Step 1 Of The E-Commerce Journey: Customer-Centered Design

Branwell Moffat

“The customer is always right.” It’s a phrase that has been around since the beginning of retail. Traditional retailers will do everything to keep the customer happy and to encourage them to buy.

It seems logical that this will then follow through into online retail. An e-commerce journey should always be designed with the customer’s happiness and satisfaction in mind. It’s a no-brainer, surely. The thing is, this is not always the case. Not enough e-commerce businesses focus on customer-centered design.

It’s not about you

Customer-centered design is all about putting the customer at the forefront of everything you do and always being the champion of the customer in all their decisions. It’s not just about UX or front-end design; it should permeate through every part of an e-commerce business, from end to end.

When designing a new feature, service, or product, it is easy to focus on how something will fit in with your existing processes or systems and not necessarily what is best for the customer’s experience. This may be in the design of your promotions, your returns process, or the delivery options you offer.

This is where startup digital businesses have an advantage. They are not constrained by expensive legacy technology, internal processes, or even ingrained company culture. They can design their business from the ground up and always put the customer front and center. This can be more of a challenge for a traditional retailer who may have large legacy systems such as POS or ERP and staff working in a particular way.

End-to-end process

Customer-centered design is not just about the UX of your website. It is about looking at the entirety of your digital business and designing it from the point of view of the customer. This covers everything from your digital marketing and social media through to your returns process and everything in between.

Customers have multiple touchpoints with a brand, and their experience does not end at the order confirmation page. Even your choice of courier will impact the customer’s experience. Imagine how your customer will perceive your brand if their package ends up crumpled and torn when it is delivered. It is tempting to go for the cheapest option but this may adversely affect your customer’s experience and impact your brand. The packaging that your product comes in is also important, as this represents your brand. Even opening the package should be an experience that matches your brand.

One of the biggest areas where customer-centered design is often missed is in the returns process. Rather than designing a process that works best for you, think about what the customer ultimately wants, and make that as easy and pain-free as possible. Managing returns is not an easy process, but it can have a huge impact on the experience of the customer. Every single touch point that a customer has with a brand should be designed with the customer at the center.

Do your research

Most brands think that they know their customers well. And often this is true, but I am often surprised at how much UX and design takes place with no involvement from a single customer. Good customer-centered design should involve consulting with different customers throughout the process. As part of your UX design, you should create a clickable prototype using tools such as Axure. To get the most value out of this, you should consider getting actual customers to test the prototype. It is quite easy to recruit a testing team, as loyal customers will often be very keen to get involved in working with their favorite brand.

Maybe you are designing a new checkout. Surely it makes sense to get some actual customers to test such a fundamentally vital part of your e-commerce site. The insight you can get by using your customers can be invaluable.

You probably do A/B testing on different changes to your website. This is definitely a sensible thing to do. However, A/B testing will not give you the feedback that real customers will.

In a recent project for a retailer, our UX team designed a guided journey to help customer purchase some of the retailer’s more complex products. The entire team (including the customer) thought it was fantastically easy to use. However, when the clickable prototype was tested on a focus group of real customers, it became apparent that there were some areas that were confusing, which showed that the client’s initial assumptions about their customers were wrong. This allowed us to fix those issues before going into actual production. Without this insight, we would have gone live with a tool that was built based on what the retailer thought, rather than what the customers told us.

Don’t just follow the competition

I see this often: A lot of UX designers will look at what the competition is doing and use that for inspiration. Just because your biggest competitor has a new one-page checkout does not mean that it is right for you too. Many designers take inspiration from bigger sites like John Lewis or Amazon. They are definitely right to aspire to these sites as they do a very good job with their overall customer experience—but their customers are not necessarily your customers.

Success of disruptors

If you look at all of the hugely successful digital disruptors over the past decade, they have one thing in common: They designed their business around the customer. Amazon allows their customers to buy almost anything at a great price, often with same- or next-day delivery. I live quite a long way from the nearest city, for example, but if I order something at 9:30 on a Saturday evening, it can usually be delivered on Sunday morning.

Uber allows customers to hail a taxi on their phone, keeps them updated on where it is, and allows them to pay using their credit card. There is a huge amount of opposition to Uber from taxi firms, but millions of customers use Uber because it was designed around them, not the company. Uber designed their entire business to give customers the best experience.

Apple has consistently provided technology that is all about usability, and it changed the digital music industry forever. Before the iPod, MP3 players were tech-y and simply designed to play music. Apple changed that by first looking at what the customer wants, and making technology work to that.

For more on customer-centricity, see Customer Loyalty: Your Major Objective Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow.


Branwell Moffat

About Branwell Moffat

Branwell Moffat is the e-Commerce director of Envoy Digital, an award-winning SAP gold partner and systems integrator in London, UK. He’s a highly technical e-commerce solutions expert and business manager, with over 18 years experience helping companies grow their e-commerce and omni-commerce businesses to levels of individual revenues in excess of £100 million per year.