Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Designing and Improving Customer Shopping Experiences

It looks at two examples that apply knowledge presented in earlier chapters of this book and usability engineering principles and measurements. The first example shows the process used to design a new user interface for a vending machine that dispensed HP printing supplies. The second example shows the process used to measure the current customer usability of existing online stores and on an improved customer-shopping model.

Before moving into the examples, the next few sections highlight some of the usability engineering principles and measurements applied to the processes.

Usability Engineering Purpose

Usability is the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve their goals in their environment. Usability engineering and user-centered design focus on the user, the person who will be using or operating the product, for instance, a software program. In an online store, the user translates as "customer," and effective online store development takes new focus of customer-centered design. "User interface" and "customer interface" are used interchangeably throughout this book.

Just as software users are people who use a software product to achieve an end result, an online store customer uses the e-commerce website to accomplish a goal—whether it is to find information about a product or to purchase it. As a major, required component in successful software design, usability is engineered into the product through conscious intent.

This chapter highlights methodologies, principles, and processes applied to new user inter- design. There are many good books that go into depth regarding specific graphical compoweb usability issues, such as Jakob Nielsen's Designing Web Usability.

Internet 2010

Usability Measurements

Usability measurements provide the means to evaluate an online store at a point in time. They can be used to analyze existing e-commerce sites to identify areas needing improvement. They also be used to influence the direction of a new website development.

For existing sites, evolution of the store is necessary for it to stay current with technology innovations, morphing marketplaces, and customer dynamics. Effective methods emphasize early definition of shopper requirements based on customer conversations and insight for new online stores. They provide valuable insight in any situation.

Measuring websites and reporting the findings is just the beginning of the improvement process, not the end. You must act on the findings. Usability measurements do not just identify problems. Like a trip to the doctor, they not only diagnose, but they also prescribe treatment.

A typical usability lifecycle includes defining requirements, designing, building, testing, and supporting. Methods to define requirements range from non-collaborative to collaborative methods with the customer. On one side, the greater the collaboration with customers, the greater the commitment and chance of being adopted by them. On the flip side, the less collaborative, the greater risk of missed opportunities and customer dissatisfaction.

There are two types of customer needs: what they say they need and what they reveal they need as identified through customer studies and actual observation. Some refer to this as the "say/do" split. What they do versus what they say is often quite different.

Customer studies may include influences on the customer, natural life or workflow patterns, product selection models and common shopping sequences, and the physical environment in which customers shop.

Influences can include friends who recommend shopping websites or stores they are required to use at work or those they enjoy at home. The shopping process is a subset of a larger work or life flow pattern. The shopping experience is typically integrated into day-to-day activities. It is not a one-time occurrence. Nor is it separate from every other experience. Work or life flow patterns can change frequently. Shopping patterns change with them, especially online.

Product selection models change from product to product, and shopping sequences for the e product can change from store to store. Knowing the most important tasks and sequences are familiar to customers is a technique. How customers shop for products and how they "flow" through retail stores gives developers clues on how to accommodate the customer while designing or evolving a website. This must be factored in with business drivers such as category value or "destination" products that are shopped frequently.

The physical environment in which a person shops also dictates the quality of the experience. For example, people have many demands in a home environment: children, telephones, noise, and interruptions can affect the ability to complete any online shopping task. People who shop for products online for the workplace have constant interruptions as well.

Needs Assessment Process

There are five main steps in assessing online customer needs:

It is this collective knowledge that makes up the body of customer intelligence.

Listening for the "Important Stuff"

Putting together a good customer-needs picture includes understanding the influences, physical environment, sequences, and life flow patterns. From this, you can create customer modeling that represents the needs based on the customer's behavior. After you have identified your target customers, you need to build a thorough understanding of them.

Observing and talking to your customers identifies the following:

  • What information they need
  • Why they need it
  • How they use it after they get it

Sometimes you have to ask "why?" several times to get to the rest of the motives. Though asking frequently may sound like a curious three-year-old, this is a key step.

The fundamental principles of information engineering minimize information complexity and optimize information delivery. This topic is extensive, but remember these two points:

  • Identify and prioritize information for consumers.
  • Evaluate information competencies and suggest a roadmap for continuous improvement

Segmenting Markets and Profiling Customers

Target customer profiling tools that help you describe your customers and the main markets in which they shop. For example, if your business is skateboard sales, you sell in the home market segment and your target customers are boys between the ages of 12-18.

This customer insight gives you design and content ideas to ensure your target audience preferences are met. Also, it helps to determine appropriate product mix and promote those products in your site that are most relevant to them. For this shopping audience, product promotions can include free music downloads. Or, you may want to plan to accommodate a streaming video that shows the skateboard in action.

Value-added information, such as skateboard tips that are refreshed monthly, is a way to keep customers coming back. It can also set your website apart from others.

Analyzing Current Buying Behaviors and Shopper Needs

Understand how the target customer shops for your profitable categories and products in retail. Know the key purchase decision factors that influence him. For example, is he likely to purchase a skateboard based on brand or because one features special art decals that create a personal identity? If he bases his decision on decals, he would need compelling product images on the web showing the intricate detail in the specialty decals. If he is likely to purchase based on stunt capability, compelling image shots or streaming video showing a skateboarder performing a variety of stunts and tricks would convey this capability.

Does he like to "test drive" the skateboard? Simulate a skateboard riding game on your website using the top-selling and profitable board—one that the shopper can virtually "hop on" and take for a ride.

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