It is fair to say that the Web has changed shopping in some major ways over the years. From the initial rush to provide bricks and mortar stores with a wider profile and client base, to the monsters of Amazon and eBay, shopping has changed forever, and will continue to evolve.
The current problem is the static nature of e-commerce where most online stores use pictures and some descriptive text. That can be fine for books and boxed product, but there are many product types where a more immersive, higher fidelity experience is required.
Despite some high-profile attempts to change that (Boo.com, anyone?), it has taken longer for the hardware and the marketeers to catch up. But now shopping is ready to move to the next level, changing the user experience forever.
Who says the pictures in your catalog have to stand still?
New technology can make a big difference to user experience
As you can see, when selling clothes, having the ability to see how a dress hangs, how it floats or flows or how the cut of jeans looks can really help make up a buyer’s mind. Our usability research shows that online shoppers really want to see the product in the same way they can in a physical store. While this is only a mock-up, it won’t be too long before online retailers catch on to providing the kind of experience shoppers are hoping for.
It will also only be another couple of development steps to reach the point where an avatar of the buyer’s proportions can be used to show how the clothes will fit you and the exact size you would need to order.
Stores like Gap are already preparing tightly integrated apps for Apple’s iPad and the portable, instant-on nature of tablets and smartphones means that shoppers will be able to buy on a whim, just as they do when perusing the high street.
Retailers must remain focused on user needs and not just cool new features
User experience designers will need to work very closely with media creators to make their store look just as good as the top apps. Just as shoppers wouldn’t buy from a tatty, grubby store, they won’t buy from a poor-looking website.
Navigation will play a key part in designing a successful site where buyers will want to go freely from the dress, to the belt, to accessories (appropriate to the main item) without meandering through menus or hordes of unsuitable items. Retailers will need to remain focused on usability and information architecture and be careful not to get too carried away with exciting new technology.
Improving the user experience without overcomplicating things will take great effort. Portable devices like the iPad will provide experiences better suited to natural browsing but retailers will need to be careful not to get carried away with the technical capabilities and ‘whats cool’ and keep focusing on what users really need from the experience.
Have you seen any good examples of what online retail will look like?
Related service: e-commerce usability
About Damian Rees
Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees