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Building a Great DX: Make Shopping an Experience

It was an enviable assignment, a challenge that I was happy to accept: check out the Friday night shopping experience at a Bass Pro Shop.

Jason Thibeault, a co-author of Recommend This!, suggested the idea when we were discussing the evolution of Internet shopping.

“Online shopping is no longer a button -- a separate place to make a transaction,” he said. “Now it’s an experience, a community with multiple opportunities for interactions.”

It’s the difference, Jason said, between buying a fishing rod at Walmart, and buying one at Bass Pro Shop on a Friday night.

“You should check it out,” Jason advised.

It happens that there’s a Bass Pro Shop not far from my home; I took him up on his offer.

At Acquia, we use the term “integrated” to describe the ideal online shopping experience: a combination of content, community, and commerce.

That’s what I saw at Bass Pro: an engaged, interested group of customers, clearly anticipating a warm weekend ahead, sharing information with knowledgeable staffers, and with each other.

I got Jason’s point. That is a good model to emulate online.

“Think what a store would be like if it was just transactions, just people just buying things,” Jason had said. “It would be dull, uninviting. It’s the same thing online.”

“The first time that many people entered a Starbucks, I bet they were just looking for a cup of coffee,” Jason added. “But they discovered that there’s also super-fast WiFi, comfortable chairs, music, etc. That works in the digital space as well.”

Another must-have for commerce: it has to be super easy to use. Easier than it was a few years ago.

Usability expert Bill Albert, at Bentley University, made that point to me.

“User expectations have been shifting dramatically - up,” he said. “Five years ago, people were much more forgiving, because they were coming from a time when to buy something they had to call someone up, drive somewhere, or mail something. They were willing to put up with some online friction, because it was better by comparison.”

Since then, user expectations have been rising steadily. Blame Amazon, and Zappos, and Apple. We’re spoiled. Your shopping experience has to measure up.

Content, Community, Context and Commerce

One benefit of the recent discussions of omnichannel is that it broadens the focus on where you should be selling -- everywhere. It assumes that the commerce is integrated with content, community and context.

ŽContent includes the product and brand information you provide to your customers: product descriptions and information about the company, but also blog content, documentation, customer service features, and more.
ŽCommunity, as we’ve discussed in previous posts/chapters, is the ability for customers to rate, review, recommend, and share products; forums for “self-service” customer support and product evangelism are part of community too.

Context adds personalization to the shopping experience. And by that we dont mean “if you bought Miles Davis you may like John Coltrane”. Context is delivered if you have real insight into the needs and wants of your consumer.

This can come together, dynamically, in many different ways. Customers can not only rate and review products, but they can also discuss them in social forums: sharing ideas or seeking customer service. Content managers can associate curated content (blogs, marketing materials, even social threads) with products to create a mechanism for recommending content to customers who bought or shopped certain products, or who browsed certain content.

And, remember, it has to be easy, seamless -- right through to the checkout process, especially at the checkout process.

Bill Albert, of Bentley, told me that users find it particularly irksome when hidden steps or charges are sprung on them at the very end of a shopping experience: shipping costs, an automatic opt-in, special charges.

“Not a good experience,” Bill said, “particularly because it’s happening just as people are literally pulling out their wallets.”

The online technology retailer Newegg.com eliminated potentially lucrative pop-up ads after checkout, Jeanne Bliss told me, because they discovered that it muddied their customers’ experience.

“They traded short-term financial gain from pop-up ads for long-term customer relationships,” she said.

It’s all part of an overdue transition, from a time when customers frequently clicked into drab backroom catalogue sites.

Today your digital shopping experience should be more like a hotel lobby.

“When I check into a hotel, I always note the lobby, because I assume it’s their best experience, the first impression, one that people will judge them by,” Bentley’s Bill Albert told me. “Now, online, that’s your shopping experience.”

Keep Reinventing, and Keep it Human

According to Patricio Sapir, of Precision Dialogue, creating great digital experiences is about constant reinvention. Organizations have to constantly transform themselves to keep pace with digital evolution.

“You want to be able to make changes, push them to a channel, measure the impact, analyze them, and then improve,” he told me. “It’s a tight circle.”

This can be difficult, complex, and technically-challenging, of course.

At the same time, digital experiences have to become more human, and focus on human emotions. That sounds like a contradiction: “digital” has to be “more human.”

But when you think about it, it makes sense.

It means that to be more human we have to show our customers that we remember them. It means that we have to be able to converse with each other. It means that we can be honest with each other. We can share things.

Technology enables these human digital experiences.

But it’s more than an end in itself. To stay relevant, you have to constantly innovate, and keep transforming -- ahead of the curve.

To be disruptive, you have to push forward with personalization, and big data, and contextualization, and the many other practices that we’ve discussed in this series.

But it also requires that we remember that these are all just a means to creating an experience.

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