At the information search stage, 9% wasn't able to find the products
they were looking for because they couldn't identify the right product
category or find product options using the search facility. 8% of the
shoppers who succeeded in finding products gave up because the product
lists didn't provide enough information to identify purchase options,
or because they were confused by going back and forth between product
lists and product description pages in order to decide if the products
would fit their basic needs.
UIE's researchers found that the major problems
occur when customers want to evaluate their product alternatives. Only
25% of the shoppers who reached this stage proceeded to the next. Some
stopped because they realized that none of the products would fit their
needs, but most because the product information was so inadequate that
they couldn't tell if the products they were interested in satisfied
At the purchase stage, 13% dropped out because
they didn't want to go through the required registration process or
because they where disappointed by poor shipping charge policies.
UIE also found a surprisingly high amount of problems
in the purchase evaluation stage. 11% percent of the shoppers where
either so unhappy with a product that they returned it, didn't receive
the product at all, or got the wrong product. Some of the shoppers told
UIE that they returned a product because it wasn't what they expected,
which suggest a failure in setting up the right expectations in the
product evaluation stage.
Knowing the customers' decision-making process
The most interesting thing about the UIE study is that while they
observed critical usability problems in the design of the sites, such
as users not being able to find products and bad design of checkouts,
the majority of dropouts happened because of inadequate product information:
- Customers couldn't identify purchase options
from the products list
- Customers couldn't decide if the products would
satisfy their needs
- The product presentations and descriptions raised
wrong expectations, which made customers return their purchases
Commerce sites simply fail in supporting the consumer
decision-making process, by not taking their customers' information
needs into account.
As designers of commerce web sites, we have little
chance of knowing exactly which information needs customers have when
evaluating specific products. To support the customers' decision-making
process, we have to do research in order to learn which needs and concerns
they have when making a purchase decision.
Research of customer needs can be done in several
ways. An effective and economical method is to collect information during
a workshop with salespeople who are in contact with customers on a daily
basis. Generating user profiles and scenarios is a great way of collecting
this information. With a more extensive budget, interviews with customers
and observations of their shopping behaviours can be conducted, in order
to validate the generated profiles and scenarios.
No matter how we choose to conduct our research,
there are some basic things we need to know about the customers in order
to be able to support their decision-making process.
As we saw from the UIE study, the basic prerequisites for customers
to make their way through the information search stage is that they
are able to find products and that they can easily identify purchase
options from the product list pages.
In order to support the customer decision-making
process at this stage, we need to know:
- Which words will customers use when browsing
and searching for purchase options?
- What basic information do customers need in
order to identify purchase options?
- What educational information do novices need in order to decide
which product criteria are important to them?
Evaluation of alternatives
The problem with the web is that there's no one to ask if you have
a question. In the UIE study we saw how a large number of customers
dropped out at this stage simply because the product information was
so inadequate, that they couldn't decide whether the products they were
interested in would fit their needs. A commerce site should act as a
skilled salesperson, and have answers ready to any question or concern
that the customer might have.
Some of the critical questions that we need answers
- What detailed product information does the
customers need when evaluating product alternatives?
- Which product evaluation criteria will customers
use and which are most important to the customers?
- Which concerns will the customers have about
the products and how can we address them proactively?
- How can we encourage customers to contact the
sales and support department if they have further questions?
At this stage emphasis should be on providing the easies possible
way for the customers to carry their orders through. In the UIE example,
we saw how required registration and poor shipping charge policies made
customers leave. If the products are sold online, we should remove any
such obstacles. If products are not sold online, customers would want
an easy way to find out where and how to buy, or an easy way to contact
the sales department.
The outcome of the post-purchase evaluation stage is a level of customer
satisfaction or dissatisfaction, which is determined by the customer's
overall feelings about the product and buying experience.
Besides not receiving the product at all or getting
the wrong one, UIE experienced that many customers returned their purchases
because the products didn't live up to their expectations. This problem
is a consequence of not encouraging accurate customer expectations at
the product evaluation stage. In order to avoid this, we have to make
sure that the content presenting the products set up the right expectations.
Designing for customer decision-making
Once we feel confident about customers' needs and concerns, our next
challenge is to decide how to present the information to the customers
in a way that supports the decision-making process. Some products will
benefit from comparison charts, some from interactive product demos,
some needs lots of detailed product images. If you want to learn more
on how to design for each stage of the customer decision-making process,
I can recommend Andrew Chak's book Submit
Now - Designing Persuasive Web Sites.
The Internet has turned into a fundamental channel for businesses.
More and more people turn to the Internet first, when they want to know
more about products they are considering buying, and when they want
to find trustworthy suppliers.
When confronted with the poor state of commerce
sites, no one can argue that in-depth research of customers' needs isn't
worth the money. At each step of the buying process, these sites lose
customers, because the designers never considered their actual needs.
Commerce sites should support the customers no
matter where they are in the decision-making process. They should address
their needs and concerns at every point. Understanding the decision-making
process, and how specific customers engage with specific products, is
a prerequisite for any site with an ambition to turn visitors into customers.