E-commerce has one of the most tangible relationships between the user experience (UX) and a brand’s success, with a seamless journey leading to higher conversion rates and a healthier bottom line. Leading online retailers such as Apple, Amazon, Sephora, and HSN all provide their customers with an experience that makes it easier to purchase from their websites. And what drives great UX? Great user research.
User research is essential for creating exceptional UX by providing insights into each shopper’s needs, wants, and behaviors. By continuously collecting and assessing user data, digital retailers can make informed decisions, leading to a more intuitive, enjoyable, and effective online shopping experience that transforms visitors into loyal customers. However, embarking on user research can feel overwhelming. Where does one begin? Do you start with interviews? Market assessments? Personas? What information do you already have, and what key details do you still need to gather?
Fear not, friends! We’ve developed a framework for planning your focus areas in the user research process, including insights from our Design Director, Alec Phelps, that will enable you to:
- easily audit areas of strength and areas of opportunity in your current knowledge base;
- identify the highest-value time investments for your team; and
- optimize your retail e-commerce solution preparation process.
Use this guide as a roadmap to make user research a manageable and compelling tool to boost revenue and customer satisfaction. Let’s begin!
The USE Research Planning Method
At Granify, we refer to this framework as USE: User > Store > Ecosystem.
Since the goal is to focus your research efforts, USE is visualized as a target. Because the end user’s needs drive any design decisions, they’re kept at the core of the system. From there, the Store and Ecosystem make up the middle and outer rings. If desired, each ring can be segmented into quantitative and qualitative halves to gain a deeper understanding of customer behavior and preferences. This dual approach also provides a more holistic view of the customer experience that creates a more nuanced understanding of customer behavior, leading to more effective strategies and a better overall shopping experience.
Here are some examples of quantitative and qualitative analysis, and why each are so valuable:
Quantitative Analysis Examples
- Data-Driven Insights: Analyzes numerical data, such as sales figures, conversion rates, and website traffic, which provides objective insights into customer behavior and helps identify patterns, trends, and areas of opportunity.
- Conversion Funnel Analysis: Examines the stages customers go through, from browsing to purchasing, helping identify where potential customers drop off so you can optimize the user journey and increase conversion rates.
- Product Performance Metrics: Studies the performance of individual products, including best-sellers and underperformers, which can inform inventory management, marketing strategies, and product development.
Qualitative Analysis Examples
- User Feedback: Collects and analyzes customer reviews and sentiments for insights into preferences and pain points, which can help enhance product offerings and overall satisfaction.
- User Testing: Observes visitors interacting with the website or app for in-depth insights into usability issues, areas for improvement, and overall UX.
- Social Media Monitoring: Looks over social media platforms for mentions, comments, and discussions related to your online store, which can help identify trends, determine brand perception, and understand customer opinions in real time.
Alec says separating data into quantitative and qualitative groupings helps paint a clearer picture of how users are interacting with your current site, and can identify what additional information might still be required. “Quantitative data tells us what actions users are taking, while qualitative data tells us why those actions are being taken,” he explains. “Labeling data into these two distinct groups shows us what data we have and if there are gaps that need to be filled.”
Now that we understand that better, let’s move on to the actual framework, beginning with the Ecosystem.
Outer Ring: The Ecosystem
The ecosystem refers to the high-level aspects of the retail environment you are designing for: the vertical, the economy, buyer attitudes, and any e-commerce trends that may impact the world that your store and customers inhabit. This is also where you can conduct market research to identify key competitors to reveal opportunities for differentiation.
This layer of the target is the broadest in scope and generally offers the easiest immediate access to research materials. Valuable information can be gathered at this stage from credible research aggregators such as eMarketer and Statista (though a subscription may be required for more in-depth insights).
Middle Ring: The Store
Store-level research involves digging into the product, the pricing model, your brand, your marketing efforts, and any other initiatives that could impact your users’ experience across channels. This can include everything from what makes your online store unique, to how your checkout process is performing, to where your online traffic is coming from.
