Start by building a product worth marketing.
(Spoiler: It doesn’t happen by skimping on UX).
I grew up in retail, pitching in and working in the family business from a very young age. While my peers were going to camp, I spent my summers attending trade shows, rearranging merchandise for optimal visual representation, and personal clothes shopping for women many times my age.
Our family’s clothing boutique always stood out. It started with my mom teaching me, by example, to see our customers as more than a pocketbook, or numbers in the bank. She cared about her customers. It was natural for my mom to invest just as much time and energy on her customers’ experience as she did with the products. And since we knew them so well, (and had good ‘hunting’ instincts!), we had stellar merchandise.
Our large clothing boutique had a big selection as well as many add-ons that varied at any given time like costume jewelry, handbags, fashion belts, hosiery, etc.
But what made us stand out was the big couch in the back of the store, next to the dressing rooms — our famous couch. Very much like the character-couch relationship in the show “Friends,” we got to get to know our customers better while they spilled out their frustrations and celebrated their triumphs with us on that couch.
We lived in a growing and close-knit community, and many generations of women would come shopping together. That couch became a focal point for our store, and an actual reason to choose us over another. Tired moms would plop down and relax while their picky teenage daughters tried on clothes, and we would take care of bringing them any alternative sizes or styles. Friends would come and shop together because of the great conversations they had on that couch.
“Sandwich generation” women would bring their older moms in for a quality and fun afternoon to chat with everyone in the dressing room area, while, you guessed it, relaxing on the couch.
Then there were the shoes. We didnʼt sell shoes, but we always made sure to have different styles and sizes of “try on shoes” in the back for people that came in with sneakers, for example, and were trying on dresses that needed a heel. We sold so many pieces of clothing just by good-naturedly begging our customers to take off their white cotton slouch socks and see how pretty the dress would look in heels.
We also had toys in the back for women who brought their babies and toddlers shopping with them. At one point, we even had a baby swing. Some of these moms would not have been able to get any shopping done ANYWHERE. A few choice toys not only allowed them to do so, but say, “We care about you, and we’re thinking about what you need.”
So. What does this have to do with UX and digital product design? In todayʼs world, more than ever.
A lot of retailers would have regarded our couch, shoes, toys, as a complete waste of square footage. When youʼre paying a lot of rent, a smart business person will figure out how much it costs them to run their store per square foot, and place and price inventory accordingly.
But what is “inventory” if no one knows about it? If it’s no different than what any of your competition has?
What makes you a better choice than anyone else?
About seven years ago, I got stuck at Newark Airport, waiting for a delayed flight. I can never resist a bookstore (not that I’ve ever tried), so I quickly found myself browsing the Hudson News Stand.
They were featuring a book called, “The Retail Doctors Guide to Growing your Business,” by Bob Phibbs. Of course, I had to buy it. It talks a lot about the personalized service I mentioned above. What I vividly remember, though, was one chapter called “What you donʼt know about the internet will kill you.” It was the first business book I had read that explained how and why small business owners need to get their business a digital storefront.
When you’re selling your app/software/tangible products online, you canʼt greet them at the door with a genuine, human smile and say, “Hi, welcome!”
So. How do you do that? By getting to know your customers through research. By talking to them as much as possible, so you can communicate with them in their language, address their problems, and celebrate their successes.
By doing that, we can build lasting relationships with our users. Giving builds trust over time, as does sharing and transparency. Your customers want to get to know you. A healthy and robust business-customer relationship is when the conversation is two-sided.
Here’s where a UX designer comes into play. Ever hear the saying, “Words from the heart enter the heart”? Understanding your business’s nuances and intentions is just as essential as doing the same for your user’s habits and needs. That is how UX and CXers can manifest transparency.
Particularly in the eCommerce space, many stores have mastered the physical shopping experience, but fail at replicating that goodness to their digital counterparts. While I hate to call anyone out, hereʼs looking at you, *cough* Target. Target! I love you when we’re near each other, but you’re not (yet) good at making our long-distance relationship work.
Sometimes this works the other way around as well. I’ve noticed that some retail chains invest plenty in their digital user experience, but in-store, they’re a mess. Rude and unhelpful employees, lack of knowledge of their merchandise, and never having the size or color one needs in stock. Often, it feels that their instructions are to direct customers out of the store and back online as fast as possible. “If we have it online, just take this coupon, buy it there, and get out of here.” [Hey there Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic, how u doin?]
With all the mixed messages out there, it’s getting harder to remember who is willing to earn our business. Where has all the consistency gone?
There are distinct ways we measure the customer experience for digital products.
● success rate;
● conversion rate;
● time to complete a task;
● error rate;
● abandonment rate;
● click completion;
● complete a task with ease;
● engagement rate; and
● search web pages with ease.
All of these originated from years of trial and error during the era of real, physical interactions. User research is crucial because it allows us to go back and see our users’ facial reactions, hear the tone in their voice, and read their body language while they use our prototypes. And design/fix our products accordingly.
I havenʼt owned a retail store in over six years. But, I still get passing comments in the street about how much people miss our store, and especially, our couch.
So, to conclude, find your couch!! Make your customers feel comfortable.
Befriend them! They’ll keep coming back, recommend you to friends, and remember you in a positive light, years after youʼve gone.