Is the Future of Bricks and Mortar ‘Dark’?

I’ve started articles like this for what feels like a lifetime but at the time of writing, the UK is still in lockdown and life as we knew it is locked up behind closed doors.

For those in retail and more importantly those that have traditional storefronts things are for want of a better word unknown. Even when we get out the other side of this who really knows what will happen to bricks and mortar retail. Some analysts are predicting a bounce back and others are saying it is the beginning of the end of what we once knew.

If we take a look at what has been happening over the last couple of weeks this uncertainty is further concerned. Planning applications for new shops have plummeted by 22% across England over the last 12 months and in some areas, it is as much as 94%.

Further to that online retail businesses have been on a buying spree, snapping up big household high street names taking them online and leaving behind empty shops. For Arcadia the number is 500, for Debenhams, it will eventually be 124.

This is going to leave a big hole in the retail footprint, and it could drive a knock-on effect for those stores surrounding the closures. The big question, what do we do with all this space and what could retailers do with the space they currently have. One possibility could be to turn them ‘dark’.

 

What do we mean by ‘dark’ retail?

This might be a new term to many, but it could be one that we all become very familiar with. ‘Dark’ retail or stores are essentially locations in places where traditional retail may have existed, but they’re not open to the public in the usual way.

The reason they exist is to support the online operation of the business, becoming local distribution hubs. By using them in this way you’re putting the product closer to the customer meaning that you can get it to them faster, in a more economical way whilst allowing the customer to shop in the way they choose too, online.

It also means that you can utilise staff converting them from serving customers face to face and dropping them into the fulfilment process. It allows for localisation of service taking the personal touch that one step further than most and in times of lockdown you’re not restricted to the same rules that have plagued retailers.

 

I’m interested, but does it work?

There are numerous examples of this taking place already. Crosstown Doughnuts is trialling it right now. They’re setting up the trials in Cambridge and Walthamstow and if successful they have plans to expand the delivery hub model to other areas within reach of central London, such as Oxford, Brighton, Richmond, Croydon, Chalk Farm and Chiswick.

The business has seen direct-to-consumer (d2c) online ordering revenues increase by 600% compared to 2019 and by creating a network of ‘dark’ retail locations they’re able to expand their 1-hour delivery to a much wider net of customers.

Amazon has a history of using this type of distribution in the USA, having taken over an unused mall in Akron, Ohio turning it into a fulfilment centre and they’re continuing to look at ways of using this model in locations where anchor tenants of malls no longer exist leaving vast retail spaces empty.

The key to making it work is being able to deliver on the promise and that means creating an infrastructure that can support this method of doing business.

 

Getting it to work for your business.

As Cegid Marketing Director of Retail Tania Oakey puts it “rapid acceleration has exposed the retailers across all sectors that were late in terms of the digital adoption and omnichannel strategies.

Capabilities such as click and collect and ‘ship from store’ are key but require sophisticated POS (point of sale) and OMS (retail order management systems) solutions to act as an anchor. Having a unified commerce solution, with a single view of your stock across the whole of the organisation, is key. Having that visibility to decide where best to pull stock from for your consumer is decreasing logistics and sales costs. Retailers can improve margins from three to 10 per cent.”

If you’re going to have the locations closer to the customer, the system needs to be able to figure out which location is closer, send the order to that location and get it out the door quickly. Without this, you’re not using the idea of ‘dark’ retail to its full potential.

 

So, is the future of retail ‘dark’?

It is hard to argue against this. Adoption may take time, but it is easy to see how savvy retailers could take advantage of this idea.

Decreasing sales and logistics cost whilst improving customer service levels and dependability is all good news. The reason services like JustEat and Deliveroo have done so well is that it gets the product to the end customer quickly. This is building a habit for the consumer and if you can do the same with your products, you’ll become an invaluable asset to their lives.

If this is an idea you’d like to explore for your business, Eclipse can help. We’ve got teams of commerce experts that understand the end-to-end process and what it takes to put this type of process in place.

We can help you discover what it could mean for your business and help consult and develop the strategy that will get you there. Just reach out and talk to us. We’re always here to help.


Here’s Why (and how) You Should be Using Shopping on Instagram

Unless you’ve been living in a cabin in the woods for the last 15 years you’ve probably heard of social media and you’ve almost certainly heard of Facebook and Instagram.

They’ve become part of our everyday lives and many have debated the virtues and sins of social media but ultimately people have adopted them and there is little doubt that they’re going anywhere in a hurry.

Instagram has more than 1 billion monthly active users and is now one of the most popular social networks worldwide. They along with the other social networks do everything they can to keep people on the platform and when they do leave, they do what they can to bring them back.

They’re also working harder to innovate all the time by introducing new features and enhancing the ones they have. The one we’re going to be talking about here is Instagram shopping.

 

Why are we talking about Instagram Shopping?

Instagram shopping was built specifically for eCommerce businesses and brands. Currently available to 44 countries across the world, it allows businesses to tag their products in the images they share significantly enhancing a user’s ability to discover new products through the platform.

It is incredibly easy to set up and simply requires the business to push their inventory to Facebook. After doing that it’ll take about 2 weeks for you to be able to toggle on Instagram shopping during the usual post creation and sharing process.

Some of the early adopters of the feature are reporting increased traffic and sales from Instagram as a result of the tagging capability. In fact, more than 800,000 shoppers use Instagram every month, and brands around the world are using the platform to share their stories and products with consumers in a visually engaging way.

 

What else you need to know about Instagram Shopping

Instagram is arguably the King of platforms when it comes to visual storytelling and it has held the crown for years.

For some brands, it has replaced what would have been full-page ads in those glossy fashion magazines of old. And now with the addition of Instagram shopping, they have taken it one step further allowing end-users to click straight through to the product on the website and buy it, on the platform.

With shoppable posts, customers have even greater opportunity to connect with the brands they love through the ability to quickly see relevant information — like product descriptions and pricing — with a single click without ever having to leave the Instagram app.

 

Image Credit: Instagram Business

The key to making that experience effortless is by having an eCommerce store that works seamlessly on mobile devices.

