Top ecommerce resources for November 2015 curated by Ross Beyeler and Shopify.
Top ecommerce resources for November 2015 curated by Ross Beyeler and Shopify.
Personally, this past month has been one of major change at our agency. We've been tackling some really large projects and getting into the weeds with new tactics for solving our clients’ unique problems. We've also been fighting the usual growing pains of any agency around people and process.
This month's collection of resources reflects both sides — what we do and how we feel. These articles and apps not only share some helpful tactics that can be introduced to your clients, but also some thought provoking questions worth asking yourself.
Fourth Quarter means different things to different people. For many, during this time of the year especially, it's the last fifteen minutes of seeing their favorite football team drive towards a win. For those in the ecommerce space, it means Black Friday, Christmas season, and trying to keep things straight during the madness that is the end-of-the-year. In this month's round-up, we've assembled some articles and resources that should help you in guiding your clients through the next few months.
As designers and developers we bring a wealth of expertise to client work, but it remains essential that we keep an open mind, and allow clients to expose us to new and better practices.
Hopefully, you'll find these ideas intriguing and consider exploring them within your own client work.
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Your client's growth comes from creating a great experience for their customers, which can in turn lead them to referrals, increased conversion, and repeat purchases. This experience extends beyond just their website, and spans the entire 'lifecycle' of your client's relationship with their customer.
A lifecycle consists of all the touch-points customers have with a company; it's the buying journey of discovering a product, making a purchase, receiving the product, and beyond. The best way to create a great experience for customers across this lifecycle is to first better understand them. This can be achieved by building a profile of your client's customers by looking at all the data touch-points can provide.
Ideally, you have a single tool that is building this centralized profile, something we like to generally refer to as the Customer Hub.
By sourcing data from every touch-point, such as on-site behavior, purchase history, email marketing, support tickets, etc., you begin to form a holistic profile of your client's customer. As you begin to form these profiles, you can look at them in aggregate and start identifying interesting patterns and groups. These groups – based on factors such as purchase volume, location, and demographics – are often referred to as Segments.
Once established, you can use these Segments to create more personalized marketing and a better customer experience. Suddenly, you can identify which products sell best to which Segments, and create specific offers and messaging to appeal to those unique audiences. The result is a highly personalized customer experience driven entirely by the data you've captured in your Customer Hub. I highly recommend looking at Klaviyo, Lumiary, or Sauce as potential Customer Hubs that enable this sort of analysis.
In addition to an aggregate categorization of customers based on Segments, creating a Customer Hub allows for improved one-to-one customer support. Rather than your client handling customer support issues with only the context of a single order, using the enriched profiles created in a Customer Hub allows a more holistic understanding of the customers they're helping.
Your client will have a better sense of how long they've been a customer, their entire order history, how engaged they are with marketing, and whether or not they're even profitable (someone on their sixth support ticket might not be worth the trouble).
Once extended into a physical retail environment, the power of a Customer Hub grows exponentially, as service representatives are able to both utilize and capture heaps of data on customers. Over time, as more data sources are pulled into a Customer Hub, your client's understanding will only continue to grow and improve their customer's experience.
Roughly a year ago, I walked into the retail store of a client. We were kicking off the design of their new Shopify website and I figured it would make sense to spend an afternoon at one of their physical locations. What struck me almost immediately was the emphasis on themed displays, located at the entrance of the store. There were several tables set up with products all inspired by similar themes, whether movie-related, season-related, meme-related, etc.
This client certainly was not the first to set up these sort of displays, in fact, it's an age-old retail technique known as merchandising. Companies such as Macy's became famous for their themed window displays, spawning an entire industry of agencies that specialized in creating highly-decorative displays. In thinking how we could apply elements of our client's in-store experience, we gave more thought to this concept of merchandising and its role in ecommerce. Specifically, we started with thinking through their site structure and navigation.
When discussing strategies for site navigation with our clients, the bulk of folks focus on a catalog approach to their structure. This entails attribute-driven navigation, which allows users to browse and filter products by basic attributes, such as gender, type, color, and size. Attribute-driven navigation is effective for users who want an experience focused on finding a specific product, but leaves something to be desired for customers interested in a discovery-driven experience. It doesn't provide a curated display table that might inspire a wandering customer to dig a little deeper. This is where we saw an opportunity to apply merchandising to the ecommerce world.
