A Conversation with An eCommerce User Experience Expert

RedFusion has built hundreds of websites over the years, but only a handful of eCommerce sites. We know shopping cart design and development has become a very niched skill, so we thought it would be great if we interviewed an expert in the field.

heath-meyette-think-tank[1]Heath Meyette of Think Tank Designs

Today we have the privilege of interviewing local eCommerce User Experience Designer Heath Meyette. He has extensive background in creating and maintaining Cross Media Identities and, in recent years, has focused on User Experience for eCommerce.

Heath is a partner at Think Tank Designs, a Chino Hills based Web and Graphic Design Agency which has been operating in Southern California for the past 13 years. During that time, he has worked with numerous high profile clients including Chapman University – Chapman Fund, Victoria Gardens and, most recently, Yorba Linda Public Library (view design work).

RedFusion: Is SEO dead?

Meyette: Wow. I get that question all the time. Everyone’s asking whether or not they need to pay someone to perform search engine optimization (SEO) on their website. In short, my answer is, “It’s pretty much dead… in its original form.” What we once knew as traditional SEO is no longer. Gone are the days of stuffing pages with repeated use of keywords, search engine submissions, etc. Sure, there is still room in the “new” SEO for time tested methods like proper page names, relevant keyword usage and well thought out page descriptions.

SEO has now (thankfully) evolved into being all about the content. So content is truly king. When I give that answer, most people just reply “Thank God. I’m so tired of having to play that game.” Many people are already performing SEO on their sites unknowingly. They generate consistent, well thought out content that’s helpful to their audiences, whether it’s in the form of a blog, or just a very informative site that becomes the authority on its subject. That’s what will attract the search engines nowadays.

There, I said it. SEO is dead… well kinda.

More about RedFusion’s thoughts on SEO.

RedFusion: You’ve been doing a lot of Website Audits┬árecently to help online retailers create a more positive user experience. What problems do you see most?

Meyette: They run the full spectrum, but the most common problems are things like poor navigation, confusing shopping carts and especially poor product imagery. There are many things that can act as a barrier to conversion, but these seem to be the most prevalent. Find out more about website audits.

RedFusion: What’s working best for online stores nowadays?

Meyette: Although the answer to that question depends largely upon the market being served, and the types of products being sold, there are a few things that really stand out in my mind as being especially relevant at the moment:

  1. Unique Product Offerings
  2. Conversion Optimization
  3. Product Listing Advertisements (PLAs)
  4. Remarketing Campaigns
  5. Properly Segmented Email Marketing
  6. Content Marketing

RedFusion: What do you see as the biggest problem for online store owners?

Meyette: Overall, I’d say it’s a lack of proper business planning. For some reason, many of the people who open an online store simply haven’t done their homework. They still hold onto the myth that all they need to do is buy a cheap website template, add some product, and the money will start rolling in. That may have briefly been the case in the 1990s, but we are living in a very different virtual world now. The landscape has definitely changed, and if you are not serious enough about running your business to do proper planning, allocate funds for marketing, and work with the right experts, you will fail.

Many people do not grasp the importance of unique product offerings that allow for strong positioning of their eCommerce website. Not only do you reduce the amount of competition by doing this, you also help insulate yourself from the dreaded price comparison shopper. In that scenario, there is nothing very unique to your products which encourages shoppers to simply find that same product at the lowest price possible, using only price as the sole differentiator. That usually means they wind up buying from large online retailers like Amazon or eBay who can easily beat the prices of smaller retailers.

RedFusion: Are there any “hot button” topics in eCommerce right now?

Meyette: Everybody is asking about online sales tax. With all the budget shortfalls we are seeing in our country now, the online sales tax debate has once again come to the surface. Currently, online retailers are only responsible for collecting sales tax from customers who reside in the same state where they are doing business.