 

Mobile First Commerce

The shoppers habits are changing and more people are accessing the internet via a mobile device. Applications like Instagram are helping drive this change. In our webinar The Evolving Customer and their need for Mobile First Commerce we talked about this shift. In the clip below one of our Experience team, Lucy Aitken discusses the shift and offers real world examples that highlight the success possible when a conscious move in design thinking is made and websites start to think about Mobile First Commerce. This is vital to the success of Instagram Shopping. The shift from application to store needs to feel seamless and having a clunky site that struggles in mobile is going to discourage users and send them back in no time at all.

 

Not convinced yet?

When it comes to Instagram, eCommerce businesses for the most part always recommend the platform. Whether you are advertising, building an audience or both – Instagram has fuelled hundreds of thousands in sales.

Just check out some of these numbers that BigCommerce put together.

800M — Number of monthly active Instagram users.

500M — Number of daily active users

Increased from 400M to 500M since March 2017

5X — Instagram growth rate compared to overall social network usage in the U.S. (Source: Inc.)

25 — Percent more likely it is that Instagram users are in the top income quartile than average Internet users. (Source: GlobalWebIndex)

5M —  Number of active Instagram business profiles (Source: Facebook)

60 — Percent of people who say they discover new products on Instagram (Source: Instagram)

70 — Percent of users who follow a business on Instagram (Source: Instagram)

75 — Percent of users who take an action after seeing a business-post (i.e. visit a website, search, shop or tell a friend) (Source: Instagram)

500,000 — Instagram advertisers (Source: Facebook)

150M— Number of daily active Instagram Stories users just 5 months after launch (Source: Instagram)

33 — Percent of the most-viewed Instagram Stories that come from business accounts (Source: Instagram)

36 — Percent of B2C brands that consider Instagram to be “very important” or “critical” to their social media marketing, compared to 13% of B2B brands (Source: Inc.)

 

Ready to take advantage of this incredible feature?

There are a couple of things that you need to do to make sure that you can get the most out of Instagram shopping.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that your website is set up to give the best possible experience on mobile. Eclipse can help with that. Our Experience team are perfectly placed to tell you what will work and what needs fixing, and our development team can step in and help fix what needs to be fixed.

Once you’ve got that right, the next step is to head to this Instagram business page and follow the setup guide, take a look at the tips and then start promoting your products on Instagram. You’ll be glad you did.

And if you need to convince someone in your business this is the right thing to do, take a look at these results and case studies that BigCommerce put together. It should be everything you need to convince key stakeholders it is the right thing to do.


Think outside the box

Time to Think “out of the box”

As testers, our passion for quality and taking pride in our work can sometimes be seen to conflict with other project priorities, like the need to deliver at pace, and to rapidly adapt to change. As I alluded to in my last blog, technology is changing so quickly that there is no longer a one size fits all testing approach; no two platforms are the same, and no two customers are the same. At Eclipse, while we have a defined test strategy and some core testing processes on which we base our approach, there is often a need to tailor the way we work.

I was recently discussing the importance of testing Magento Commerce, and the differences in approach to other platforms, when I was asked a question which I was very familiar with; “If we’re taking a platform that is fully tested out of the box, and we’re plugging in already tested extensions, then why do we even need testing in Magento Commerce projects?”

And this is a question that not only applies to this product, but other products or platforms which are sold as fully tested core packages. So why should we test something which is “out of the box”? Great question!

 

What does “Out of the Box” even mean?

Out of the box is a term that is “used to refer to the immediate usability or functionality of a newly purchased product, typically an electronic device or a piece of software.” So by this definition, it’s understandable that people would question why it would need an additional level of testing, but let’s think about a real life example.

 

Building from the ground up…

Let’s consider a scenario where you are investing in a new build home. You have secured your plot, seen your house plans and visited the show home. You have specified all your extra requirements in terms of materials, fixtures and fittings and you wait eagerly for the build to be completed. You are likely to visit throughout the build process to see progress, discuss any issues or changes as they arise, but you are dependent on your contractors to carry out all build work for you to a high standard.

Let’s assume for example that you have selected a standard bathroom suite but opted for a different model or brand of electric shower to those usually recommended. Before you come to move in, you are relying on your appliances to have been installed and confirmed as working. If at the point you come to use your new shower and find that it is working but there’s only cold water coming out of it, you become the person triaging defects to get them resolved.

The point here is that installing a shower is in theory low risk because hey, it’s a shower, we install them all the time, right? It’s only when you come to use it that you find something doesn't work due to a fault with either that specific product, or how it is installed in that particular setting, that you're then going to have cold showers to look forward to when you get the keys!

If you’d have had the option to have some additional testing done to guarantee that everything has been installed properly, is working as expected "out of the box" and fully meets your requirements, would you? You are likely to say yes to gain some additional confidence in your investment and more importantly peace of mind on move-in day.

 

How does this apply to Digital Testing?

In the Magento Commerce example, we offer development services that help clients to get set up with the core product, plus combinations of extensions from varying sources that are specific to the client and their use cases. This development also then includes elements such as data feeds and additional configuration that begins to take the standard Magento product and turns it into one that meets your requirements.  Testing here plays a vital role in verifying these requirements have been met, confirming that your now customised product does what you need it to.

As pointed out in the real-life example, the same applies. If you just install an extension into Magento and assume it’ll work as expected (because of course the extension has been tested before it is released to market) things will be great. Potentially it will and as before, the water will come out, but most of the time it’s not always possible to check every possible scenario due to time or budget constraints. Unfortunately, in the world of testing, we see that a lot of the time basic requirements are not met where things are left to assumptions. Ensuring there is a good solid test strategy defined means that things don’t get left to chance, leaving you with a shock when things go live. We build confidence in quality and reduce these risks throughout your build process.

It also allows you to get into the minds of your core users, which can be defined by identifying your user personas, as Lucy in our Experience team has identified in her post.

So, before you start to cut down your testing scope, here are some points you should think about if you are asked to reconsider your approach:

  • Any customisation or change to the standard configuration (no matter how big or small) is a change to what is tested “out of the box”.
  • Testing for base or core product packages focuses only on sample use cases – not real-life scenarios specific to those of your business or your customers.
  • Data can impact the way a system behaves, especially in terms of presentation of data, data validation rules and performance.
  • Configuration is always different depending on the client, industry, use case, and even within the same industry no two clients will be the same.

If you’re struggling to define your test approach, why not talk to us? We’re here to advise and guide you on how you can give the right things the right level of testing focus to make sure quality is not compromised.