Using Shopify's Collection feature, it's easy to manually curate groups of products based on any sort of shared theme. Paired with unique imagery and content related to that collection's theme as a whole, we can create our own online display table. The key is to use this additional imagery and content to build as much of a story around the theme as possible. Customers often purchase products for the story they tell, rather than for its attributes or features. Merchandising allows you to craft this story around products and provide a unique means for customers to discover products they might not have initially searched for.
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The concept of optimization is often brought up during the process of designing and developing an ecommerce website. Search Engine Optimization, Load Speed Optimization, and Conversion Optimization are all commonly-discussed strategies in such a project.
One area of optimization that doesn't get discussed as much is Accessibility Optimization. According to the National Federation of the Blind, it's estimated that there are more than seven million people affected by blindness within the U.S. alone. This fairly significant population should also get a great website experience, and has money to spend like anyone else visiting your site.
Recently, one of our clients requested we improve the accessibility of their website, and ever since we've been paying more attention to this often over-looked aspect of web design.
If you're open to introducing this practice into your design standards, there are tools and tactics readily available for anyone willing to spend the time improving the accessibility of their websites. The United States Access Board has put together detailed guidelines for ensuring accessibility.
For those looking for a more abridged version, Tech Republic has put together a great article summarizing many of the key points within these standards. In addition, screen reader tools such as Apple VoiceOver and JAWS make the process of testing and optimizing for accessibility easier.
Frankly, many of the tactics suggested for Accessibility Optimization are good practices in general. Many relate directly to Search Engine Optimization, and as new devices and technologies emerge that might rely on accurate text reading, these practices could help the future proofing of your work. Some of these best-practices include adding alt tags and title tags to images, ensuring form fields are properly labeled and tab-ordered, and adding external links to embedded content.
In general, taking a little extra time to make your website more accessible not only opens up your market to a demographic of seven million plus consumers, but also ensures you're building good technology.
You might also like: 9 Tools for Website Accessibility Testing
As we all know, the world of ecommerce is constantly evolving. New technologies, tools and tactics are emerging every day that help merchants expand their businesses. Given our role as their partners, it's our job to remain current and often drive these emerging trends.
With the New Year upon us, I'm restructuring my monthly contribution to the Shopify Web Design and Development Blog to focus less on generalized resources and more on the thoughts running through our minds and where we see things going in the world of ecommerce.
Expect to see a bit more 'behind the scenes' thinking and some topics that are just conversation starters, things we're still exploring that this community can discuss collectively. I'd like to share a few of those things with you, hoping that it might help expand your own practices and benefit the merchants you serve.
At our firm, Growth Spark, we tend to take a data-driven approach to our design strategy, at least when that data is available. Other the years, we've observed something rather interesting across all of our clients. We all know that the main driver behind the design requirements for any ecommerce website primarily stem from the number of unique templates that need to be designed and coded. Your client can have 10,000 products, but if they're all using the same template, it only needs to be designed once.
If you dig into the analytics of most ecommerce websites, you find that a majority of time spent on the website is on a minority of templates. Add up the total page views over whatever period you'd like and you'll often find the bulk of time is spent on the Homepage, Products Overview and/or Products Detail. Why then, do we fuss around with the myriad of other templates that don't represent a bulk of the user experience? Why spend significant time and money designing these templates beyond ensuring they meet standard best practices and work properly?
We've heavily adopted this mindset, which is largely related to the Pareto Principle or 80/20 Rule. Applying the principle in this case shows that 80 per cent of the user experience is represented by only 20 per cent of their time spent (i.e. templates) on the website.
In practical terms, we've used this idea in scoping out our projects to differentiate between what we call 'Core Templates' and 'Non-Core Templates'. Core Templates are those that drive the user experience and thus should be thoughtfully and uniquely designed. Non-Core Templates are those that need to work properly, but don't require any unique structure or functionality.
When it comes to designing a Shopify website specifically, we utilize the Timber Theme Framework as the base for all of our themes. Out-of-the-box, it provides the necessary structure and functionality for all of our Non-Core Templates. These leaves us only having to design a handful of custom templates that will truly impact the customer experience.
Timber is a great framework to use for Shopify, but other frameworks, such as Bootstrap and Foundation, can also be utilized for both Shopify and non-Shopify projects alike. In the end, it's simply a matter of finding a theme framework that your team is comfortable with and modifying your design process to focus exclusively on designing what matters.
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In having adopted this approach of Core Templates vs Non-Core Templates, we've gained another major insight into the design process. Users are generally quite comfortable with standardization when it comes to the experience of an ecommerce website.
