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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.