Blog image

Ecommerce Statistics You Need To Know In 2021

Last year changed the role of eCommerce in our lives forever and as we move into the second month of 2021, we’re still living in a world where for many, eCommerce is the only way to get what they need for their day to day lives.

Even after things start to return back to ‘normal’ there is little doubt that the role of eCommerce in our every day will be vital and for those who operate in the retail space, in any way, are going to become more dependent on it to remain successful.

We only have to look at the most recent acquisitions of both Debenhams and the hero brands of Arcadia including Top Shop, Top Man and Miss Selfridge by online-only businesses BooHoo and ASOS to see that the future for many is online.

But with most things, there is a need to stay at the leading edge of innovation and eCommerce is no different. Peoples buying habits are changing and the shifts mean that what was once a great digital storefront my start to develop ‘issues’ for shoppers and it is the job of the retailer to know the market and innovate to keep its customers coming back.

Some of these changes might be minor and other might need a little more work but to be able to know which are the areas you should be looking it first you need to know how the habits are shifting.

In that vein, we’ve pulled together some of the insights we’ve discovered that we think you need to know in 2021. These will help you in planning your strategy for this year and once you’ve got a good idea of what you need to do, we’re here to help. Just reach out to us and we can work together to drive continued success for your business.

Click on the image of the eBook below and give it a read.


Are you putting ‘Digital Excellence’ high on your list of priorities?

Are you putting ‘Digital Excellence’ high on your list of priorities?

Just so we’re clear, you absolutely should be. Among many things that retailers need to put at the top if their list, digital excellence has very quickly become one of the highest and is certainly non-negotiable.

In an article written by Noel Wurst and published on Total Retail, he says that Digital Excellence “enables your online visitors to be delighted by how easily they were able to accomplish a task or complete a transaction on your website and/or application.” He goes on to explain that “The term is highly subjective due to the endless number of tasks that your customers or potential customers may come to your website expecting to be able to accomplish. Maybe they’re just looking for pricing or sizing information. Maybe they need to track an existing order or chat with support. Maybe you need to make sure they know about a new promotional discount, rewards program, or payment options. Today’s successful retailers are making sure their online properties leave their customers impressed enough to return, and to encourage others in their personal and social networks to do the same.”

At Eclipse we could not agree more. We’ve been talking about this for years and have built a team of experts whose very job it is to make this happen for our clients. It is so important to us that we believe any change, adaption or optimisation made to your website or strategy should be considered from the point of view of the customer first and foremost. If it doesn’t make it an easier and more enjoyable experience for them, why are you doing it?

The importance of getting this stuff right just can’t be overestimated. As we find ourselves still in a national lockdown with retail shuttered and little choice but to head online, customers are doing just that. And as you would imagine, the world is their oyster and the options they have when it comes to spending money are seemingly endless. What makes them spend the money, return to purchase again and even head to social to refer the business, is their experience.

 

Understanding the customer expectation.

We’re a fickle bunch whose patience has gotten shorter and expectations have gotten bigger. Whether we’re retailers or just straight up customers we all buy things and we all have the same standards when it comes down to it.

As Wurst puts it “Every time we interact with a website or application, we expect the world. No matter what browser we’re using, or what tablet or mobile device is in our hands, we expect to be able to find exactly what we’re looking for, that images will render beautifully, that pages will load, payments will process quickly, and that we can quickly get on our way. And, thanks to plenty of companies that are currently delivering digital excellence, we expect every company to do the same.”

And if you think you’re somehow excluded from this requirement, you’re not. “Whether we’re online to purchase nails and screws, adorable cupcakes, or a high-end sports car, our expectations are the same. No retailer is spared from this requirement to delight us, as consumers, in every interaction.” Wurst points out. “The retailers achieving the most success today understand the importance of not just meeting these expectations but exceeding them.”

 

What is the risk of ignoring Digital Excellence?

As you’d probably imagine low conversion rates, lack of return visits, low revenue generation from the website are just as few, but Wurst has an interesting take on the ultimate risk and we tend to agree with his assessment.

“I would argue that it’s the threat of a loss of trust that best summarizes the importance of what we’re talking about here. We don’t tend to befriend, recommend, share our personal data with, or conduct business with organizations we don’t trust.”

He adds “And as much as it might seem like slow-loading pages, crashed websites, missing images, and broken buttons are everyday occurrences, there are innovative technologies out there that eliminate these threats — and the threat of lost market share that comes with them.”

 

Here’s how to mitigate the risk

As we mentioned before, this is an area that Eclipse is an expert in. We’ve been doing it a long time and we’ve worked with some very big names in the world of retail and continue to do so.

We’re using the technologies that Wurst talked about and combining it with our years of experience to offer our clients an unparalleled level of insight, support and optimisation in this space. All you need to do is decide how important it is to you and the future of your business and if you think we’ll be able to help.

Come talk to us, it costs nothing, and we can talk you through what we’ve done for businesses like yours. Together we can develop a plan to get you delivering Digital Excellence every time and then you can decide if you would like some help putting it into action.


Man sitting at laptop

What Does 2021 Have Instore For Retail

In an article released by IGD last week they highlighted key trends they thought would ‘shape global retail in 2021’ and having had a look through them, we tend to agree.

‘Driving online profitability, creating safe shopping spaces, and bringing the out-of-home experience in-home’ were among them and in this post, we’re going to take a closer look at some of them identified as ‘stand out’ for businesses to focus on this year.

 

System upgrade: digitally enhancing operations

The pandemic created an acceleration of the shift toward a digitally focused economy and 2021 is set to continue this shift. As Head of Innovation and Futures at IGD, Toby Pickard put it “The pandemic has accelerated retailers and shoppers’ digital awareness and capabilities. Numerous companies have been testing and learning from new digital initiatives, and in 2021 companies will need to move beyond this to improve and implement at scale. Digital transformation will require new leadership and a fresh cultural mindset as companies create flexible and agile ways of working.”

Embracing this change and adapting to it is what is required of businesses in 2021. IGD broke the 3 areas within this trend down to:

  • Introduction of digital technologies that have a low capital investment and are easy to update
  • Partnerships with third-party technology providers to speed up new tech introduction
  • More use of machine learning and artificial intelligence at store level to drive revenue and increase customer satisfaction

 

Escalating ecommerce: driving online and profitability

Every single person has been in the crosshairs of this during 2020 and now even into 2021. Lockdown followed by lockdown has left retailers and shoppers alike with very little option but to venture into the world of shopping online. Multiple reports have indicated that the shift towards shopping online has been brought forward by at least five years.

