Ecommerce design as customer support

Ecommerce design as customer support

September 18, 2013
Ecommerce design as customer support

It seems obvious: shopping online makes shopping easier. Ecommerce customers shop at their leisure, on their own time, without crowds of fellow shoppers or overbearing salespeople. But when it comes to delivering ecommerce customer support, the absence of in-person human interaction can be a major hurdle to overcome.

Ecommerce merchants need to anticipate customer support issues, and address them in advance by providing an exceptional user experience/user interface ecommerce design.

The Best Ecommerce Customer Support Strategy is a Proactive One

When developing an online store, many ecommerce merchants make the mistake of relying on the ease of online shopping as their sole customer support strategy. That is, they assume the ability to reach out online at any time will take care of problems as they arise.

But ecommerce customer support should go beyond addressing customer issues only as they appear. Good ecommerce customer support begins a few steps before, starting with a solid user interface and user experience design. Poor UI/UX can create a bad experience for the online consumer, often worse than a bad experience in an actual brick-and-mortar store. The best online shopping experiences should deliver much more than just the ability to shop in your slippers.

Providing an exceptional ecommerce design can turn your online store into a full-fledged customer support machine.

Here are some ways to think about an optimal ecommerce UI/UX experience that will enhance your customer support capabilities and effectiveness:

1. Be Frictionless

Focus on the “friction points” of the user experience. Friction points are the awkward elements of online shopping, like requiring a customer to go through a five step process when only one might work. Or making a customer hunt around for where to click next, or wait too long before a page loads. If not addressed, these friction points can lead to customer frustration.

Identifying friction points means empathizing with the customer, and, even more, thinking creatively. Thousands of stores have a standard ecommerce shopping flow. It goes something like this:

1. The customer clicks on a category of products in the top navigation.

2. The category page shows them a grid of available products, and they click one.

3. The customer is taken to a product details page, where they learn more about the product, see different views, read reviews, and eventually (hopefully) click a button to add the product to their cart.

Now consider: How might this ecommerce design process be simplified? An immediate solution would be to include an “Add to Cart” button under each product listed on a category page (instead of just on the product details page).

But stopping there isn’t enough. Simply adding the ability to add to their cart from the category page doesn’t necessarily help every ecommerce customer. Some will still need to know more about a product before they make the decision to purchase. So study the behavior of your customers and give them the help they need.

And remember: friction points can’t all be addressed in the same way on every site.

2. Be Persistent

This doesn’t mean being persistent in the classic sales sense, but rather utilizing a feature of ecommerce web design layout commonly referred to as persistency.

Persistency, or “stickiness,” pertains to the elements of an ecommerce site’s layout that don’t vanish from the viewport of a browser, no matter how far one scrolls up or down a page. Creating persistent elements on your ecommerce website allows customers to have what they need at their fingertips at all times, without needing to scroll up or down to get what they’re after.

This can be particularly helpful when it comes to your ecommerce site navigation—something you might want the customer to have access to at all times. For example, no matter where the customer scrolls within the page, a persistent header will follow them and remain “stuck” to the top of their browser. The persistent header always informs the customer of the section of the product page they are currently scrolled to. Persistency can work in all kinds of ways to help keep key page elements at a customer’s disposal.

However, adding certain sticky elements isn’t always recommended. A sticky “Add to Cart” button, for instance, can sometimes have the unintended effect of appearing like a pushy used car salesman. (That is, persistent to the point of being intrusive.) But when used well, persistency can keep your ecommerce customers aware of their place on your site—and drive them to the checkout process more easily.

3. Be Responsive

This doesn’t mean being responsive to your customers’ concerns—though that’s certainly important—but rather embracing the current trend of responsive web design. Responsive design isn’t simply a trend; it’s here to stay, and for good business reasons.

Responsively-designed sites emerged to fill a specific need: with a multiplicity of screen sizes (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop, plus every variety of each) a solution was needed that allowed for an optimal experience on every device. Responsive sites don’t have any fixed width, so their layout will re-flow to whatever viewport they’re displayed in. In other words, if you’re viewing a responsive site with your browser window stretched wide, it might look different than if you resize your browser window to a small width. If you were to view that same responsive site on your tablet device, it might look slightly different again. If you then glanced at it on your cell phone, you might find the site has yet another layout.

Embracing responsive design in ecommerce allows an online store to be tailored perfectly to the customer, no matter how they access the site. So instead of a customer awkwardly squinting, pinching, and zooming when they get to your mobile ecommerce site, they might be able to navigate on their iPhone using large, touchable buttons specially tailored to a mobile ecommerce experience. Think about how much easier checking out on a cell phone could be, for instance, if ecommerce customers didn’t have to hunt for the checkout link or tap on tiny text links to estimate shipping.

What does it all mean?

Customer support doesn’t begin once a customer has a question or qualm. It begins with the user interface/user experience design. A solid ecommerce customer support strategy is mindful of the customer’s experience at every step of the buying process, from homepage to checkout to returns to reviews. This foundation should be laid out and perfected before the customer even reaches your ecommerce store.

A solid ecommerce design empathizes with the customer by:

1. Smoothing out friction points in the ecommerce shopping flow

2. Providing persistency for easy ecommerce site navigation

3. Being responsive to ecommerce customers’ varying device types and browser sizes

By proactively tackling these issues before customer complaints arise, you can give your ecommerce customers the fluid, seamless and easy shopping experience they were hoping for when avoiding a brick-and-mortar store.

Our latest guest post was written by Cherene Etemadi, Marketing Manager at EYEMAGINE.

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