Mat Sloan, a consultant from the UK MSS practice, writes about key things to think about when designing or improving online customer experience.
The latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index show that an estimated £4.1 billion was spent online in February 2010, an increase of 13% in like-for-like sales on February 2009. These figures emphasise that it has never been more crucial to provide a great online experience.
Following on from my previous post “Websites should not make me think” I want to focus on why companies must be clear about what they stand for online, ensuring they appear consistent with both their messaging and multi-channel offerings to leave a positive impression. If you understand more about the way your customers process their online experiences you can then design that experience with the way they think and act in mind which clearly has huge benefits.

Firstly, show me what you stand for
How your offline brand comes across online will impact its lasting impression. What emotions are triggered when I use your website for example? If you are a luxury brand, does this come across on your website? Companies should design and develop their online brand experience using an effective combination of marketing and technology. As the saying goes, this is both an art and a science but I need to understand your identity to sense if this fits with my own.
When I browse and purchase online I prefer websites that replicate – to an extent – my purchase journey in store. Personally I like to try products out first, and, I prefer it when I see quality images of the product online that give me additional information about its features since I can’t see it. I enjoy browsing the Apple website for this reason. If I can’t see your product, why would I buy it?
Secondly, make the most of relevant technology and media
Rather than adopt all types of technology and social media (i.e. I think we need a Facebook page / Twitter account to update our customers because everyone else does etc.) focus on the technology that will be helpful, and, crucially, relevant to me. Do you really want to create a dedicated Facebook page for example if your typical customer is not likely to be a Facebook or social media user?
Do your customers ask lots of questions and require lots of support and advice offline? If so replicate this online. Perhaps you could have a virtual store assistant to answer questions. I tend to take initial advice from a combination of experts and reviews. Do you offer an area of your site where I could discuss my queries or read reviews from experts and previous customers?
Once you have decided on your technology, monitor its usage and uptake to see if it’s actually worth investing time and resources.
Finally, provide me with a seamless (multi-channel) experience
If I shop in-store and the product I desire is out of stock, can I order it from your website using my phone whilst I’m there? If I purchase a product online, but, after using it find that I want to exchange it for a refund, can I return the product in store near to where I work (as it’s much easier than posting back)? If I can do these things quickly and with minimal fuss you’ll really gain my trust.
Every touchpoint with your customers matters and leaves an impression. This post has shown the extent to which some of my own subconscious processing dictates apparently rational decision making. How will you therefore design your online experience to fit with the way I think and act to ensure I leave with a positive impression?