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Mar 20 2012

Are poor conversion strategies retarding e-commerce growth in India?

Shim Palladan - CXO @ UXD

This time around ecommerce is here to stay. And for good. With over $500m of VC money sunk into ecommerce in India this year alone, we are going to witness a lot of good and bad action in the coming days. Already there are over 10,000 ecommerce companies in India catering to 10% of the 125 million internet users. The rest don’t shop online yet for various reasons.

But how good does it all look when we stack up against others. Ours is a $ 400 billion retail market of which $ 3 billion ($ 10 billion if we include travel related bookings, but this is not considered in the math) is online as compared to US at $ 200 billion. That’s less than 1 % penetration when compared to US at 29% and Europe at 34%. Why did we go bust a decade ago while others sustained and grew steadily? While we are still playing catching up with others, why is the growth still so sluggish?

Simply put, e-commerce in India still suck. After a cursory audit of the top 50 ecommerce sites in India, we find most of them go against basic practices in usability and user experience. It’s not just the onsite experience that needs attention, but offsite experience is seriously damaging. All the Indian crib sites and consumer forums are inundated by posts from frustrated and angry consumers.

Having said all that, we have every reason to be bullish about ecommerce growth in India. The exploding mobile penetration, cheap tablets, cheaper broadband, new online shoppers from tier 2 and 3 cities, direct imports, cash on delivery, bad urban traffic and laziness are among commonly cited factors which will contribute to the growth in the coming years.

With technology providing the level playing ground, many more will join the band wagon. But with pitiably low margins and high marketing cost, not many are likely to survive. In the imminent shakeout, the ones who survive will be the ones who deliver a user experience suited to the demographic and psycho-graphic profile of the nervous Indian shopper. With technology ceasing to be an entry barrier nor a differentiator, user experience will become the single most differentiating factor and the game changer.

Ecommerce companies need to understand that nothing much has really changed with business and that after ‘e’ comes good old ‘commerce’. The old rules of business and marketing often ignored by the ‘start-ups’ do remain and always will. Be it on or off line, the conversion continuum and the life time value of a customer is real. We must focus on delivering positive user experience throughout this conversion continuum and not just on the website.

The Conversion Continuum

The conversion continuum from a suspect to a loyal customer comprises of many steps – reach, attract, engage, acquire, retain and activate – each representing an opportunity to build your relationship with your consumer to achieve your business goals. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while designing a good user experience across various touch points in the continuum.

Attract

Step 1 is about attracting and impressing on your target audience. We cannot acquire a customer without first attracting them. More than semantics, this rule represents a fundamental, philosophical shift that can accelerate your customer acquisition process. A ‘suspect’ or a ‘prospect’ is one who has no or little information about your brand/ products/ company. If you do not impress the target in the first few seconds on your online store his/ her eyes are trained to wander off to look for something familiar or something ‘attractive’. This is especially true when your suspect is sitting on the other side of a screen and not the counter.

  • It’s not about the WOW factor. It’s about the Oomph factor. Your site must look good, really good in addition to it looking simple, clean and uncluttered. Hire a professional designer to do the job if you don’t have one in-house. The investment is worthwhile. It can help you make that most critical ‘first impression’ (Assuming that you have got the rest right).
  • Build your brand image. Connect the user to your brand. On a website it is a collection of images, colors, ideas, communication representing you. If you do not have an offline store, then this part is all the more critical.
  • Spend time on visual merchandising. Research well on what to display on the home page. Help your users ‘discover’ in addition to searching and browsing.
  • Keep it simple. Users hate clutter. Do not have images all over just because you pay the designer. And you don’t have to get it all above the fold.
  • Also, your users now navigate the web and your website using a wide range of devices, OSs and browsers. It is increasingly becoming important to keep your site simple and de-cluttered for it to be more usable across devices.
  • Architecture the information well to avoid clutter. Don’t blindly mimic Amazon. It’s a different reason why their Information Architecture works for them.
  • Communicate well and quick. Position your company. Establish your USPs. Let them know how you differentiate. You don’t have much time.
  • Your website made for the desktop browser will not work well on a mobile (more often than not). It will be worthwhile to deliver a good unique mobile experience considering 70 m mobile internet users in India.