The new debate will involve collecting tax for online sales in a very similar way to collecting sales tax for physical purchases made in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, many of the brick-and-mortar retailers are championing the collection of online sales tax in an effort to level the playing field. They feel like they are at a distinct disadvantage when todays’ shoppers use their stores for “showrooming.” Currently a common practice that involves shoppers going to the brick-and-mortar store to browse and inspect products, then finding it and buying it online, thereby leaving the store without the purchase. In this scenario, the brick-and-mortar retailer just becomes a showroom for their online competitors who have lower operating costs and are more increasingly offering free shipping and no sales tax.

RedFusion: What do you see as the future of eCommerce?

Meyette: Mobile. With the advent of Smartphones and tablets, it’s become more and more important to control the user experience across all devices. The obvious answer for many eCommerce stores would be responsive web design, which utilizes one website that adjusts to the device on which it’s being viewed. At it’s core, responsive web design is not complicated. The main concerns for eCommerce are functionality and navigation which are usually more complicated than the average website. That’s when you should start thinking about consulting a User Experience Expert who has specific experience guiding visitors through the shopping process. They can help you with: information architecture, wireframes, designing screen mockups, storyboarding of the checkout process, and creative, persuasive content.

RedFusion: What are the elements of an effective call-to-action?

Meyette: Some may argue this, but I’d say an effective call-to-action has four main parts:

  1. Tell shoppers what to do and what will happen when they click on your call-to-action.
  2. Use the same terminology that your customers are using.
  3. Speak in terms of benefits not features.
  4. Create a sense of urgency.

RedFusion: What do you see as an often overlooked facet of running an online store?

Meyette: I really think that creating and maintaining a positive cross media identity is most often neglected. Vision plays a very important role in our lives today. Repeated exposure to a strong cross media identity definitely helps consumers make a strong emotional connection to a company, including their services, products, and values. Unfortunately, too often business owners decide against using an experienced identity designer, opting instead to create visuals that have more to do with the owner’s personal interests instead of the best interests of their target audience. Most of the time, it results in decreased customer engagement and poor brand recognition across devices and experiences.

RedFusion: What usually catches online store owners off guard?

Meyette: Being hacked. Let’s face it, it happens to all of us. There’s no way to guarantee that it won’t happen to you. But there are some precautions you can take to decrease the odds of it happening. I would first recommend frequently changing logins and passwords. The more often you change them, the less likely it is for someone to hack into your website.

The other thing I would recommend is regular website maintenance which allows you to stay on top of software updates related to your online store. This includes everything from updating the shopping cart itself to all the plugins and extensions that are used in your online store.

The time to do this is not once you’ve already been hacked. It’s too late at that point. We get a lot of phone calls from people in this situation. More often than not, they are completely aware of the need to keep things updated, but have tried to save money by failing to allocate an ongoing budget for these types of updates and general website maintenance issues. Once you’ve been hacked, it becomes more expensive than regular maintenance. Not only do we need to stop and undo the damage, but you will also be paying to have all those neglected software, plugins and extensions updated, thoroughly tested, then redeployed. That doesn’t even address the down time for your online store. While everything is being fixed, you will generally be without your eCommerce website and, therefore, be unable to continue generating revenue.

RedFusion: Any last words of wisdom for all those eCommerce website owners out there?

Meyette: Pay close attention to the user experience. Everything starts (or stops) there. I’ve got a top 7 list of best practices that directly affect user experience and can increase eCommerce conversion rates.

  1. Make sure your website is easy to use.
  2. Give the visitor “actionable” content at just the right time.
  3. Get the visitor to what they’re seeking in as few clicks as possible.
  4. Answer all questions a visitor may have.
  5. Have appropriate”brand personality.”
  6. Have copy written specifically for the web, presented in scannable format.
  7. No splash pages or Flash Intros. There’s a time/place for this. It was 10 years ago.

If you don’t know how to accomplish the above 7 tasks, hire a User Experience Expert who does.

RedFusion: That was very informative. I’m sure you’ve given all those eCommerce website owners out there a lot to think about. If anyone is interested in increasing the effectiveness of their website, you can contact Heath Meyette or his partner Robin Lindblom by calling (909) 393-6363, or visit their website at www.ThinkTankDesigns.com

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