When looking at this trend specifically Toby Pickard said: “With many shoppers using the channel for their large weekly shop, we have seen retailers focus on enhancing the pickup, or click and collect, experience to help improve profitability. This has included adding more collection slots, expanding order staging areas and parking bays and ensuring a contactless experience. While the initial surge is receding, online penetration is expected to remain at a higher level, compared to pre-crisis.”

We see this happening across all of retail, not just the food industry. Having the capability to allow for click and collect my just be the thing that helps bricks and mortar stores survive. People will inevitably continue to lean on online first as a way to discover new products but having an option to either have it delivered or collected in a store may give you what you need to stand out amongst your competitors.

IGD broke the 3 areas within this trend down to:

  • Retailers seeking to reduce their overall operating costs to accommodate online, improving processes and automation
  • Encouraging shoppers towards click and collect
  • Retailers assessing the options for rapid delivery, for example the same day or in a few hours

 

Holistic health: supporting health and wellness

The pandemic has brought home the seriousness of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and it is easy to see why this is going to be a trend that grows in 2021.

Eco-concise retail was a big trend in 2020 and the desire to reduce your impact on the environment was a lifestyle that started to gain traction. 2021 sees this go one step further and consumers are looking inward at what they need to do for themselves, as well as keeping their carbon footprint at the forefront of their decisions.

As Toby Pickard puts it “Health and wellness naturally became more important to everyone in 2020. We saw a wide range of activities from retailers as they aimed to encourage healthier lifestyles. We will see more retailers educating, informing and rewarding shoppers for living healthier lives. Companies will look to champion both their health and sustainability credentials, as the two key trends merge, of their existing and new products. Personal health will increase in importance, but ultimately affordability may take precedence during economic downturns.”

Bringing these credentials to the front of what you do and creating content that talks to the consumers wants and needs will help you build relationships not only with existing customers but will open you up to a new audience.

IGD broke the 3 areas within this trend down to:

  • Greater focus from shoppers on hygiene and sanitation products for individuals and the home
  • Retailers and brands trying to differentiate themselves by helping shoppers and consumers live healthier lives
  • More tailored solutions in-store, either through assistants or using digital tools like apps

 

Recuperative retail: focusing on sustainability

Climate change has been on the radar for years and years and it continues to be at the top of a lot of peoples lists. When commenting on sustainability, Toby Pickard said: “Climate change will remain a top priority in 2021, as it is recognised as the most likely source of major future disruption. While there will be much focus on how sustainability supports the climate change and resilience agendas, we will also see initiatives to build trust and loyalty with shoppers.”

Showing customers how you’re doing your bit as a business to fight climate change will inevitably help you build trust and for customers that have this as a high priority as part of their purchase decision, you’re appealing directly to their core values.

IGD broke the 3 areas within this trend down to:

  • With climate change remaining a top priority, we expect retailers globally to push ahead with initiatives to support goals in this area
  • Continued implementation globally of initiatives to reduce plastic and food waste
  • Initiatives to build trust, loyalty and better relationships with shoppers, staff and communities

 

Knowing how and where you can use these trends as part of your strategy in 2021 will help define what your success may look like during the year.

At Eclipse we have teams of experts that work on Customer Experience and Strategy and we can help you shape these trends for your business. All it takes is for you to reach out to us and we can start looking at how we can help you ensure success in 2021.

If you want to take a closer look at the release from IGD, you can head over here to check it out.


Couple working in coffee shop

The Continuing Evolution of Digital Design

Design as a whole has gone through rapid transition since the internet first came around. It’s really easy to look back and laugh at, what used to be, a playground of expression and opportunity for new sales channels without any real guidelines or understanding of users, but it was a different time. Internet speeds were much, much slower. People were still pushing the boundries of what was possible (and still are), but they were also much tighter boundries. So we thought we’d take a look back and see how a couple of the online giants did things back then, how they do it now and how design generally will likely change in the future. We will keep this pretty high level otherwise we may as well release a book.

GOOGLE

Google Beta screenshot

Everyone knows who Google are and what their core service is for now, but do you remember when Google first appeared? Firstly let’s pay attention to the fact there are so many links on the main search page in a bizarre array of turquoise boxes. We couldn’t imagine such noise on the Google homepage now, but back then, remember not many people even knew who they were so this was partly education for new users – some of which would have had very little exposure to the internet before. Clearly they’ve tried hard to further highlight the search bar with an additional grey fill behind the search bar, just in case you didn’t see it. Clearly they still had a playful side back then as they always had the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button, but realistically it doesn’t add any value other than encouraging people to search and discover more of the internet.

Also note the serif typeface – yes people still use serif fonts now and you can create some beautiful experiences with serif typography, but the selection is much larger now and screen resolutions are significantly better, but back then you didn’t have much choice. Accessibility wasn’t really ‘a mainstream thing’ when Google came about so elements like the contrast between between the link colour and the background wouldn’t have been considered anywhere near to the extent we do today.

When we look back, we should also look at their logo. The emergence of drop shadows, colour and embossing – look at all this cool stuff – let’s use it all. But to recap, as much as we can look back and laugh or cringe, this was all new technology. This was stuff no-one had seen before so it was in some ways, educating the world as to what we can do. And that’s still happening today.

If we look at Google today however, they don’t even need to establish their brand clearly – everyone knows who they are and what they do. In fact, in June 2006 ‘Google’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s true – Google it. They don’t even use consistent site branding, instead opting for abstract representations (Google Doodles) of which there are plenty. This is to both further demonstrate their creative muscle and encourage users to actually search for something they may not have considered searching. Other than that however, the page hasn’t actually changed all that much. The search bar is still the hero on the page, but you don’t need to be told what to do anymore – you just do it. Additional links have been down-weighted to the footer and other services hidden in a menu. Developments such as the integration of voice search have made an appearance and now they have user accounts that store huge amounts of data to provide more personalised experiences to users.

