Do you really want to purchase after reading the description and looking at the images? Are your delivery policies enabling potential sales? If the answer is no, then you really have to re-think how products are presented on your website.

You really don't need to spend too much energy here figuring out what you need to do - take a look at what the top websites do and you'll be on the right track; after all, large companies spend massive amounts of money developing websites and online strategies to make sure online sales move forward; look what these top companies do and then do what you can to mimic these successful websites.

Most of all, if you currently have products with poor quality images and descriptions (or even worse, no descriptions and images at all) then do your business a favour and rectify this as soon as you can, because, otherwise, that well-designed website you have won't be selling anything.

Why people shop online

Some traditional retailers bemoan the advent of online shopping, thinking that traditional high street sales are affected because online traders are able to offer lower prices. In some respects this is true. If overheads are lower, goods can and do get offered at a lower price point. For most online shoppers though, this isn't the main driving factor of online shopping. Convenience. That's the keyword here. Online shoppers love the ability to shop when they want and get goods delivered to their door; if those products happen to be substantially lower priced than high street alternatives then this is a bonus.

So online shopping is all about convenience, but if the correct information isn't present on a website then this not only ruins the shopping experience but leads to frustration and loss of sales. In the Which? survey mentioned, customers of the worst offending websites complained about lack of information, products which were grouped in the wrong categories and navigation systems which were difficult to use. A good, fresh website using the latest technology will sort out everything except the content, which is best left to a professional copywriter, in most cases.

What's needed is top quality, focused text on all category pages, original product-focused text on each product page and a coherent content strategy (interest and article pages, 'how to' guides etc.) which will grab attention of both search engines and people, gaining links from other websites and social media over time. Get the content right and I guarantee search engines as well as your website's visitors will love you - and so will your bank manager.

David Fairhurst Head of Creative Online Marketing Intelligent Retail

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London David Fairhurst is Head of Creative Online Marketing at Intelligent Retail. David has been involved with search engine optimisation (SEO) and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London. Contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126.