Building the Next Generation of E-Commerce

Originally published in 2018, I explore the current climate of E-Commerce and what to expect next through successful analysis of design, testing and implementation.

Building the Next Generation of E-Commerce
Building the Next Generation of E-Commerce

Originally published on LinkedIn on April 13, 2018.

It's now coming close to 5 years when I first started 'dabbling' in the field of e-commerce; from starting my own apparel company in my High School/College days and selling it online to managing large multi-million pound (£) budgets for large clients who had become masters in the field of online commerce; it became quite an interesting challenge, writing them extensive array of scripts and processes to maximise efficiency and ensure profitability and return on investment. After all, each client was completely different, and so were their requirements.

One thing each client had in common when it came to building or optimising these systems was the importance of 'automation' of every funnel - drive more conversions, in less time, and while you're at it make the customer buy more, a lot more. How do you do it? It's quite an impossible question to answer, as each customers' needs and wants differ from the other, and so on and on - each variable is different. This is what sparked my interest in algorithmic development.

Having knowledge in fields of creative, marketing and development the challenge was a difficult one to overcome; you have to produce something that feels naturally 'human', and something that is so 'robotic' to maximise both appeal and efficiency.

Start with a simple question to yourself or your team, "If I was a customer - what journey would I like to take to purchase the product? How quick do I want to get to the product?". Again this is rather a hard question to answer, most likely your main concern would be prioritising efficiency over appeal - and 8 times out of 10 (in hindsight from my personal experience) if you were to ask a customer what their dream e-commerce website would be, they'd answer "Something along the lines of Google, where I can enter the product I want and it will give me exactly what I want!" you could take the idea from this, maybe throw in features such as; showcase of related products, seamless sign-up flow, etc., and you'll be on your way to building the newest generation of e-commerce websites. Unfortunately, while the appeal and forward thinking is there, efficiency and flexibility is not - well for you as a business, the consumers (some) might be happy though...

There's a reason why Amazon looks the way it looks and why little introductory changes such as 'One Click' shopping became such a huge hit, it's both efficient for you as a business and for the consumer.

Realise the key factors in online shopping:

  1. How easy is it to find specific products on your website without help of off-site and on-site search supported by SEM (Search Engine Marketing)? How easy is it to navigate and understand the information displayed?
  2. Do you invest more in marketing, and are your products mostly dependant on high-intent searches to generate revenue?
  3. Does your brand feel 'believable' and 'alive' - what appeal does it have? Is it a unique product that's hard to find somewhere else, or a cheaper price?
  4. What aftercare do you offer to the customers and how would you think you could integrate it within your service/website?
  5. At what touch-points did you find customers needed help the most?

Now that you have an idea, of what you 'sort of' want for your newest venture, we can build from there - visualise it. Businesses that mostly focus on 'cash-in & cash-out' tactics, i.e. one's which pump a lot of money to overcome competition on search engines with highly-relevant keywords, and deliver a click-bait or sub-par service are the one's which usually fail. Search engine marketing should be a complimentary tactic and not a necessity to sell your products - this is where social media and influencers can make all the difference, to make it look a lot more organic and help to give a perception that your business isn't just a faceless entity.

Build your layout, test and test and test your customer journey, if you have supplier portals, speak to them (the suppliers), get feedback, what could you improve to make their life's easier? A happy supplier is a happy customer too.

Below is a pretty generic e-commerce website - everything is there, that you need, for some it might be even quite overwhelming with all of the 'deal' imagery taking place on the one page.

Terry McGinnis - Ecommerce Example

Below is what newer e-commerce websites are starting to implement; clean designs, bright colours and most importantly easy navigation.

Terry McGinnis - E-Commerce Design

The question now is, "how can I make it feel more 'human'? Do I introduce a chat option, where people can directly contact me?"; that's one way, but it won't make it feel more human.

What I found is that, just by doing a bit of A/B testing, and on-site click tracking a lot of users needed the most help when checking out - common practice these days is to help the customer throughout their entire journey, while it's good practice, it is 9 times out of 10, implemented and executed very badly. Ever went on a sales website, clicked around and noticed that every time you click something two new windows will pop up? One for a chat function for customer service, that don't really know much about the product or the website you're browsing and one for a newsletter sign-up to capture your e-mail.

A lot of the client websites I worked on, developed and optimised used to use this practice to capture as much data as possible while trying to keep user retention, for a hopeful checkout. This, while an important facet for a business to make the so needed sale for a hopeful return on investment, screams desperation to the customer.

"But how do I fix it or make it better?"

I was asked this question a lot - there's no right answer to this problem, as it is dependant on the type of service and product you offer. However what I found was that universally, some solutions can be intertwined to make both the customer journey, experience and better - it's measurement and calculation, which will lead into repeat business, for you, the business.

Terry McGinnis - E-Commerce Measurement

Above is a (very) simplified visualisation of how the algorithm works. The ability to plug-into data sets at different points can make all the difference and ease the process. Thankfully, with 3rd party analytics and attribution support, simple computations of time, and on-site activity can now be easily measured, which will increase both the efficiency of your customer support teams as they will no longer have to be halted with irrelevant queries, and enable you to sell more.

While above is a very simple exemplification of the processes I have implemented in the past, they have enabled some businesses to not only grow at an exponential rate but also retain, and acquire new customers due to the user experience they have to offer - simply put, no more annoying pop-ups, and help/suggestions when it's actually needed, all while running in the background without much affect on your normal processes.

These are just some suggestions on implementation and consideration which can help your e-commerce business become the next big thing.