At the ECAI March 2017 Post-peak planning event we ran a series of expert-led roundtables where attendees could discuss issues and opportunities with consultants in Law, Logistics, User Experience, Payments, Marketing, Platforms, exporting, and Operations. In this article, Dr. Ultan Sharkey, Online Shopping Expert and Co-founder of the ECAI talks about the topics that were popular at the User Experience table.

The ECAI Post peak event was held in the historic Dublin City Hall, which provided an appropriate and beautiful backdrop for our roundtables. At the Consumer & User Experience table we first talked about problems that some attendees were having with navigation. When you're presenting a large catalogue of products it can be difficult to present menu systems that display all categories so that your full set of products can be navigated to quickly. I spoke about Miller's Law which determined the limits of human short term memory as a useful benchmark for limiting the numbers of links you might present in a navigation system. Miller's works talks about the number 7 (± 2) as an average limit of the number of items we can keep in short term memory. In detail, it's much more complex than that but this is a useful indicator for managing the upper limits of the number of navigation items in a menu system. Even though your online shop may boast millions of products across thousands of categories, you need not display every category or even every top-level category on your main shop menu. Displaying the top-level 5 to 9 most requested categories, most profitable, or highest volume can leave the system much more usable without cluttering up the design and visual appeal. Additional strategies include displaying sub-categories, again limiting to 7 as far as is practical, within a sidebar once the user has already navigated into a top-level category, and/or using dropdown sub-menus off a main menu, again being cognisant of the number of items you are presenting at any single point along the way.

The discussion segued into the area of merchandising within an online shop, and we talked through the typical and more innovative features that some online shop sofware have for presenting products and categories along the customer journey. Typically the frontpage has a series of spaces to promote products and categories of products, and the choices you make to determine which from your catalogue are promoted in these limited spaces is a decision not dissimilar to physical merchandising in a shop. Seasonal, high-margin or high-volume items are typically presented here and it's worth noting that generally in western thinking, the customers attention moves in order from the top left of a screen to the bottom right. Various other innovations are now appearing which can help draw interest toward products or categories presented; such as CSS3 animated transitions, which might provide some subtle animation or brighten a product image on a mousever to draw specific attention to it.

Ecommerce Association of Ireland Consumer Experience Roundtable

We talked through the checkout navigation for shops with different consumer behaviours, and options for speeding up the customer journey after a buy decision has been made, most notably one-page checkouts. Online shops where a typically basket consists of one item should consider ending the customer straight to the checkout at the add to cart point, whereas a shop that sees multiple products in a single order is much better off showing their customers that they have successfully added an item to the cart before returning them to the category or item they last viewed. Elements that can be vital to a neat customer experience in a checkout include offering multiple shipping options, alternate shipping address (vs. billing address), multiple payment options, and the option to checkout as guest available all on a single screen without overloading the customer with too many options at once. The advent of AJAX based one-page checkouts has greatly increased the usability in checkouts of this type where for example we can hide the alternate shipping address until a consumer chooses they want to ship to a different address, or dynamically reloading shipping costs based on the county or country chosen in the address area.

We delved into many more topics at the user experience table and quality of discussion was excellent. I'm delighted to have been able to present practical solutions and advice to the attendees. 

- Ultan.


Dr. Ultan Sharkey runs Sharkey Consulting, specialising in ecommerce for online shops and membership business models.