Google homepage 2021
Google homepage 2021
Google Doodles
Google 2020

They still have the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button which I believe is purely for nostalgic reasons. If people come to this page, they’re coming to search for something in particular – they don’t need their hand held in the process. The key difference is the education of how. Users no longer need to be told how to do the basics and the rate of learning is almost second nature too many users. It’s on this basis, that companies will inject more of their own personality and unique experiences in to their sites. Their dominance in the space is evidenced by the fact they don’t even need to show their brand anymore – their Google Doodles have become almost as synonymous as the core logo itself.

AMAZON

The behemoths of online shopping. Love it or hate it, the journey they’ve been on means they can do pretty much anything they like to their site and users will still use it. Much like Google is that dominant force in online search (although Microsoft, Apple and many others are trying to change that), they are the ‘go-to’ marketplace for many online shoppers. They are so dominant, the largest of businesses also sell via their platform due to the sheer number of users visiting their site every day. So let’s see how it’s evolved over time. As before, we’ll focus on the homepage as we could release a series of novels if we went in to too much detail.

The snapshot above is from 1999 and it looks as though the hyperlinks are partying together like it to. What started out as predominantly an online bookshop, has tried desperately hard to highlight they sell other stuff too. Links to music, clothes, software, DVD’s (anyone remember those?) were all on show to entice people into their site, but a clear lack of hierarchy makes it painfully difficult to navigate or understand what to do. Suddenly we are seeing different font weights and sizes which are starting to introduce hierarchy, but structurally it’s all over the place. The times when pages were built with tables were still rife across the internet. But wait – remember users weren’t really familiar with navigation like we are today. We see tabs, burger menus, mega menus and the like – these are second nature to us now, but back then the mainstream may have been just getting used to this. Again – as much as we can look back and cringe, Amazon were also taking the user on an educational journey. Look at all this stuff – you don’t need to leave the house to shop. The whole idea of being able to see physical products on a web page was novel, but the ability to find the products was key. Unlike Google, back then Amazon didn’t really make much of search and it was tucked away in the corner.

The use of gifs, flashes and product images starting to test your 700kbps internet connection but at the time Amazon hadn’t really understood the importance of search as much as Google. And why would they? It wasn’t their primary business, at least it ‘wasn’t’.

Now let’s look at Amazon today.

90s screenshot of Amazon
Amazon 2020

Suddenly Search is clear and prominent right at the top of the page. They realise now that their product catalogue is so large, it would be insane to try and highlight everything to users. People want ‘stuff’, so let’s have them tell us what they’re looking for and we’ll find it. Using the analogy to their origins in books, it’s a bit like asking the librarian if they have a particular novel in. Too much choice needs some assistance. People aren’t patient – they just want to be told how to find what they want in as little time as possible. There are just as many (in fact more) links as there were 10 years ago, but now there are graphics, rich imagery, clean typography and stripped back navigation. But then that brings us to something that Amazon do particularly well – upsell, cross-sell and personalisation. Just to clarify, I’m not a big fan of Amazon. I truly believe if Amazon was created today, it would look and behave completely different. Product names are painfully worded for the search reasons and the gargantuan level of information is daunting and often hard to read. However, they have such an abundance of traffic and data, they have the luxury of running hundreds of experiments at a time, learning more and more about users every second and customising experiences to get users to spend more money faster. Go on to the site now – you’re probably seeing several experiments running at the same time.

Now we’re seeing suggested categories and products, bright vibrant offers, gift ideas, seasonal deals – the list goes on. Users know that an image will usually link to the product. We also have user generated content in the form of reviews and own images – day to day these experiences are both used and expected as a way to buy with confidence. This goes even further when you’re logged in to your account. The level of personalisation is immense from browsing history, to order status and suggested products based on your search history. There are flaws in this however – once you’ve bought a product, you don’t need 100 suggestions of the an alternative product that does the same thing.

Amazon 2020
Amazon Desktop
Amazon screenshot on Tablet
Amazon Tablet
Amazon iPhone screenshot

Then we obviously have the abundance of resolutions across mobile, tablet and desktop. Much more considered thought is now put in to how sites are designed. We wrote a piece a while ago about how users buying behaviours have changed as smartphones hit the mainstream. Desktop shopping came down, mobile shopping went up. With the current climate they are now at around 50% in terms of traffic split as more people work from home. It’s common practice now to create a responsive site that optimises the experience of mobile users. In Amazons case, they’ve done this well, but also have their own native app that ensures you can stay logged in all the time. Spending money has never actually been easier and people have built trust in these retail platforms to do that.

But to recap, as much as we can look back and laugh or cringe, this was all new technology. This was stuff no-one had seen before so it was in some ways, educating the world as to what we can do. And that’s still happening today, but expectations are higher than ever and they’ll continue to rise in the future and we can’t wait to see what’s coming next and push the boundries of the possible. The internet used to be a tool for research and very quicky, became a $3.5 trillion tool for commerce by 2019 and is expected to grow year on year.

THE FUTURE

So what about the future? It’s an old reference that’s been used for years, but the UI in Minority Report was a mind blowing example of how people saw the future of digital interfaces. But let’s be real about this – we spend hours in front of screens every day. There’s no way we’re going to spend this time flailing our arms round to move files or design. Having said that, maybe you have arms of steel, but I believe you would get very tired of it very quickly. So it’s more about evolving UI in to more delightful experiences – I’m sure there will be many more iterations of the examples mentioned above. Creating more immersive experiences and taking advantage of newer technologies such as Augmented Reality, AI and new hardware such as Lidar that is now becoming more and more mainstream with consumer hardware brands.

Online will continue to grow – especially in the current climate and if you’re relying on riding it out or copying a competitor, you will be taking a significant risk. Having your own identity. Making your online sales process as painless as possible. Delighting users with the latest and greatest technology. These are all things that will help build your base and increase loyalty, so don’t leave it too late – your competitors are acting now and you should be too.

SO WHAT ABOUT DESIGN?

Design is obviously a very personal area for everyone. We have our likes, we have our dislikes, there are trends and there are bends (I needed a rhyming word, but I’m referring to slight deviations of trends). When we look at the examples above we can see people were still finding their way, but information was still the king of the swing. Now however, with new technologies, faster speeds, better hardware and higher expectations, simply accessing the information is not enough. The overall experience will have a significant impact on users perceptions of your business, so it needs very careful consideration.

