The edge in eCommerce: emotion


We've written a lot about eCommerce here at cxpartners. Chui Chui has written about the best product page designs. James about the importance of the right imagery and Chris has designed a beautiful and usable product page for next month's .net magazine. Walt has talked about product reviews and eCommerce

You'd think we'd covered everything off. Well let me tell you we haven't. We're here to talk about the tricky subject of feelings.

As eCommerce matures we're seeing growth slow and the edge that UX to offer has shifted. More and more retailers are getting the basic nuts and bolts right. Clear pricing, straight forward calls to action, bulleted feature lists. Nothing new to savvy eCommerce types.

Where's the advantage now days?

If everybody is getting it right how come some are more successful than others?

In a word. Emotion. When contemplating purchasing a product, be it a hotel room, a new mobile phone, a shirt, whatever, people asses things in two broad categories of facets. The first category we know well. Price, dimensions, delivery, size, features; simple, easy to quantify rational facets. This is the stuff that is easy to design for. It's easy to add to a CMS. It's easy to gather the content. This is the bit most retailers are getting right. There was a time when this wasn't the case. Searching for postage/shipping costs used to be a chore. Not any more. There's little advantage in the rational side of commerce these days.

Let's talk feelings

In business and to a greater extent in IT we avoid talking emotion. Hard to quantify and thus to measure. The very intangible nature of emotion meant it was easy to ignore. Google Analytics doesn't have a feelings metric.

If emotion is not tangible how do we design for it? It seems that emotional content has been creeping into eCommerce. The smart chap James Chudley, who sits opposite me talks about imagery. Good quality, useful pictures convey emotion.

Let's take an example of a TV. TVs are pretty tough things to sell. The purchase of electronics online is showing zero growth in Europe and the US.

A look around the major vendors of TVs online and if we remove shop branding shows they are all the same. The same images, the same dull rational facets like screen size, dimensions, meaningless acronyms. Nothing is different, well except the price. In a rational world customers judge on rational facets like price. If you aren't the cheapest why would I choose to buy from you? In short a rush to the bottom.

Let's look at how it could be.

Customer reviews have been shown to increase conversion and sell more online. Very little work has been done into the why. I've been collating findings from various projects here to better understand why reviews work. Guess what? Emotional content works.

Let's take our TV example. Amazon are clever when it comes to reviews. They allow customers to say if a review is useful. The more votes for a useful review the higher it becomes in the listing. Here's an example of some reviews for an HD TV that are deemed the most useful by Amazon customers:

Right out of the box you can tell that the unit is nicely designed and built. I got it hung on the wall and plugged up quickly and ran through the easy to follow set up procedure.

From another review:

The FA Cup yesterday was great to watch in HD and nature type programmes and Bear Grylls type channels are superb in clarity and detail.

See the pattern? The content is not the usual eCommerce dull guff. There is emotion there. There is feeling shown in the interpretation of features. You can imagine yourself setting up the TV and how it will look on the wall. It's easy to understand what the picture will be like.

Let's contrast this with Amazon's generic sounding product copy:

The LG 42LD450 LCD TV series provides Full HD 1080p picture quality. Our unique 3D colour stretching technology saturates each pixel until it achieves the true colour and luminescence intended by nature.

There's nothing about set-up, use or how it will look on the wall, plenty about how great the picture is, but nothing grounded or real. Buying on the strength of the generic copy isn't easy.

Amazon are lucky to have this level of customer engagement to help fill the gaps in their product descriptions. But we shouldn't rely on our customers to write our emotional content. This stuff should be written as part of adding a new product. We should be ensuring that emotion is a core part of the content we write.

I know what you're thinking. Writing content that is emotional isn't easy, but writing emotional content shouldn't be difficult. As we can see, customers can do it.

How to design for emotion

To design for emotion we need to ask two simple questions.

  1. How will using this product make me feel?
  2. How will using this product make me look to others?

Let's look back at those reviews. I will get this TV working easily. Watching it will be an experience. It's well designed and built. It will look good on the wall making me look good when my friends come round. Imagery to support should be the TV in situ, not some dull cut out product shot.

Differentiation in eCommerce is increasingly going to come from emotion and feeling. This will mean we need to look again at the way well sell online. Relying on features and price will only get you so far. We need to embrace feelings to get that edge.