Engage

Get the audience to interact with your brand. And make sure that every interaction across all touch points is a positive experience. Once you have a prospective customer on your website, you have to engage him long enough to link him to your brand, to make him linger long enough to register the brand into his/ her consideration set. It’s equally or more important to engage your existing customer base to enhance the brand experience and to keep in on his/ her top of mind awareness. Engaged customers are more likely to stay on or come back to buy

  • Content is key here. Jacob Nielsen cites poor content as the single most contributing factor to bad usability. Content must be relevant and must strike the right balance between too much and too little. Too much is clutter and too little is scanty information. Content must inform and also entertain if possible.
  • Navigation is equally important. The user must always know where they are, where else can they go and how to get there. This is critical for a big store with a wide array of products.
  • You cannot sell a product if your customers cannot find it. Make it easy to search and find content. Search must be effective. The last time I searched for cotton socks on a very popular ecommerce website, I found bras and panties in the refine search box including the cup sizes. And when I tried to refine the search and weed out the stuff I did not use in life, the whole page kept refreshing on every click on any label!!!
  • Make the site extremely usable.  Conduct usability audits continuously. Use commonly available tools like crazy egg if you cannot afford professional teams. You will be surprised how much one can do with these tools.
  • Integrate the social. Find effective useful ways to do this. Allow users to share, rate. Explore user generated content around your products.

Acquire

Build trust. Credibility. Confidence. There is no easier way to acquire a customer. But building trust ‘online’ requires new ideas and strategies. Customer acquisition is about building trust between the brand/ company and its prospective user. The companies that will own the next decade in business are turning to focused Customer Acquisition strategies and processes to gain a competitive advantage … to control processes, to make knowledge-based marketing decisions, and to get more sales from current marketing budgets.

  • Demonstrate genuine value. Be it free shipping, cash on delivery or a good returns policy.
  • Show that your prices are lower. Be very careful about this part. Avoid things like ‘MRP Rs. 12500/- Our Price 12250/- You save 2%’. Your customers are not looking for a 2% incredible saving.
  • Incredibly, most online prices are above offline store prices.
  • Make that emotional connect. Use subtle persuasion techniques with good communication.
  • Cross sell, up sell. Make these offers genuine.
  • Offer really simple and easy interfaces. Conduct usability expert reviews and usability audits by professionals.

Retain

The cost to acquire new customers becomes a black hole when you factor in broad-based advertising expenses and acquisition costs. The customer that you have now is worth a lot more than the one that you don’t have access to. Customer acquisition is fast becoming a distant second to customer retention, and with good reason. The Internet and the web have dramatically altered retention strategies and methods as it has changed customer expectations as well.

  • This is where India ecommerce really loses it. Once that money comes in we don’t really care. No feedback requests, no calls from customer support however high the value of the purchase is.
  • The crib sites are inundated with posts from angry and frustrated online shoppers. I tried to do this once myself on the India consumer forum website to vent. Just didn’t bother to when I saw around 670 complaints pending against them on that site alone. And this is a popular ecommerce website which recently received a series B funding! Imagine the state of the rest. Barring a few stores, the experiences with a vast majority of them are sad.
  • Many of these companies are start-ups with the logistics, customer support, operations, inventory etc managed by inexperienced hands. Most of the companies clearly did not know what they were getting into.
  • Positive experience in this phase of the continuum can be achieved by stronger retention initiatives.
  • Face it if you goof up. Let him know where he stands. You will have to deliver eventually.
  • Fix up your return policies if they are not.
  • Hire a few smart people, not just a call center.
  • People talk. Learn to listen to the chatter in the social circles. Be there and talk to them. There are dime a dozen applications to integrate your social chatter.

Activate

If you want to increase sales dramatically then shift your focus from attracting new customers to activating them. You must entice your existing customers to buy again with hard to resist offers and incentives. The internet has become a level playing ground and your customers are inundated by these offers, schemes, coupons, discounts, cash backs, free shipping etc. But by using clever and well designed activation programs – both on and off screen – you can stand out of the clutter and get the elusive sales numbers you are looking for.