One of the classic references is that of the abundance of skeumorphism. This was the art of making user interfaces look like real world objects. A clock looked like a real clock. A dial looked like something you’d see on a console. This came around with the release of the original iPhone and allowed designs to flex some serious creative muscle. Painstakingly crafting highly detailed icons and textures to the finest degree. At the time, it was great – it was beautiful. However this came to an end as users became more familiar with using these digital interfaces. Suddenly there was no real need to visualise so explicitly what a note file was.

Skeumorphic example
Image source dtelepathy.com

Then came the flat design revolution. Flat design came in and it came in with a bang. Big, bold colours in giant blocks. Regimented grid systems, no shadows or gradients. Just big, solid colour. The problem was that this definitely more of a trend. Suddenly everyones site looked the same and compromised on usability. Nothing really stood out and the overall experience is what I would refer to as ‘beige’. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few out there that did it well, but they were few and far between and I’m kind of glad to see this one fading away. 

Even Apple went all-in on flat for a while in what was quite a uncharacteristically poor design choice in their main OS UI. This ultimately ended up in a very frustrating experience where there was a significant lack of visual hierarchy and hidden menus, that ultimately made the software harder to use. This was evident across lots of websites, but I’ve called this OS example out given it was such a big slip up on a large scale.

iOS settings
Image source vandelaydesign.com

As people came to this realisation, the creative minds of Google came along and introduced the world to material design. This basically took flat design, put some hierarchy and tonality around the use of colour, gradients and depth in the form of shadows (hooray). But this wasn’t like the Google shadows of old which were harsh and jarring in the UI – this was softer and easier to comprehend. Suddenly the reintroduction of depth rose from the ashes of flat design (pun intended). This too, became hugely popular and still is, but designers are now tailoring designs and lending styles together to create an identity of their own.

Material design screenshot
Image source design.google

And this brings me on to an emerging trend – neumorphism. I would personally describe this as a hybrid between neomorphism and material design. Inputs and controls are using the realistic gradients and soft shadows of skeumorphism, but with the control of execution of material design. So it’s not exactly like the real thing, but it does look like something tangible you can interact with in a more simplistic way – designed for digital interfaces.

Neumorphic example
Image courtesy of bashooka.com

As of late, a hybrid has been utilised in the latest iOS adding more depth to the UI and bringing a hint of skeumorphism, neumorphism and transparency, which has now been rolled out to their desktop OS. Personally, I like the return of more life-like and 3D elements that have been introduced but there are some parts of the UI that are arguably less accessible than before. This is a new deployment however, so I expect to see this refined and iterated on in updates over the coming months.

Before you run off and start creating everything like this however, I would err on the side of caution. This is still relatively new and it hasn’t really been refined as a style yet. In examples I’ve seen, some controls are so blended in, they suddenly become almost invisible and unusable. So this still has some way to go to be established as a good approach. Yes – we can create these beautiful UI’s and subdued environments, but we must make sure it’s used in the right way with the bold colour use of material design and the softness of neumorphism. I actually see this as an opportunity to further introduce another level of hierarchy and identity in to UI, if done in the right way.


Woman on laptop

Getting Online Will Benefit Your Business For Today And Into The Future.

As we find ourselves staring into another national lockdown, retailers are again throwing their hands in the air with frustration. No one can doubt the need for the lockdown but as a business owner whose livelihood is reliant on being able to open the front door of their store to the high street, it is not good news.

For some, there may on the surface appear to be no answer to the trouble they are facing but although the pandemic has caused disastrous changes to the world of retail, the changes have been a long time coming. Bricks and mortar retail has been facing decline for several years as people have slowly started the shift toward online shopping. The pandemic has brought this forward by about 5 years, leaving many ill-prepared for the change, but it was a change that has been coming for a while.

The good news is that there is still time to do something about it and prepare not only for now but for the coming future of retail that by all accounts is going to be fundamentally shifted toward being online. The benefits are wide-reaching and for many businesses, the sole reason they have been able to survive up till now is a direct result of their being able to continue to sell online and whilst able, to give customers the option to click and collect.

Here are some of the benefits as we see them and we’re sure, you’ll agree that building a digital home for your business will be an important step in securing the future of the business.

 

  1. Lower overall running costs that also won’t add huge dependencies to the bottom line

By comparison and in most cases, running an online store will cost far less to set up and operate than your traditional brick-and-mortar locations.

There are obviously still costs involved. Website hosting, website domain ownership, digital marketing, payment solutions and potential platform fees (if selling through a platform like Shopify, Etsy or Ebay). You’ll also want to outsource things like website development as well as potentially brand creation, marketing strategy, photography, and copywriting, depending on the maturity of your business.

If your product or business is completely new to the market or this is your first foray into retail, starting out online is a great way to do some test trading in a relatively low-pressure environment, but it could also work as a pop-up for an existing business. Nothing is saying that you need to load your entire product set to a website to get started. Look at things that are new to market or are best sellers or even fall into the category of being able to be packed and shipped quickly.

And if you’re thinking that’s great but I can’t sell my products online, we would ask that you rethink that. If you think back not that many years at all, the idea of a butcher selling meat online or even the idea of buying your glasses online was inconceivable but there are many examples of businesses doing that very successfully. Heck, you can even buy a car totally online!

 

  1. You’ll be removing any kind of geographical limitation

Traditional bricks and mortar store that doesn’t sell any products online is extremely limited geographically. Even if the products are highly desirable and have a large marketing budget, they’ll can still only realistically attract customers from within a certain radius to the location of the store itself. By offering the products online, companies will benefit from being able to reach as wide a geographical area as they like – be that nationally or even globally!

And with the changes that Brexit have brought into the fold, several businesses have stopped shipping into the UK from Europe as a result of changes to requirements for VAT. There are likely businesses in the UK that can fill in the gap left by those businesses, people just need to know that you exist and being in the phone book, even in its new digital form, is not good enough.

 

  1. You’ll be able to be open for business when you like and for however long you like

Almost all online stores will involve totally automated order and payment processing, this enables customers to shop when it suits them. This makes online shopping the ultimate in convenience for both sellers and buyers.

Your customers benefit from being able to browse and shop whenever they like, and you as the business owner don’t have to drop everything to process purchases immediately, just like you’d have to do with a customer physically present in your store. Neither you nor the customer are committed to – or more importantly restricted by – set opening hours.

