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4 lessons e-commerce retailers need to learn from physical stores


4 lessons e-commerce retailers need to learn from physical stores

By Meghna C. Hazarani, senior UX analyst, RBBi

Last year I got the opportunity to work on an e-commerce site which was not only enlightening as a ‘UXer’ but also, as a user who finds an excuse to shop pretty much every day. The small details that lead to cross-selling, up-selling, and plain old selling are astounding. So, before looking through various trends, white papers, and numerous articles on increasing conversions, I decided to take a step back and have a look at the offline shopping experience – before the invention of the first e-commerce site.

[Tweet “4 lessons from offline stores that should be applied to #ecommerce stores by @RBBi’s Meghna.”]

And here’s what I learned:

  1. Help your users navigate easily

I can’t tell you the number of times I visited a supermarket and was unable to remember where all the items were kept. My ability to recall if pasta sauces were stocked in the first aisle or the second just went smack out the door. I would have no choice but to visit each aisle to check what products were placed there.

Now think of your website homepage as your store layout and each of the categories within the main navigation as an aisle. Similar to your physical store, you don’t want your users to have to guess what products are within each of the categories. Your labels should be clearly descriptive without having users click on each of them to find out.

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Additionally, the advantage of an online store is that you can use the power of analytics to determine the most popular categories and those should be placed first for ease of navigation.

  1. Provide the relevant product information

How many times have you asked the salesman, “What is the difference between these two products?” When it comes to high-value products, product information is crucial. Users require as much information as possible before deciding to buy an expensive product. Before buying something, users often browse product literature online, read through specifications and customer reviews and then, finally purchase it in the shop.

People compare everything – from life to products. Which is why comparison tables are beneficial. Just like you would not ask the salesman to explain the differences between more than four products, your one comparison table shouldn’t allow it either. 

  1. Everyone likes a good deal

Physical stores tend to display their discounted items as well as offers upfront within the same product section. Because if, for example, someone had decided not to buy soft drinks that day at all, they would never visit that particular aisle and realize that they could have bought an entire carton for half price! Wouldn’t it be easier to have a separate section – offline and online – for all the discounted items so your users can easily find it?

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Having an Offers/Sales category on your main navigation page will help your users instantly access discounts and offers available without actually having them visit each category for a good deal.

  1. Enhance your checkout process

How many times were you standing in line to purchase a product and gave up midway because the line seemingly was at a standstill? Users offline may have a little bit more patience, as they will not want to drive to the next store location. But online users are looking for instant solutions. Especially given that they have hundreds of websites at their disposal.

So, don’t give your users so many steps to complete a checkout process that they lose interest. Always let them know how many steps are left and at which stage they are in. Additionally, display your payment options upfront. Your users need to be aware of the payment options from the very beginning.

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Understanding the basic hurdles that I or any other user would face in the physical store helped me gain a better idea of how the online stores can solve all those problems for the rest of the users. So before working on your online channel, take the same step back I took and look at your store from an offline perspective. After all, UX primarily is all about matching the users’ mental model.


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