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Ecommerce Design and Development

The use of online services for the procurement of products and services continues to climb at an incredible rate. VeriSign payment services processed $10.7 billion in transaction settlements over the first quarter of 2005 representing an annual increase of approximately 18%. Additionally, the US Census Bureau estimated a similar increase of 24% over the same time period1. These numbers are a strong indicator of the importance of web properties and the necessity of providing a streamlined, efficient website for your customers.

Creating an aesthetically pleasing website is no longer enough to engage online customers.  Today’s online shopper has become increasingly demanding, whether browsing for products passively or actively seeking a specific item.   As broadband Internet access proliferates, the barriers that prevented customers from using web applications are breaking down daily.  With these barriers disappearing and Internet access becoming ubiquitous at almost every level of commerce in the United States, traditional manufacturers must seize the opportunity reduce costs throughout their sales pipeline.


VeriSign payment services processed $10.7 billion in transaction settlements over the first quarter of 2005 representing an annual increase of approximately 18%. 


 

Increasing the use of your website for purchases and making the entire experience more appealing for your existing customers should be the driving force behind the redesign of the your corporate website.  The figures quoted above provide compelling evidence to the fact that more and more customers will come to expect a pleasing shopping experience, whether ordering airline parts or perishable time-sensitive products like fruits and vegetables.  While the B-to-B nature of many corporate websites presents issues unique to an industry or business, the basic principles of form and function still apply.  As your “captive” customers continue to use consumer driven sites like Amazon.com in their personal lives, these experiences will shape what they expect from your site.

To be blunt, most people expect an experience exactly like Amazon.com.  This is not a bad thing, since the Amazon infrastructure is nearly flawless and there’s not a lot of reason to stray from the well-traveled path.  When asked about Amazon’s customer-centric approach to site design, Maryam Mohit, Amazon’s former Vice President of Site Design said the following:

“It would be hard for our focus on customer experience to be any more explicit.  Customer-centricity has been part of our company mission since day one…it's infused throughout all levels of the company.  We also have a usability team with people in the roles you'd expect.  But when people ask why it is that Amazon.com has this focus, the key is that it's not one person, or one team, responsible for the overall customer experience. Everyone in the company owns it…We run a lot of tests in our usability lab, almost continuously. Project teams can request usability testing, and the usability team also goes out and tests stuff of interest. Or ideas to investigate might come from customer service e-mail, which is a really important source of information.”2


Creating an aesthetically pleasing website is no longer enough to engage online customers.


 

We’re not suggesting that you undertake a major usability project or create a new Usability Team to focus on your site functionality, but the paragraph above illustrates the lengths that the industry eCommerce giants have gone to in order to develop the most customer friendly, customer-centric websites possible. 

We are aware that the nature of your customer and your product may be different than that of the typical Amazon.com shopper or the goods that they sell.  However, the experience they expect will be defined by their experience on similar B-to-C sites, and providing a significantly different experience will decrease the likelihood that your customers will adopt the Internet as their primary sales channel. 

While we define the overall customer experience while using your web application as its “usability”, the simple aesthetics of your site are of equal importance.  “Usability is a shaping factor for actual usage, but a user’s impressions of a Web site—about usefulness, ease-of-use, and how enjoyable the experience is—are formed by the Web site’s visual design.” 3  The simple look and feel of your website will illicit an immediate first impression from your customers, and this first impression will shape their overall perception of your sites quality, regardless of whether or not it can complete an eCommerce transaction flawlessly.

“Tractinsky (1997) found a correlation between perceived usability and aesthetics when investigating ATM machines. Subjects based their overall opinion of the usability of the ATM on the "look" of the machine. Moreover, in examining users' first impression of websites, Shenkman and Jonsson (2000) found that the best predictor for the overall judgment by typical users of a website was its beauty.” 4

The quote above formulates the basis for a very simply mantra:  if your site doesn’t look good, customers will assume it doesn’t work well. 

“Aesthetic designs look easier to use and have a higher probability of being used, whether or not they are actually easier to use. More usable but less-aesthetic designs may suffer a lack of acceptance that renders issues of usability moot. These perceptions bias subsequent interactions and are resistant to change. For example, in a study of how people use computers, researchers found that early impressions influenced long-term attitudes about their quality and use. A similar phenomenon is well documented with regard to human attractiveness - first impressions of people influence attitude formation and measurably affect how people are perceived and treated.” 5

A poor first-impression can be a difficult hurdle to overcome for an eCommerce site, as many customers are still hesitant to place online transactions due to a perceived security risk.  “With reminders of the insecurity of private information continually turning up on the nightly news, some experts say consumers are showing signs of changing their online behavior to protect their credit card numbers and other valuable data.  And that may mean trouble for online retailers…” 6


1 Sean Michael Kerner,  “E-commerce Business Booming, But More Threats Looming,” 15 June 2005,  <http://www.ecommerce-guide.com/news/trends/article.php/3514306>

2 Mark Hurst,  “Interview: Maryam Mohit, Amazon.com,” 21 November 2002,  <http://www.good experience.com/blog/archives/000192.php>

3 Didier P. Hilhorst,  “The Designer Is Dead, Long Live The Designer!,” 7 April 2004,  <http://psychology.Wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/51/aesthetics.htm>

4 Laurie Brady and Christine Phillips,  “Aesthetics and Usability: A Look at Color and Balance,” 1 May 2003,  <http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/51/aesthetics.htm>

5 William Liddwell, “Universal Principles of Design,” Rockport Publishers (October 1, 2003)

6 Brian Quinton,  “ID Theft Worries Show Signs of Eroding E-commerce,” 13 April 2005,  <http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/51/aesthetics.htm>

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