Let me start by saying, I really dislike the word, ‘innovation’. It is widely overused, to the extent that is has become a very vague term which is attributed to all kinds of things. I much prefer the word ‘discovery’. New discoveries that stand the test of time, tend to be products or services that solve an existing problem or change the way we do something for the better, often because of market led demand. An ‘innovation’ that is looking for a problem to solve, is without a cause and often a flop.
If we call ourselves ‘creatives’ or ‘innovators’, we can begin to feel pressured to change things that perhaps were perfectly good as they were. I’m not saying your website never needs to be updated, far from it. However, if we look at Google or Apple, they are constantly ‘innovating’ or discovering ways to solve problems as technology moves forward. Nevertheless, their fundamental design has remained more or less unchanged since inception. What I am trying to say is don’t change things for the sake of change or to be ‘innovative’. It often isn’t necessary or helpful.
Google Glass is a great example of an exciting innovation looking for a problem. It arrived on the scene to huge fanfare and publicity in 2012. However, by January 2015, Project Glass was all but dead. Ultimately it proved to be sizzle without the steak. Unfortunately, users fell out of love with a device that solved no major problems, and was unlikely to be worn as a fashion accessory.
Now, I wouldn’t claim to comment on industries in which I do not work, however, in the world of e-commerce, I believe there are a 5 golden rules for innovation in technology:
1.The two year update
Whilst I definitely do not advocate change for the sake of change, your website will need updating be updated at least every two years. This is because technology does move on very quickly and what was cutting-edge two years ago, will seem dated very quickly.
Does what you do work for where you are at? Does your website function in a way that best serves your business. There may be minor tweaks to make or a quantum shift. In the last five years websites have had to work on mobiles, then on smart apps and now on smart watches. It doesn’t necessarily mean a redesign, but the technology that drives your site will inevitably need updating.
Make sure that the technology isn’t a flash in the pan. Customer expectations change and evolve as the technology improves. What is pioneering and innovative today, won’t be in two years time. You have to keep asking yourself, “what am I going to do to keep up and get ahead”. Two years ago it was really exciting and amazing to get a text giving an hour window in which your parcel will arrive, now that is just what customers expect. A great place to look for successful new discoveries is Amazon. Whenever you see something new on their site, if it is still there a month or two later, then it is likely to become the new standard. Like it or not, for e-commerce, they are leading the pack.
Your website needs constant tweaking. This is where it pays to have developed the site yourself. You might want to put out an offer or include a voucher. These are minor changes that affect your site.
It is very likely that you will need to make monthly changes to your site. They should be scheduled in and worked through systematically. As you test and work, you will find ways to improve what you do for the people involved, whether they are customers or your own in-house team. A good example of a monthly update from Jersey Beauty Company, is our scanning app. We were losing £2-£3K per month on a turnover of £5-£6M per year. When we updated our system to include scanning we stopped losing this money. This was particularly relevant for us as all our products look very similar to each other.
There will, inevitably, be other ideas to keep your website doing what you need it to do, leading the pack, driving sales and functioning well for everyone using it. However, these 5 golden rules are a good starting point.
Whether you are setting up an e-commerce site, or redeveloping an existing one, there are many different ‘systems’ which need to be integrated and work well together. As we have already established in previous blogs, which you can read here, your website needs to be accessible to a variety of different people.
It also needs to seamlessly connect a number of back-end systems in a way that makes things simple, both for the customer, but also for your operations.
For example, your business might have a website, a different customer service system, a postage and fulfilment system and a stock control system. They all need to communicate with each other. Most businesses have more than one ‘system’ and it is really important to consider how they interact with each other. This may all sound very obvious but it is surprising how many businesses are wasting masses of time and leaving themselves wide open to human error, through simple communication failures between internal systems.
Four top tips for seamless integration
There are undoubtedly many many tips and tricks to ensure that your internal systems are communicating as effectively as possible. However, here are my top four must have areas:
- Your website and database
- Order fulfilment systems
- Content management system
- Stock ordering system
Not all of these suggestions will be relevant for your business, but many will, so its worth casting an eye over the detail below:
1.Your website and database
Having access to your data, particularly when a customer is on your site, is of paramount importance. Whatever happens on your website, the database needs to be updated with the relevant information ASAP. For example, if a customer updates their delivery address on the main website, this information should be automatically shared with the back-end system for the app. Your customer does not want to input their new address every time they make a purchase, or worse still, have to phone you to manually change it. It needs to be as easy as possible.
