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Making multichannel seamless: why retailers should prioritise usability across channels

Tuesday October 23 2012

Behavioural research expert Guy Redwood offers some advice to retailers about key usability considerations when developing a multichannel strategy

Millions of man-hours – and pounds – are spent making sure merchandising in store is as effective as possible. Every last element is considered to make the shopping experience as easy as possible for shoppers, while maximising sales for the retailer.

But how do people shop online using different devices? How does the visual and tactile element of traditional shopping transfer across the channels? And how do you develop a synchronicity of brand experience for consumers across websites, mobile sites and instore? 

Guy Redwood, managing director at behavioural research company SimpleUsability, which works with the likes of Asda and Republic, told Retail Technology that consumers taking their experience across different channels will expect to recognise the brand. With different teams often working on the development of mobile sites, apps and desktop sites maintaining consistency can be difficult.

“Any good online experience needs to emulate the best offline merchandising practices: the option to browse if you have nothing in mind, but also a quick route to find something you are keen to pinpoint quickly is key to the experience,” he said.

‘Window shopping’ concept

“Creating award-winning visual merchandising campaigns in the windows of leading High Street stores is an art form,” Redwood continued. “To replicate this same consumer experience online, retailers rely on one thing: compelling product photography.

“When conducting testing we often see the frustration of users clicking to see a larger image that is pixelated or the same size. Make sure images are appropriate for mobile devices and that functionality works. 

“Prices and information should also be displayed as closely to a product image as possible. Truncated product descriptions are a problem on desktop websites, but even more so on mobile sites and apps. If vital information is needed to help users differentiate between products, be sure to include this prominently in listings.”

Navigating the store

Recreating the instore browsing experience on a desktop website is done through the use of categories and navigation to subcategories and filters. But, according to Redwood, transferring this to mobile can be difficult. There is pressure to make the journey and options simpler, but this can actually make the experience harder for customers to navigate. 

“Providing various ways to filter within a category (e.g. price, colour) and an effective search facility are two important ways of improving the experience. It can also be helpful to filter out supplementary types of content but provide a clear link to access it on the full website,” he advised.

Embracing social shopping

He also pointed out that shopping is often a shared experience and the power of peer review has a huge effect on customers buying online. Any review or ‘customers also bought’ sections need to be trusted and users need to identify with the reviewer.

“Consumers can also share quickly online, with a much larger community. Mobiles allow users to check-in to stores, with apps like Quidco providing incentives for doing so, and the inclusion of social media icons allows them to broadcast what they are browsing or buying,” he added.

Offer a helping hand 

Redwood asked how do retailers replace the personal experience that good customer service instore offers; helping users find the item they are looking for and upselling?

“One debate that often rages in our observation rooms is the placement of ‘related products’ and ‘what other people bought’ features,” he explained. “Which is more important, and where should they be placed?

“Guides and online help tools can also lead the consumer through a similar flow to an instore customer advisor and, most importantly, can direct and convert users to a purchase.”

Breaking barriers to buying

When shoppers are ready to make a purchase retailers are always interested in any barriers that prevent them from completing the checkout process.

Redwood said: “Participants in our studies generally comment that they use their mobile device to do a surprising amount of browsing and research. But will often transfer to a desktop computer or laptop to transact. This can be due to security fears, but the main reason is how ‘fiddly’ it is to complete forms on a mobile device.

“Best practice on mobile platforms is to avoid text input fields. For contact and checkout forms this is usually unavoidable – however, length and layout of the form should be given careful consideration.”

Exploiting mobile advantages

People are quick to talk about the restrictions that mobile sites and apps have when compared to the desktop version of a website, but what about the advantages and the enhanced experience they can offer when they align more closely with the instore experience?

“Instead of thinking about how hard it will be to re-create your brand across all channels – embrace the opportunity to interact with customers in a new way,” Redwood concluded. “In my opinion those who do so well will be quick to reap the rewards and those who don’t will quickly fall behind the pack.”