 

  1. The ultimate flexibility for updates, offers and changes

An online store can be updated as and when you like, at little to no expense, in most cases. Things like adding new product lines, reorganising your catalogue, or setting up a flash sale can be implemented straight away. Social and search pay-per-click campaigns can also be switched on and off in real-time with relative ease.

If you compare this type of activity to a physical shop, you’re most likely going to have to plan in advance for new product releases and sales events; sourcing in-store printed materials, making room on the shop floor to present your new or discounted products, and then there is the advertising, possibly using local publications. There’s a lot of moving parts to manage with a bricks-and-mortar shop, but with a lean, online store, you’re totally in control.

When used together, you’re able to get the offers up and running on the site whilst you’re preparing things in-store and when in lockdown, as we currently are, you’re able to be incredibly agile and compete with what competitors might be doing or even react to demand locally or nationally and capture opportunities as they’re happening.

 

  1. You’re getting access to incredible sets of analytics you might not have been able to capture before

Online stores (and indeed most websites) enable you to access a wealth of useful information. Things such as:

  • What times of the day/week/month your website is most popular?
  • How long people are spending on your website and how many pages they're visiting during their visit
  • Where your visits are coming from (e.g, search, social media, paid advertising, etc.)
  • Geographically where your site is most popular
  • Which products and pages are the most popular?
  • What times of the day/week/month you receive the most enquiries/orders
  • The types of device that people are using to visit your site (desktop, mobile or tablet)

You can also setup goals that will give you an indication of how effective elements of the website might be. For instance, creating a goal to see whenever someone clicks on a phone number or completes a contact form lets you know people are getting in touch and where they're doing it from.

This information can be used to enhance your marketing strategy and gives you a real picture of who your customers are. It enables you to target individuals with similar tastes and habits more efficiently, building your customer base and furthering your reach and even gives you information about your product set and open potential gaps you may have. Using tools like Google Analytics are invaluable to any company with a website – e-commerce or otherwise!

 

  1. Like we said before, there are virtually no limitations to what you can sell online

Regardless of what you specialise in, there is almost always a way to offer what you sell online. Whether you sell a physical product, virtual products like ebooks or music, courses, services, or consultancy, chances are there’s a way you can process orders and payments electronically, even if you need to physically deliver the service being sold.

The digital web presence will take the place of the in-store point of sale software, during the transaction phase and can even integrate with it so that it shares the information and stock levels meaning it can be managed in a single location. The type of product you sell should not be a barrier to creating an eCommerce website.

And if you sell something that can be automatically and digitally delivered like an ebook or online course, the added bonus is that you can leave it to work in the background with minimal input. These types of products are great for creating a reoccurring revenue stream for the business.

Another added benefit is the ability to create a subscription service much as Amazon has done with its subscribe and save. There are hundreds of examples where this is their primary business model and others like Gillette and Grind who have offered convenience to their customers by dropping products through their customer's letterboxes regularly and created a stream of revenue which has for all intense and purposes has been sold once via a concerted marketing effort and now continues to deliver revenue into the business, supplementing their other business activity.

In almost all cases, it is more cost-effective to sell to an existing customer than it is to try and acquire new ones. The website makes it easier for customers to manage their subscriptions and you can get on with working on your business.

 

  1. Do you sell a niche product? You should already be online.

If your product is in any way unconventional or niche, selling online may be the most effective way to do business and it will definitely support your existing bricks and mortar business. When people are looking for something unusual or specific, and to be perfectly honest nowadays almost anything at all, they look online first rather than by walking up and down a high street.

There is a strong possibility that certain niche products could overlap well with the needs of specialist communities which are already highly active online. Engaging with these groups in the place they ‘hang out’, pointing them in the right direction toward your digital shopfront, may prove beneficial when done correctly.

Hopefully, you can now see the overwhelming benefits that taking your business online can bring for you. It won’t be a silver bullet with a guarantee for success but ignoring it and choosing to ‘bury your head in the sand’ may just be a death nail.

 

We’re here to help

We’ve been building digital experiences for a long time and we pride ourselves on making them beautifully simple.

We unlock your trading potential, creating and supporting beautifully simple sites that are functionally rich and continually perform way above expectations.

Our clients enjoy seamless access to the best analysts, experts and technical resources in the sector. We’re proud of what we do and we’re incredibly good at it (and it’s not just us saying that).

Our Experience team works with clients every day to test their sites and work to create a better conversion rate for them.

We’ve got specialist teams that advise and then action Design, UX & UI for your digital storefront. We’ve also got geniuses to work with you on how to drive brand engagement, solicit positive sentiment, strengthen your content marketing, SEO & PPC.

Reach out to us and we can discuss how we can help you move with the shift change, maximise the opportunity and support you and help make sure that your business lives long into the future. No matter your size or specific industry vertical, our mission is to see you succeed.


2020 fridge magnets

Our Top 5 Posts from 2020

2020 is behind us and the new year has begun but we thought we'd take one last look back at our Top 5 posts from our blog. We wrote a lot of different kinds of articles over the year from opinion pieces on the industry to guides on how to get the most out of your digital store front with design and CRO and these 5 are the posts that users were drawn to and spent the most time with.

Here is our Top 5.

 

AR & Furniture Retail | A match made in heaven? We Think So.

Read Post

 

 

Is Magento a good choice to launch your first online store?

Read Post

 

 

 

The ROI of UX & why not investing in it is a huge problem for you.

Read Post 

 

 

What it a User Journey Map?

Read Post

 

 

 

Testing in testing times

Read Post

 

 

 

We hope you enjoyed our posts and insights in 2020 and that you'll be joining us again this years as we've got even more great stuff planned.


Man on mobile

Why You Should Be Designing For Mobile And How To Do It

This is a follow-up blog from the latest Webinar done in partnership with SAP, The Evolving Customer and their need for Mobile First Commerce. You can register to watch the webinar as an On-demand recording here to see Lucy present the information along with a demo of SAP’s latest platform, SAP Upscale, that puts Mobile First Commerce at the heart of every interaction and offers an experience, unlike others.


We’ll take a look at why you should be focusing your website designs on a mobile-first approach. What the benefits are of doing this and some practical steps you can implement on your website today.