2.Order fulfilment systems
Many companies nowadays use a completely separate system for fulfilment (getting the parcel to the customer). This is fine, assuming that your fulfilment system, your website and your database are all talking to each other, with minimal human interaction. Customers expect to see tracking numbers and get updates on their delivery. Equally, if you are selling through another platform, such as Amazon or Notonthehighstreet, how do you connect orders from third party sites to your own system. So many companies have to physically print out the orders and then re-input them into their own system. This is both time consuming and open to human error.
3.Content management system
Who is responsible for putting products on your site and updating content? How are you ensuring continuity of style and description etc? It is so important that we think through who is responsible for creating and uploading content. If different people need different levels of access, then you might need multi-tiered access levels. If you’re not happy giving everyone your Facebook and Twitter log in then you may want to use systems like Hootsuite etc. Overall you still need to make it accessible and simple.
4.Stock ordering system
How do you monitor stock? If you are using your back-end system, is that the right way to do it and does it help with re-ordering? The best systems are those that generate lists of products that need re-ordering when stock reaches a certain level. However, for this to happen the backend system needs to talk to the fulfilment system and the website. I have seen small companies go under because this aspect of their business was not working well.
"In the world of e-commerce system integration is king!" Matt Edmundson
Website accessibility in its most basic definition is about ensuring websites work for the widest possible audience. For most people, it is easy to browse the web, they can point and click, visually skip over content they don’t want to read, listen and watch a video clip, and skim read to find what they are looking for. This is not a new concept, website accessibility has been around for well over 10 years. However, it amazes me how many organisations haven’t covered the basics. In this blog I will scratch the surface of web accessibility, drawing on experiences from some of our e-commerce sites.
So what is accessibility all about. Here I’m going to take a two common questions or issues facing most e-commerce businesses:
1. Is your site in any other languages? Do you need to think about another cultural perspective?
So your site is currently in English but would it benefit from being translated? Would that make it make it more accessible? For example, 30% of Jersey Beauty‘s customers are Swedish. They are able to buy the beauty products much more cheaply from our site than in their own country. We therefore needed to consider how to make our site and the whole process work well for them. Eventually we decided not to translate the site into Swedish. However, we did work with local post offices in Sweden to provide tracking numbers for a seamless delivery. It is important to think about your international customers.
In the western world there is a default way of setting up a website. However, if you are operating in a different country, culture or market, do they expect something different?
2. Does your site work for those with disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairment?
When setting up your website, there are a number of standards for the visually impaired of which you need to be aware. If you do not adhere to these standards then you will be penalised by Google and you will be moved down the ranking within the page listing.
It is also important to think about how your site works for those who are hearing impaired. This is particularly relevant if there is quite a bit of video work on your site. Think about the colours you are using. It was a trend for a while to do things in colours that don’t contrast well but this doesn’t work. We mustn’t get so caught up in the aesthetics that we forget about the user. Clearly aesthetics matter but they are not the ultimate goal of design. Often, poor readability doesn’t get picked up in the design process.
"Your audiences needs should be kept front and centre when creating the design. After all, there is no point having a pretty website if no one can read it!" Matt Edmundson
It is really important to make sure your site is fully accessible to everyone, if they can’t read the text or watch the videos then they are not going to buy from you!
When we start to talk about branding, some of the most common questions people have usually relate to logo design, font choice and colours. If you have read any of my previous blogs on branding, which you can find here and here, then you will know that there is a lot more to branding than just a logo.
Here are my five critical components to authentic and successful branding:
A good friend of mine put it much better than I could, he said
“True branding goes much deeper than skin deep. True branding is a plum-line from the core of who you are to those you are trying to reach. So your design needs to carry your core values all the way through who you are.“
Your values cannot simply be a statement written down on a piece of paper in your office. They should infiltrate everything you do.
For example, with my online beauty company, Oquibo, we never use photoshopped images. It is not in accordance with our values of being authentic, genuine and celebrating the human spirit. So our branding, our design is now constrained by our values.