  • If I bought a camera with a kit lens, chances are that I would buy a 50 mm fixed lens after a month.
  • Work on your intelligence. The costs of doing this are much lower that what it used to be. This will help you with your visual merchandising too.
  • Keep in touch. Send me offers. Remember my buys. Call me by my name and refer to my purchase. Offer me an additional 15 % over and above the 30% off.

User experience has been defined as the overall experience one has with a product, entity, website or a brand. A clear vision and plan is required to spread positive experience across the touch points so that he goes up the conversion ladder.

The conversion continuum

At UXD, we have been successfully forging memorable relationships between the brand and the individual. Our design approach and processes seek to thrill shoppers with a superior experience, and make it incredibly easy and enjoyable to shop online. We can help you bring innovative ideas to the market within a predictable time span and result. We work with you not just to develop the interface and look-and-feel of your e-commerce website, but also to ensure that your site succeeds in meeting specified business, marketing and conversion objectives.


Feb 22 2011

A design is only as good as it is usable

Sumit Kharb - Interaction Designer @ UXD

With the advent of new millennia, post dot com bust, the web industry has taken huge strides to lift itself up like a Phoenix bird; rising from its ashes. We must be fools not to acknowledge the fact that we are living in a web world. A new web renaissance is taking shape right in front of our eyes. The computers are getting smaller and smarter. Gone were the days when we required bulky workstations to do our work. Now are the changing times, where we interact with smaller and smarter devices. We are living in a knowledge society, where knowledge flows on mobile devices, tablets and other smart devices. The interaction medium has totally changed, a new paradigm shift is taking place where we are not restricted by technologies but we have it on our side to make our lives simpler. Web is the new medium by which we are always connected no matter where we are.

Web 2.0 has already achieved a cult status, and now Web 3.0 is knocking on our doors. Rich websites and applications are coming up. Social is the new mantra, every website and application wants to go social. Web 2.0 has greatly influenced the look and feel of the websites and applications. Earlier the websites used to be static HTML text with some tags, but now we have got rich and dynamic websites & applications with great emphasis on the look and feel. We can get astonished by just looking at them and “wow” is the word that first comes up on our mind. Use of rich colors, modern typography, massive banners, jazzy effects are already fascinating the common audience. But still I won’t call it a great design. Mostly these effects just add to the “wow factor” on the minds of the users of these websites and applications. So what do we call a great design?

Many dictionaries provide loosely coupled definitions and a glance at the design section in a book store confuses the reader even more. Although, we define it with a noun, design is not a ‘thing’. Instead, we should be more focussed in knowing what leads to great design? A great design is a continuous process. In the book “Bringing Design to Software”, [Terry Winograd] and other contributing authors emphasized and contributed to this answer by providing a perspective on what people do/ should do when they design. The attributes of a great design are: (1) Design is conscious; (2) Design keeps human concerns in the centre; (3) Design is a dialog with materials; (4) Design is creative; (5) Design is communication; (6) Design has social consequences; and (7) Design is a social activity. These attributes also hold true while designing websites and applications. With the absence of these attributes a good website/ application would fail in its objectives to make a bond with the clients and/ or users.

The internet is full of good looking, rich and dynamic websites & applications. Now, with the ever evolving technologies and platforms the design and development can happen much swiftly. And trust me; much better technologies and frameworks would be coming in the near future. But despite of having such technologies, we are forgetting one major ingredient that would make a good website/ application into a great one. The ingredient is ‘Us – the users for whom these websites/ applications are build’. How many times have you used a website/ application that looked good from outside (the look and feel perspective) but when it comes to using, it turned out to be a nightmare experience. I believe at least once a day. And what do you do in the end? You feel frustrated, distraught and helpless that you couldn’t able to use such websites/ applications to get your work done and finally you bounce out. It happens all the time. No matter how aesthetically a website/ application is build, if you (the user) can’t use it, then it doesn’t work. It is as simple as it is. A good design always keeps the human concerns at the centre i.e. it should be usable, provides enjoyable experience to the user and has utility. With the absence of these user oriented attributes, the website/ application would fail to achieve its business objectives as well. It’s the users for whom these websites/ applications are designed & developed. If we ignore the users in the process of making such aesthetically pleasing and rich websites/ applications then it will be termed as a piece of art with hardly any utility, user experience and usability. Because in the end it is the users for whom these websites/ applications are build and they are the sole audience who are going to use them.

