Graham Charlton discusses augmented reality as a practical and useful tool, the ecommerce potential of voice search and how ecommerce retailers need to keep up with customers’ ever-changing expectations.

As I wrote back in 2018, the user experience of ecommerce sites has generally been heading in the right direction. Of course, there will be exceptions, but the average ecommerce site is easier to use than it was five to ten years ago.

Most sites now understand and apply basic best practices. Sites that don’t offer features like guest checkouts are now the minority, while most websites are relatively intuitive to use.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s no room left for improvement. UX is an area where the detail matters, and no site should consider itself perfect. It always pays to test your site, take feedback from users, and look for ways to provide a smoother experience for your customers.

With this in mind, I’ve picked out a few possible trends and features we’ll perhaps see more of in the next year or so, which have potential impacts on the user experience.

These aren’t necessarily new trends, but continuation of trends that have been building over the past year, or in the case of areas like voice search, features that have the potential to become bigger this year.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR in ecommerce is nothing new, ecommerce brands have been experimenting with its uses for some years now, but it feels like it may become more useful and more effective very soon.

Some of the first examples of AR were clumsy, but now we’re getting to the point where AR can be used effectively to improve the customer experience for online shoppers.

The technology is now much better, and things like Apple’s introduction of AR Quick Look mean that AR can be used within the Safari browser without the need to download separate apps.

One example of this comes from Pure Cycles, which uses AR to help sell its bicycles. By using AR on its mobile product pages, shoppers can superimpose images of the cycles into rooms, next to people etc to get a real feel for the size and suitability of each model.

Customers don’t need to download an app before using this feature, which removes a major barrier to the adoption of AR. It also improves the user experience, so I’d expect to see more smart uses of AR like this.

Voice search and ecommerce

I wouldn’t have one of these things in my house if you paid me, but voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and mobile equivalents are becoming more and more popular, to the point where many expect them to have an impact in ecommerce.

We’re at a relatively early stage, but voice is something UX designers will have to think about if voice commerce picks up.

At the moment, there is some doubt about the uptake – a recent report claimed that just 2% of Amazon Alexa owners had made a purchase, but it’s a trend to look out for this year.

Keeping up with online shoppers’ changing expectations

As Jakob Nielsen says, “Users spend most of their time on other sites,” not yours, and so their expectations of your site and its UX are shaped by this.

It also means that users’ expectations in terms of UX and customer experience are being driven by what they see on some of the biggest and best sites they use.  

The following areas of ecommerce user experience are all linked by this common theme…

Accuracy and clarity of information

Shoppers want to know precise details like inventory data (in-store and online), order-status messages, delivery timescales, total prices, reviews and more. If sites like Amazon can do this, people will wonder why other sites can’t provide the information they need.

It’s about presenting this information in a user friendly way that doesn’t interrupt the flow. For example, key information on delivery, availability and price can be communicated on product pages without interrupting the user flow.

Relevant delivery and returns options

People want to be able to select the options which suit them best (ones they’re used to seeing elsewhere) and to deliver the best user experience for them.

This can include things like delivery options and returns policies. This information should be easy to find and well communicated to shoppers, but retailers need to provide the option that people are looking for.  

As stats from MetaPack show, delivery options can make or break a sale. If a customer wants a product quickly, and can’t find that option, they’ll look elsewhere.

Customer expectations are driven by their experience on other sites. If other retailers are offering next day and other flexible or cheap delivery options, they’ll expect it on your site.

Mobile First UX

Mobile first UX design will become the norm. Of course we’ve known about the growth of mobile for some time, but over the past year, in many but not all sectors, mobile is often far bigger than desktop.

This chart posted by Schuh’s Stuart McMillan indicates how mobile dominates. Schuh is of course a fashion brand, where mobile usage is especially high, but the trend is true of other sectors.

The problem for some sites is that the volume of sales from mobile doesn’t keep pace with traffic, which suggests that some shoppers are happy to browse on mobile, but reluctant to complete the purchase.

So, while these stats show just over 51% of traffic coming from mobile, these devices deliver just under 37% of sales. Some sectors like fashion have closed the gap more effectively, but this remains a challenge in terms of UX.

There are quite a few mobile UX problems which are common to many sites, with forms and checkout perhaps the lowest hanging fruit in terms of potential improvement. The answer in general, in response to stats like those from Schuh, is that mobile first UX design should be the focus.

Simplified checkout

Checkout remains perhaps the biggest hurdle in terms of UX. It’s where a good on-site experience can turn bad, thanks to confusing form fields, the length of checkout, or a lack of payment options.

One way retailers are looking to improve checkout UX is by shortening and simplifying the process. Guest checkouts are an obvious way to do this, and are now used by many sites. Another way is to remove as many checkout steps and fields as possible, or to use single page checkouts.

Some sites, Bellroy being one example, simply removed the guest checkout vs returning customer option, and sends customers straight into its ‘express checkout’. This means customers can do all the work on one page, and see all the options and fields at once.

Another way to simplify checkout is to offer more convenient payment options, something that can help a lot for mobile shoppers.

Many sites now sensibly offer PayPal as an alternative to credit or debit card checkout, but there are other options which can improve the checkout user experience.

For example, mobile-friendly payment methods such as Apple Pay or Google Checkout, which can reduce the complexity of checkout payment to a simple fingerprint scan.

In summary

The common theme here is about using new UX trends and technology to make things easier for the customer, whatever device they are using.

The user experience offered by the average ecommerce site is now miles ahead of where it was five years ago. This means online retailers need to work harder to differentiate themselves and match or even better the experience offered by their competitors. A focus on UX is the way to achieve this.

Main image by Bernard Hermant