Is there a rhythm to your values? Are they fun? Then use fun style branding. Are they reassuring? Then have a strong element of this in your branding. Do they speak of cause? If so, could that be reflected in your branding? Any branding consultant you use, who is worth their salt, will want a deep understanding of your culture and values. If they don’t – find another branding consultant!
This may sound a little strange but think about the personality of your company. A couple of questions you could ask yourself are:
- If my company were a person, what would they be like?
- How does your company make people feel?
Over the years I have discovered, that if you understand your company’s personality, this will give you all the design and branding ideas that you will ever need.
Your brand has to deliver a promise or communicate a concept. For my online beauty company it is Happy. Remarkable. You. Many companies have simple poignant short slogans which sum up what they are all about. Here are just a few examples:
- Nike: Just Do It.
- Apple: Think Different.
- Tesco: Every Little Helps.
- Bose: Better Sound Through Research.
- FedEx: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
- Zappos: Delivering Happiness.
- Mastercard: Priceless.
It goes without say that your slogan and tagline has to be genuine and authentic. It has to be a summary of your values and your culture as well as a statement of intent. Like many people, I have become weary of fancy branding and empty tag lines. They have to mean something!
This is the part that people normally jump right to when they start to think about branding and design – logos, fonts and colours. Keep your logos simple and recognisable. Make sure that they are distinct from other logos. If you are using an “M” in your logo, make sure it doesn’t look like McDonalds Golden Arches, especially if you are a restaurant. Be you, make sure that it speaks of your values and is unique to you. A fancy logo won’t help you with your business. A great culture will. I haven’t come across a company that became great because of their logo. But I know plenty of companies that had a great cause, a phenomenal culture, that went on to become great and developed their branding out of that.
Branding is the plum-line, from the core of who you are, to those you are trying to reach. Alongside knowing who you are and understanding your values, you also need to understand who you are trying to reach? This is your demographic. There is zero point having a fantastic product and great branding aimed at the wrong group of people. Think about it carefully, work out who is buying your products and why.
In summary, branding is very much a part of design, and design is very much a part of your branding.
If you have covered the five points above, I believe you are well on your way to having a very successful product.
The smartphone, this mini-computer in our pocket, is now an integral part of everyday life. Where would we be without them? However, there is nothing more annoying that an app that doesn’t work, runs super-slow or seems impossible to navigate.
Here are a five keys to avoid user aggravation:
1. Define your UI brand signatures
Make sure that every user interaction with the app reflects your brand-story. It should increase your customers brand awareness. If you are all about fairtrade, make sure that message is communicated through the features, visuals and wording. Everything you do should increase customer loyalty and enhance your brand values and story.
2. Revisit the main purpose
Sometimes we can get carried away with the possible features, clever graphics and witty strap lines. Whilst there is nothing wrong with these things, if we focus too much on the additional benefits, we may lose sight of the initial purpose. For example, shopping apps can include fashion videos, socialising and reviewing, however, the customer still needs to be able to easily find what they are looking for.
3. Understand your products and platforms
Often, when you have limited time or resources, you have to make hard decisions about your design and optimisation. If you are launching several products at the same time, across multiple platforms, it can be helpful to work out which product and platform is likely to give you the greatest return. For example, if most of your customers use androids and you have one product which is popular and high-value, you should invest more resources into a polished app for the android. As opposed to spending all your money and resources equally across all platforms and products.
4. Optimise UI flows and smart loading mechanisms
Although they say us Brits are good at queuing, we still don’t like to wait and the same can be said of your customers. Make sure you have optimised individual screens, flows and UI elements, to ensure that users don’t feel they are wasting their time. The way you design your app can make this possible. Smart loading, including what we often call ‘lazy loading’ gives the user the impression that they are not waiting as long.
5. Ensure good communication between teams
Everyone in your team; designers, coders, developers and marketers all need to work together to ensure that performance expectations are agreed. It is only when the different teams communicate well that an app performs optimally.
I recommend that you spend a bit of time thinking about what you need your app to do? Who will be using it? What kind of device will they be using? And where are you likely to make the most profit? Have a think about the apps you regularly use, what works and what doesn’t. Try to put yourself in the customer shoes!