How to give your customers a better online buying experience

If you think back to my blog called “Why First Impressions Count”, you’ll see that I am a big fan of traditional media linking into your website, and I’m also a fan of well-sorted websites. I decided to come back to the topic because I was planning a website for a client, and it got me thinking about functionality and usability. Now, do excuse me for a few moments, I’m about to drive the thought train off course slightly…

As I was planning on writing this piece, my mind ran to a particular episode of The Apprentice (the UK one, obviously) back in 2015, when one of the tasks was to run a discount store in The Arndale Centre in Manchester. Gary, the project manager on the team with previous retailing experiences, decided at one point to “walk the customer experience”. Whilst this may seem like a pretty dull idea, in reality it’s a trick we can take into any customer facing service or experience. He noted things like “does toiletries go with washing powder?”, and in all fairness, it provided an interesting industry insight.

I can forgive you for missing the point I was making! The reason I chose that moment was that it holds value, and also (remarkably for the show) makes a lot of business sense. By placing yourself in the position of the customer, you are given a much better example as to what needs tweaking. Whilst we get tied up in minute details on design, we also need to consider on how the end user is going to interact with the website. We’re always conscious of our digital appearances, but how often do we sit back and just look? Instead of building a website and hoping it impresses, I’ve found it useful to have a look at the overall picture when I get stuck on something. It’s helped me bring concepts to reality, and it’s something that any designer could do to focus their talents, and increase online traffic in such a simple way.

It’s also important to do this from a functionality perspective. Thinking as to how people interact with websites, I try to map things out as simply as I can. Customers have more choice than ever when it comes to buying something online, and if you can’t give them a simple enough platform to buy from you, you’re stuck. If you offer a platform where a customer can, in a matter of moments (maybe going through a maximum of 4 pages) get through from the home page to buying a product – succinctly simple! Even if it’s not purchasing a product, you should still be able to find what you’re looking for within a minute. A buyer knows what they are looking for, and as such will have a more natural instinct when it comes to investigating and finding out online. However, just because they know their need, people more casually interested need to gain an understanding of what the product or service is.

Of course, that needs to be catered for. However, it can still be summarised simply, with links to more in-depth explanations (or better, have an enquiries tab!). Cluttering your website with loads of videos and pictures might make it stylish, but this can be taxing on your loading times. In fact, I know Search Engines penalise your listings if website speed, loading time and reaction time isn’t fast enough. But, if you keep your website as clutter free as possible, you can reduce your loading times. It also makes your website easier to navigate, and gives you a better chance to concisely discuss the merits of your products with a couple of diagrams. Although, it's not the end of the world - we don't live in the age of Dial Up any more!

I like concise (which is ironic, given my writing style). If you can describe your product in a few sentences, or even make a sale with a handful, you’ve got a head start on generating real interest. Real interest then becomes quality conversations, and that gives a higher chance for a better sell. As one salesperson to another, it’s a merit you should never overlook.