Hence a good design would only look great when it is usable.

Thanks for reading!! Many more articles to follow.

References:
Terry Winograd, Bringing Design to Software [online], © Addison-Wesley, 1996
Available:
http://hci.stanford.edu/publications/bds/bds-intro.html [accessed 20th Feb, 2011]


Sep 6 2010

The big picture

Arvind - Business Development Manager @ UXD
At each stage in its
extraordinary development,
the internet has
encountered scepticism
and resistance in boardrooms.

At each stage in its extraordinary development, the internet has encountered skepticism and resistance in boardrooms and kitty parties alike. But today, the Internet is way too important. Far from being a frivolous distraction, the internet, the web and social networking tools can help both business and individuals alike is virtually every way.

Download The BIG Picture here

OR

THE BIG PICTURE ON SLIDESHARE


Aug 30 2009

10 Golden rules to build web credibility

Arvind - Business Development Manager @ UXD

Here is a compilation of 10 guidelines for building the credibility of a web site. These guidelines are based on three years of research that included over 4,500 people by the team at Stanford. Read on…


Aug 30 2009

The common web design mistakes of all times

Shim Palladan - CXO @ UXD

General Page/ Site Attributes

  1. Pages that are ‘under construction’. Why?
  2. Pages that scroll horizontally. Stick to 1024 resolution
  3. Pages that use frames. It’s harmful to your Search Engine ranking
  4. Auto-play sounds. If you have to use sound, let the user control it.
  5. Too many animations, non-stop looping animations, blinking texts etc
  6. Splash/ Intro pages. If you have to use them, make sure you have a ‘skip intro’
  7. Failure to check cross-browser consistencies.
  8. Reliance on e-mail links as against using a form. Most of the users would not have had an Email program configured
  9. Opening up too many new windows. Instead, have a better navigational structure
  10. Asking for a sign up/ registration when it is not actually necessary. Why waste his time?
  11. Auto subscribing your visitor to your newsletter/ email list without his/ her consent
  12. Using pop ups. There are too many pop up blockers out there.


Page title and tags

  1. People forget to add the most important ‘title’ to their pages (A search of the keyword ‘untitled document’ on google fetched 44 million pages! You can try this out yourself.)
  2. And when they do, they give the same title and meta tags for all the pages. Title all the pages with a ‘unique’ and descriptive title and other meta tags. This is extremely important for higher search engine rankings.

Site Navigation

  1. Unclear, badly structured navigation. You can easily get lost on 3 out of 4 sites you see around. Important pages are tucked way down. Most sites do not clearly inform the visitor as to where she or he is! Some pages open in a new window without navigation/ links.
  2. Using drop down navigation unnecessarily. Most sites use Java Script navigation while they have all the space to keep them open. For example, if you offer 5 services, why hide them under a drop down menu. Keep the navigation simple and consistent. Even if you are using images/ Flash/ JS for the menu, make sure to add HTML links on all pages.
  3. Using only image/ Flash navigation. Use text navigation cause some people switch off images while browsing the web.
  4. Not declaring explicitly what you are linking to, especially when you are linking to PDF/ Word documents
  5. Not providing anchor text to links
  6. Not including Alt and title attributes to images
  7. Inconspicuous links. Make your links conspicuous in a different color and preferably underline them. Try not to underline the regular text. Make sure to change color of the visited links

Content

  1. Useless, bad quality, outdated content is the most common and tragic mistake.
  2. Typos and grammatical mistakes can cost you dear.
  3. Very long or short pages, orphaned pages, alien pages too are very common.
  4. Content that cannot be scanned easily. Make sure that the content is scan able. Use Bullet points, headers, sub headers, lists. Anything that will help the reader filter what he is looking for.
  5. Not including your contact details or making it difficult to find
  6. Not having a site search feature on a large website

Design

  1. Harsh color schemes that can give you a headache
  2. Pages that look alienated from the rest.
  3. Too many fonts, tiny fonts, too many font colors, weights, styles etc