I’m at war with myself internally over this one. On the one hand, we want to provide users with extremely rich and branded experiences online. You know: learn about the brand, take a virtual tour, try the clothes on in the virtual dressing room, see behind-the-scenes information about how your products were made. On the other hand, we simply want people to buy our products when they get to the website and not be distracted from making the purchase.
Over the last 10 years or so, there has been a concerted effort to combine the “e-commerce experience” with the “brand experience.” There is good reason for this: typically these two independent sites are built with absolutely no knowledge of each other. This leads to a horrible user experience. Products are called different things on each site, the navigational paradigms are completely separate, and the e-commerce side often pales in comparison to the brand site because it is from an off-the-shelf e-commerce product and not designed by a fancy agency, the way the brand site was.
It is natural, then, to want to combine these two, and I am a big proponent of creating one user experience instead of two, as this will make your customer more loyal and have a better feeling about your brand as a whole. Having said that, how much functionality is too much functionality? Over the years, we’ve built some very large sites for some very large brands, and built in a lot of nifty features. They are all geared toward helping the user choose the correct product and increasing the user’s desire for that product.
But there are features that don’t do this. Those features are generally the ones that marketing wants to put in the site: the features that “suck the user into our brand.” Lately I’ve been wondering how many of these features assist in the user buying the product, and how many just fuel peoples’ ADD instead of keeping them on the purchasing track.
What it boils down to is the age-old concept of “browsers vs. buyers.” There are people who are coming to your site to buy a specific product. There are others who want to learn more about your company, see what’s new, and “experience” your latest ad campaigns.
In an ideal world, you would know which type of person a user is, and then give her the experience appropriate to her. If she is just looking to buy a specific product, streamline the path to checkout as much as possible and don’t show the million other things she could do on the site. If she is there for more of a brand experience, show her all the brand features, while trying to convince her it’s the right time to buy something.
This is possible with modern technology. It is fairly straightforward to know within the first two to three pages someone visits which camp they fall into. Once you’ve determined that, optimize the user experience to that person’s primary goals.
Most importantly, build your system so you can turn features on and off in order to test. See how your conversion rates are affected by the features you are offering on your site. A lean and mean site may lead to higher conversions, or one with the tools to turn a one-product purchase into a multi-product purchase might prevail.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Please share them below!
Until next time…
This column was originally published on Feb. 3, 2012 on ClickZ.