 

Why focus on mobile

To put it simply most people are accessing your website through their mobile phone. Smartphones were first introduced to the public back in 2007. Since the first iPhone hit the UK shelves there has been a steady increase in people accessing the internet on these devices. The graph below shows this trend in the UK. In October 2019 mobile usage overtook desktop for the first time and despite Covid sending everyone indoors mobile usage is still up on the year before. This trend is even more obvious globally where mobile overtook desktop back in 2016.

The reason for their popularity is that they are so versatile. We’re now able to have a computer with us all the time and can play games, browse the internet and go shopping all while sitting on the bus. It’s estimated that 95% of UK households have a smartphone. Being able to use a smartphone to take high-quality photos and share them instantly with your friends on social media has also made them wildly popular. Instead of carrying around a camera, all you need is your mobile. Smartphones are cheaper and more portable than a desktop so it’s no surprise that fewer people have been accessing the internet through a traditional desktop computer.

 

Other benefits

Since mobile takes up the majority of the market share Google ranks for mobile-friendliness. Since 2017 Google has been using mobile-first indexing this means that Google will look at the mobile version of your website for indexing and ranking. If you want your website to rank highly on Google, and let’s face it who wouldn’t, you need to make sure the mobile version of your site is designed well and meeting Google’s criteria.

Adobe discovered that companies with mobile-optimized sites triple their chances of increasing the mobile conversion rate to 5% or above. It’s a no brainer good mobile design increases conversion.

 

Success story

Sincerely Nude was founded by London based Michelle Asare in 2018. She noticed that she could never find any nude clothing close to her skin tone. This realisation became a frustration. She has always loved fashion and wanted to be part of the change she wanted to see in the world. Sincerely Nude aims to empower women to feel beautiful and sexy in their skin tone no matter what shade or size.

In an interview with Below the fold, Asare explains that having used Instagram as a personal account she began to study how businesses of all sizes used the platform as a marketing tool. From here she launched the clothing brand and eCommerce site and it picked up in just a few days after they launched. Through great product development and a killer Instagram strategy they now have a following of 16,700. Michelle estimates that 70% of her customers are driven by Instagram traffic. Since Instagram is almost exclusively used on the mobile app all of those customers are viewing her website on a mobile. So, it was important for the brand to have a seamless mobile experience. By harnessing the power of social media Michelle was able to drive traffic and sales through her website. A great success story for a business in its first 2 years of operating.

 

Designing for mobile

Now we've looked at why it’s so important to have a great mobile website let’s get to the nitty-gritty of how you can improve your site for mobile. Despite the upward trend for mobile people are slow to change and are still designing for desktop.

 

The old way – Graceful Degradation

Responsive web design has become the norm. Creating designs that can be resized to suit any screen size. This ideology is known as graceful degradation it is where all the details and complexities are added to a website for the desktop. Once you have the complex version of the design the features are stripped away to suit a mobile screen. The problem with this is that often the most important features and content get muddled together. This can result in the most important information and priorities of the website for the user on a mobile device to be lost.

 

The new way – Progressive enhancement

The future is mobile-first. This is because that’s where most people will be accessing your site from so they must get the best possible experience when they do. This is why you should move to the progressive enhancement method where you start with mobile and scale-up. By starting the design process with mobile then upscaling to larger devices it makes sure that the key information is presented to the user.

 

How we interact with mobiles

We interact with mobile devices differently to desktops instead of a mouse and cursor we use our fingers and thumbs. These are larger surface areas so we must increase the size of clickable elements and increased the space between them. As a rule, 30px or 7mm is the minimum height you should be looking at for a button for example. Any bigger than this then you may have to compromise other areas of the design and any increase in size after this has little impact on missed taps. The graph below shows the number of missed taps compared to the target size.

(ux.stackexchange.com)

These touchpoints should be within the parts of the screen that is most accessible known as the ‘Thumb zone’. Particularly if they require additional interactions like swiping. This diagram shows the easiest areas for people to reach. Keep this in mind when thinking of placement of CTA and add to cart buttons.

 

Image Credit (smashingmagazine.com)

 

Mobile-only features

Mobile phones have a great advantage over the desktop because they have a built-in camera. This feature opens up so many opportunities that can’t be recreated on a desktop. That means there's the potential to have a mobile experience that’s even better than desktop.

Search by photo – With this feature users can take a photo on their mobile and upload it straight into a search which will return visually similar product images. The eliminates the need for typing and lets users snap a picture of items they like while they’re out and about.

Card scanning – This is used for capturing card details which is a big pain point for users and can be a big sticking point in the checkout flow. This is a way to alleviate this frustration, instead of having to manually type out 16 digits the camera on the phone can scan the details and enter them automatically.

Augmented Reality – Plenty of big brands are starting to make use of AR to show products in consumers in their real-life environment. For example, with Ikea place, you can see how a table would size in your own kitchen. This isn’t just for large companies either with solutions like Eclipse’s Ares AR solution it’s possible to implement it on your own site.

 

Practical solutions you can implement to improve your UX/UI

  • Keep only the most important information. This is probably the most important thing to consider when designing for mobile. Without the luxury of space, you must keep only the most important information that the user needs to complete the journeys on your site.
  • Don’t be afraid of a scroll. It may be tempting to hide away content in carousels and accordions to fit everything nicely into the small screen. In doing this you create more work for the user by increasing the number of actions they need to take to get the information they want, that’s if they find it at all. Instead, make use of vertical scroll people have become accustomed to scrolling to find the information that they want so having it open and accessible by only a scroll away will come naturally to users getting them to where they want to be as quickly as possible.
  • Think about where your site will be accessed. If people are on the bus on a train or out and they may have poor connectivity to the internet. People will still expect a fast-loading time. By focusing on designing/developing for 3G by default you make sure you’re still providing a great experience when connectivity is limited.
  • Make use of mobile devices native UI for example date pickers. These are familiar to people as they use them daily.
  • When there is a form field that requires an input with numbers use the numerical keyboard. This will prevent mistyping and allow people to fill out the form more quickly.
  • Integrate Apple/Google Pay in the checkout. These stop the users having to enter their card and shipping details making the checkout experience seamless and easy for users. They also have the added benefit of additional security and are easy to set up.

 

Final thought

Mobile phones aren’t going anywhere so businesses must adapt to the ever-changing market. I hope you found this article useful and that you have taken away some useful tips for designing for mobile. If you’d like more advice on optimising your mobile experience contact us, we’d be happy to help.