They like knowing that the cart is accessible in the top-right, that product images are on the left, and that 'buy now' buttons are generally under the product description. As consumers, we've all been conditioned by major retailers, such as Amazon, to have certain expectations of our online buying experience. Adhering to these standards ensures customers are happy and comfortable across our client's website. It doesn't, however, WOW them!
The insight we've actually gained is that the 'little things' really matter in the customer experience. They want the structure and navigation of an ecommerce website to be familiar, but they don't want the experience to be mundane. This is why we've turned our attention to finding minute details where creativity and uniqueness can be expressed. Paying attention to these smaller elements really allow our client's brand to come across to the user, even if the 'structure' of the site is fairly standard.
One of our favorite examples of the 'little things' is in creating unique SVG animations that personalize the often tedious loading process of a website. Rather than your standard moving circle, we play around with using custom SVA elements that truly embody the client's brand.
One example is the loading graphic we created for Johnny Cupcakes. It's fun, simple and speaks directly to their brand. It only appears for a second or two, but it's enough to let the customer know that they're in for a fun buying experience. Libraries such as Snap.svg make this sort of thing easy to implement. Other 'little' things we pay attention to that are worth some embellishing include: product badges, 'buy now' buttons, 404 error pages, 'add to cart' animation, image hover effects, etc. Consider adding any one of these, or some of your own embellishments, on your next project.
When it comes to on-site search, many ecommerce companies treat it like the black sheep of website functionality. They'll utilize the default searching capabilities of their shopping cart or perhaps drop-in a Google search form. We've evolved our thinking on the role of on-site search plays and have found it to be a hugely under-utilized opportunity for merchants to increase conversion.
Users that have entered a website knowing exactly what they're looking for have a higher likelihood to purchase than someone who is casually browsing. By not catering to this 'purchase-ready' user, we're basically throwing away money.
Luckily, upgrading your client's on-site search functionality can be fairly straight-forward, as a number of third-party platforms have emerged offering it off-the-shelf. A few examples include Nextopia, Swiftype, and Algolia. Naturally, there are differences between these platforms, but the core features are fairly consistent. The features that have us and our clients most excited are Real-Time Search Results, Search Filtering, Featured Search Results, and Search Analytics.
Real-Time Search Results are becoming increasingly common on major retail websites. It's where a list of results appear underneath the search bar just as the user is typing out their query. Those results might be purely text or include entire summaries of product information.
Search Filtering allows users to filter through the results they see after submitting a query to help narrow-down the list of options. By default, many ecommerce platforms will show any content (product or otherwise) as part of the results with minimal differentiation or relevancy. One of these third-party tools provides additional filtering capabilities that allows the user to personalize the results they see.
Featured Search Results allows merchants to customize how they'd like search results to function on a per-query basis. This allows merchants to ensure certain products are always promoted, useful when trying to liquidate inventory, highlight a sale, or test new product offerings. In addition, merchants can customize the results for any search terms that might lead to the dreaded 'no results found' message. Rather than leading your user to a dead-end, provide a useful 'other suggestions' list of results for common searches.
Finally, Search Analytics provides merchants with in-depth information on what users are searching for and their behavior within those search results. They shed light on products customers might be looking for that aren't in stock, terms used to describe products that might not be included in product descriptions and much more. These analytics can serve as a major source of insight for exactly what your client's customers want and tailor future marketing or design decisions.
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How do you measure the success of a customer relationship?
In our fifth and final episode of the Ecommerce Lifecycle Podcast, we ask how we can use analytics and data to ensure maximum profitability for both you and your client.
In part one of “The Ecommerce Customer Lifecycle,” we focused our attention on the “acquisition” phase and asked the question: “How can we get potential customers to visit our sites?” Tactics discussed included social media, paid advertising, influencer marketing, among others.
In our second episode, we move on to discuss “conversion” which focuses on getting the visitors of your website to actually purchase products. This step is where user experience, design, branding, content and your on-site strategy are crucial.
Let's take a look at how to improve conversion on your client's store
The topic of how to develop a successful sales process can run deep and wide, with expert advice on everything from how to better position yourself and your company, to how to automate your sales process. Today, one Shopify Plus Expert highlights the best lessons he’s learned after 10 years of experience and roughly 3,000 sales conversations.
In this article, we’ll cover:
Shopify Pursuit is on the horizon and coming to a city near you, and we’re thrilled to announce the speakers joining us at every stop. Have you considered giving a talk yourself? We’re also looking for Shopify Partners to give lightning talks at our various Pursuit events.
In this post, you will learn: