Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that more than half of consumers made more purchases online than they did in stores in 2015. That figure might not surprise you when you consider the convenience, speed, and instant price comparison factor that online shopping (the eCommerce customer experience) provides over traditional brick and mortar shopping.

Despite this arguably easier purchase journey, 85% of consumers have abandoned a purchase online, according to original research by GetApp. If the eCommerce customer experience is more suited to the modern consumer with a shorter attention span and a keen eye for a bargain, why is purchase abandonment so high?

Is your website too confusing for your customers?

GetApp research shows that 20% of purchase abandonments are down to a confrontation with a ‘confusing website’. Now, ‘confusing’ can actually mean a lot of different things to different people. Were these purchase abandonments due to a poor user experience – for example, the website was a navigational nightmare or had a complicated checkout process? Or was it poor customer experience – for example, confusion about an item the consumer was about to buy?

The question is, are purchase abandonments due to a poor user experience, customer experience, or both?

In this article I’ll explain why eCommerce retailers need to consider that both the customer experience and user experience are elements that must complement one another to avoid shopping cart abandonment, and boost sales.

What’s the difference between customer experience and user experience?

Whether it be a clothing store or a marketplace, it’s likely that you buy from your favourite website time and time again not just because of the items you buy, but because you like using it, or because using it is easy.

If your favourite store stocked top quality items at rock bottom prices, with free shipping to boot, would you still use the website if it took longer than a minute to load a page? It’s doubtful – in fact, unless your website loads in 2 seconds or less, it’s likely that almost half of us will leave a site, seeking an alternative website that can perform in a better way. This is an example of a bad user experience, where the experience refers to the product or service (in this case, a website) that is being used.

If there’s an issue that your customer wants to address quickly, and they can’t reach you through your livechat channel, or your customer service representative can’t help them, this is an example of a bad customer experience. The customer experience is more concerned with providing a seamless and connected experience across all touchpoints in the buying journey, whether that be interactions on social media, exceptional online customer service, or personalized offers on your mobile phone.

However, if a customer’s question goes unanswered and because of this, they don’t buy the product, they have effectively had a negative experience with both the product and the customer journey.

Here are some typical issues that concern the product, the customer journey, or both, and how you can resolve them.

Consider the pain points for your customer

Pain point #1: Design and functionality

ecommerce customer experience and user experience

The issue: 38% of people will ‘stop engaging’ with a website if the content or layout is unappealing.

What this means: Your website must strive to deliver on content, style, and relevance to the customer. “A website needs to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, making it clear to the customer how to use the site. The appearance of your site also suggests how high quality your products are,” says Darren Green, CEO of Roman Blinds Direct.

Make the customer’s time spent on your website easier. With research suggesting that 90% of people would rather leave a website than recover a lost password, consider a social login or single sign-on (SSO) option.

And with Google looking set to punish some websites who use interstitials and pop-ups from early next year, eCommerce store owners need to prepare for how this might damage their conversion potential.

Pain point #2: Speed of website and transaction

ecommerce customer experience and user experience

The issue: As little as a one second lag in loading time can cause a 7% reduction in conversions, and the average checkout flow has 14.88 form fields – twice as many as necessary.

What this means: Your website must be fully optimized for speed, but still retain its core usability. Brock Murray, co-founder of seoplus+, says: “Website speed is something that all web designers should be aiming for, but unfortunately, very difficult to optimize in eCommerce”.

Given this, eCommerce store owners should be taking into account the relevancy of some features on their website and deciding on those that are necessary and those that aren’t.

Green further advises eCommerce store owners to: “try and make sure that customers need to take as few steps as possible when it comes to selecting a product and going to the checkout”, preventing customers from changing their minds during a lengthy process.

Pain point #3: Mobile availability

ecommerce customer experience and user experience

The issue: Consumers are using mobile to browse, but not to buy.

What this means: Retailers are missing out on chances to convert by not optimizing their websites for mobile. Even if consumers aren’t converting through mobile, they are making purchase decisions on mobile, and completing the transaction on a different device, which means that your site must be accessible, responsive, and user-friendly to mobile devices.

Marc Weisinger, director of Marketing at Elite SEM, advises that mobile pages should be navigable with one thumb, because “forcing users to pinch, zoom and juggle between hands makes using your site work, which means fewer conversions”.

Litmus recommends the following steps to optimize your site for mobile:

  • Large, easy-to-read text
  • Quality images
  • Keeping layouts simple (primary content in a single column)
  • Clear, mobile-friendly calls-to-action.

Put the customer’s needs first

When considering how to overcome these problems, it’s important to note that the customer experience and user experience, while inextricably linked, should be approached with consideration for their unique purposes. Gartner recommends that the customer experience should be “led by the customer’s needs, not the technology’s possibilities”, which pointedly refers to the idea that just because new software exists, it should not always be used.

In effect, eCommerce stores should be driven by what the customer needs: the design and layout, the checkout, the mobile availability, and the navigation should all relate directly to the customer journey. For example, there is no use in using video functionality on the front page of your store if it doesn’t actually portray any relevant information to the customer – despite how much video is forecast as an upcoming trend for eCommerce. If the video auto-plays, is irrelevant, and visually cluttering, users will be tempted to leave and not look back.

Instead, consider why and how your customers are using your site. Marcus Miller, head of digital marketing at Bowler Hat, says: “To create a compelling, customer driven experience, we have to go back to the marketing basics and start with the customer.”

This means taking the time to engage in a comprehensive overview of who your customers really are, their purchasing behaviours, their pain points, and the obstacles they face in buying from your site. Only with this knowledge, can you design a user experience that is truly compatible with the customer experience.

Aligning the customer and user experience

So how do you begin this process of aligning the customer and user experience? Begin with testing your website. Gartner recommends using a four step method to test the UX of a website.

  • Step 1: Begin the test with a question e.g. “Why aren’t people clicking through to this specific category?”
  • Step 2: Hypothesise about the answer e.g. “The category lacks a clear definition, the user isn’t clear about what lies behind the category” – what are the realistic reasons for the lack of click-throughs?
  • Step 3: Experiment e.g. Rename the category, divide the category into separate categories, absorb the category into a different category
  • Step 4: Analyze the results. The results will either validate your hypothesis, or not, and provide you with some insight on how to refine your initial step 1 question, e.g. “Is the category placement correct? Does the category appear relevant for the customer?

The future of the customer and user experience

Now, given that omnichannel eCommerce retailing is on the rise, it’s also the ideal time to figure out how these practices will affect your customer and user experience strategies. Retailers who embrace comprehensive omnichannel selling strategies are seeing a customer retention rate of 89% compared with 33% of those who have weak strategies.

Adii Pienaar, CEO of Conversio, says that: “Each of these channels represents a different design framework. The retailers that manage to be the most visually consistent and have the most seamless journey will get the largest chunk of anyone’s online spend.”

Highlighting the importance of mobile, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) are also causing a stir, with a shift to indexing AMP-optimized results more predominantly and so effectively prioritizing websites that are optimized for mobile.

TinderPoint’s Luke Bastin says that: “Accordingly, sleek and fast loading mobile design is likely to be the future of user experience and eCommerce, with an emphasis on multi-device conversion.”

Next steps for improving your eCommerce customer experience

Can you shine any light on how to optimize both the customer and user experience for eCommerce? Let us know in the comments below.

And if you’d like to delve deeper into how to optimize your eCommerce store, check out these articles:

10 tips to promote your eCommerce store

How to choose eCommerce software: a handy checklist