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[Article] 5 reasons why the E-commerce industry is still immature


Jimi Wikman
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In the world of e-commerce things are moving fast. We see new reports every day about how E-commerce is breaking new boundaries. Mobile E-commerce is overtaking the desktop, as king of the E-commerce according to reports and on the surface it looks like E-commerce is the tip of the spear and the cutting edge of modern commerce. That is not the case however and in many ways E-commerce industry is still in its infancy. I will give you some examples on what I mean.

 

1. Still see things like multi- and onmichannel as new concepts.

It is quite remarkable that the concept of combining different channels into a whole is still something that most E-commerce companies struggle with. Despite the fact that E-commerce has been around for quite a while, many companies still consider this as a separate channel to be developed in parallel with their physical stores when looking at brick and mortar companies and the opposite for pure players that start with E-commerce and want to expand to physical stores.

Like Johan Hallgårde writes in his articles about omnichannel it is not a new concept and its time that we stop looking at E-commerce as something different from regular commerce. It’s all commerce and omnichannel should not be a vision for the future, it should be at the core of every business decision made internally in all projects related to commerce.

My best suggestion is to contact Johan Hallgårde and set up a inspiration day where he can elaborate on how you can move to the front of the competition by start thinking on your business as a whole and not a jigsaw puzzle. I assure you that you will not regret that decision.

 

2. Unrealistic belief in advertising agencies

In the E-commerce industry, especially in the larger companies that comes from a marketing driven brick and mortar past, there is an unrealistic belief in advertising agencies. I say unrealistic because there is a belief that because a advertising agency excel in advertisement and print, that does not in any way mean that they have a clue about the web. Even if they do there is the fact that web design is not the same as E-commerce design that makes it even more unrealistic.

The sad truth is that most of the larger companies want to work with a partner that they know can handle design and as they do not see the differences between the different mediums they often go for large print/web firms. I have seen, and I have heard of large, and small, E-commerce companies that did that and got a nice flashy website that did not convert half as well as the old one.

As I am a graphic designer, web developer and Neuro web designer with many years experience in E-commerce I tend to get invited as external consultant to act as support to the design companies from time to time, or even asked to take the full responsibility of the design myself. With my background as a system scientist and frontend developer as well as business/Requirement analyst I find that this role is quite rewarding as I can utilize my full skill set in these situations. So if you need a hand in ensuring that the design you ordered is well suited for E-commerce, feel free to contact me and discuss the situation.

 

3. Focus on technology instead of users

In every E-commerce project there are a great deal of technical aspects to consider and it’s natural to become internal and focus on “we need” instead of “they need”. As a requirement analyst I always have to ensure that workshops stay on the right level, as they tend to dive right down to the data mappings and API calls instead of the actual requirements. Sometimes that’s where they need to be, but a lot of times it is not. This is because the focus is on internal need where it’s all these nitty-gritty details that fill their day.

Unless you are focusing on building E-commerce site for your own sake, for a few millions, it’s crucial to lift the eyes above the wall surrounding your office and look at the users that will actually use the E-commerce site. What do they want? How can we make our products or services irresistible and what does that mean for the project, regardless if it is a redesign project of a feature based project.

At the end of the day the most important question you need to ask yourself is: whom do I build this for and do I really know what they want? This question is not just missing in E-commerce project but in most IT projects as well as the focus is on technology and not the users. The best way to take care of this problem is to ask the users. Set up workshops and interviews for internal usage and questionnaires, interviews and user testing for external users to create personas and hypothesis for a User Experience approach.

 

4. Interaction design instead of UX

Because many projects focus on technology and not users many projects get stuck in the interaction design phase and have problems moving over to the UX phase where the real magic happen. I have seen projects where the aim has been to improve UX that failed completely. Not because the effort was not made or the competence was missing, but because the project worked on assumptions coming from stakeholders that did not match reality at all.

Without understanding of the customers it’s impossible to work with UX because the very definition of UX is to improve the experience so it matches the users need. This is something that still seem to be unfamiliar and scary to many companies and in some cases it might even lead to a poor use of A/B testing as a substitute to communication.

If you feel that you have not really communicated with your users or feel confident that you can describe your 3-5 most important types of users as well as the top least desirable type of users, then you are most likely stuck in the interaction design phase, or wasting money trying to A/B test things based on hunches.

 

5. Analyze but don’t talk to their customers

Another thing that I see quite a lot is that companies spend a lot of time and money on setting up advanced tracking for their analytic system, but then either don’t know how to interpret the data or lack the communication with the users to improve the experience.

Having a good setup and track what happen on the website is very important and fortunately many have started to realize this. Tracking data and interpret the data is however a very different matter and it takes an experience analyst to really be able to draw conclusions from the data. It is also quite a difference between noticing that something is wrong with say the checkout and be able to understand what the problem really is.

In some cases it might be enough just to look at the troubled area, but most of the time you actually need to understand the users in order to understand the problem fully. The best way to solve that problem is to simply locate a few customers that match the personas of your most important user groups and then do a think-aloud test to get their opinions on the trouble areas. This is not an expensive test and it can give a lot of insight.

If you feel that you are focusing more on internal requirements and that even if you analyze your customers you are still not communicating with them or really know whom they are, then feel free to contact me or my co-worker Åsa Jonsson to discuss what you can do about the situation today.

 

These are just a few areas where the E-commerce industry is currently a bit behind in their thinking and where they seem stuck on old ways, seeing the E-commerce part of the business as a separate channel instead of a natural part of all their commerce.

Other areas include mobile maturity, lack of understanding of accessibility causing exclusion of the disabled, poor understanding of neuromarketing for web and not capitalizing the power of copywrite and quality graphics. I thought I should cover those in another topic however since this turned out to be quite a long post already.

If one of the topics above interests you, please let me know and I’ll focus on that for my next post.


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