When researching your own store, it is crucial to leverage experts in your organization who touch a range of aspects of the business (finance, merchandising, marketing, IT, and more). If you’re already involved in these areas, all the better. If not, go in with a clear understanding of what you need to know to optimize the time of the team members who will be collaborating with you.
Alec tells us that while this ring is focused on your online platform, to remember, it still comes down to the customers. “There are plenty of tests that can be utilized at this stage to improve the user experience.”
His top recommendations?
- Usability Testing: Observes users as they interact with your website to identify issues and ensure that the user experience evolves based on real user insights.
- Heatmaps: Provide insights into which areas of the website users focus on the most, so you can optimize the layout for better engagement
- Card Sorting: Help organize and structure the content on the website by making sure the navigation is intuitive and aligns with users' thought process
- A/B Testing: Compares different versions of a webpage, page element, or product to show which resonates with users better
The Center of It All: The User
We place the user at the center of this target because they should be at the core of all of your UX decisions.
This level of research at this stage can often be the most intense and requires some practice to gain comfort with. But the rewards are worth it, as direct user research is where you’ll gain the information that allows you to create the best possible experience for every shopper.
“The first step is truly understanding your target audience,” says Alec. “Figure out their pain points and preferences, and you’ll be able to create a more engaging and tailored user experience.”
We asked Alec to give us his top three tips for getting the most out of your research in this ring of the framework and here’s what he suggested:
- Detailed Buyer Personas: Based on research findings that Encompass the characteristics, preferences, and challenges of your ideal customers. “Just remember, your online shoppers are actual people, not a persona,” he reminds us.
- User Interviews: To learn more about their goals, desires, and obstacles in shopping online. “It can also give you a great opportunity to discover how your customers feel about the existing flow of your website and the feeling they have while there,” Alec reveals.
- Customer Surveys: To gather specific feedback on products, website usability, and overall customer experience. “This is a great tool for collecting quantitative data on user behaviors so you can better understand customer preferences at scale,” says Alec.
Putting It All Together
Having the USE framework is a valuable tool for sorting through user research–and knowing where to begin, but our design guru didn’t want to leave you there. Here are four final tips he says will help you make the most out of your user research.
Tip #1: Define your objectives.
“In practice, taking data from user research and turning it into actionable insights can be tricky,” admits Alec. “User research can be extremely helpful when there is a clearly defined goal that the data will help us achieve. This way, we can focus the research toward these specific areas and read the story that the data is telling us–which will help us expand our research efforts for greater success.”
Tip #2: Analyze and integrate your findings.
“Look for patterns and trends, along with any pain points or areas where your e-commerce brand could excel,” suggests Alec. “This way, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions.”
Tip #3: Iterate and test.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep testing and refining your strategies,” Alec asserts. “Delivering a great user experience is an ongoing process that will always need to evolve with the needs and demands of your customers.”
Tip #4: Utilize AI and machine learning.
“I swear I’m not suggesting this just because I’m surrounded by this every day,” Alec jokes. “These tools truly give you the upper hand by providing valuable real-time insights you might not have otherwise. They’re a game changer in delivering the customer experiences shippers want.”
Final Thought with Alec Phelps
“The world of online retail moves so fast that it’s impossible to fill every gap every time. What you can do with this framework is move fast, knowing that you spent your valuable research time on the most important opportunities for your shoppers. Plot the pieces of information you already have on the appropriate level of the target. Split the target into quantitative and qualitative halves to hone in on where you need to bolster your efforts most. And finally, remember that we aren’t always going to be able to know everything. Take the time to study what leading user experiences look like across all industries, and pair it with your own data to find solutions. And never forget who you’re doing this for–it’s the customers, always.”
Granify is a leader in gathering real-time user data to deliver personalized experiences that delight customers from first visit to post-purchase. Curious about what we can do to help you make the most out of your customer data? We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have!
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