5 Tips For Turning Customers Into Regulars

All businesses need clients, and many owners spend lots of time and money trying to attract new ones. However, it might be time to shift our thinking. Research shows that 40% of an e-commerce store’s revenue is generated from 8% of its shoppers. That means that 8% are repeat customers. Read on for three tips on how to cater to your clients so that they turn into regulars.

Provide Outstanding Customer Service

Your clients are busy people. Show them that you value their time by making business interactions as simple and efficient as possible. For example, be sure to provide an abundance of information on your company website and allow people to make appointments and pay there as well. If you leave clients wondering about what you offer or how to make an appointment, they will go to a business that puts information at their fingertips.

Even if your website is thoroughly filled with content, your client may want to speak to you over the phone or engage in an email exchange, and they should be able to. There’s nothing more frustrating than either not being able to find a phone number to talk to a real person, or sending unanswered emails.

Be Authentic

If you sell a product or service that others do as well, people will likely choose where or not to do business with you again based on the connection they have with you. Be professional, but be yourself. Let customers get to know you a little and get to know them. Learn what their specific needs are, do your best to meet them, and they will be back.

Go the Xtra Mile

Offer a free consultation. Pay special attention to how shipped products are wrapped. Send a follow-up email making sure the item or service was satisfactorily delivered. Do whatever you can to make your customer’s experience pleasant and memorable.

If possible, ask for client feedback frequently. For example, if someone has hired you to build a piece of furniture, send the email updates and ask what they think. They will appreciate being involved in the process, they’ll perceive you as some that’s easy to work with, and they’ll come back for more furniture.

Offer Value

Americans today are inundated with solicitations. We are solicited for our time, our attention, and our money. If your business can be about offering something, rather than only asking for things, you can set yourself apart from the crowd. Obviously, businesses have to make money, but there is probably something that you can give that won’t cost you anything except a little time. Do you use social media? Post articles and videos that you think would be helpful to your customers. Do you teach yoga? Make a short video class to send out to everyone on your list so they can practice at home. Try to keep a 3:1 ratio. Every time you ask for something, give three.

Show Gratitude

What goes around comes around. If you express gratitude often, your clients will feel grateful to be in business with you. Take every opportunity to say thank you. Be it in a card enclosed in a shipment box, a follow-up phone call or a social media shout out, let clients know that you appreciate their business and they will come back.

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who has worked in eCommerce for the last five years.  She currently writes for Rakuten Super Logistics and recommends them for all your fulfillment center needs to further your success.

Are Reliable Software Developers as Elusive as Bigfoot?

Are Reliable Software Developers as Elusive as Bigfoot?

No. But finding one can prove just as unattainable as a Sasquatch sighting unless you know the right questions to ask. But if you’re like most people who don’t know the techno-babble that most developers use, you probably just smile and nod like you understand the difference between CSS, html, jquery, and Ruby on Rails, and you don’t ask any questions. Don’t make this mistake.

If you’re wondering who Ruby is and why she’s hanging out on train tracks, it might be time to call for reinforcements…..

Just as you would bring along a trusted friend or relative to help you buy a car, reach out to your more tech-savvy friends and ask them what questions to ask your potential developer. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a tech genius waiting in the wings, then look into hiring a consultant that can help you in the early stages.

If you don’t know any Mark Zuckerberg wannabes, and you can’t afford a consultant…

Consider these 7 points when choosing a software developer:

# 1 Developers are not too smart to explain

You should always ask your developer what the technology stack is he will be using for your project and why he’s choosing it. Then, research that technology and make sure it’s a fit for your project. If he says it’s too complicated for you to understand, be very leary. He should be able to explain anything to you in layman’s terms. This is your project (and money) afterall. You have a right to full disclosure.

#2 All developers are not created equal

No developer is an expert at everything and some projects are infinitely more complicated than the next.  Websites are no longer just HTML and CSS. They have evolved to be complex applications that run on remote servers and APIs.  A good developer has spent years learning and perfecting good development practices, and most will have four-year degrees in Computer Science or a related field.

#3 You get what you pay for

What drew you to this developer to begin with? Is this a family friend that you are trying to help out by throwing him some business? Or is it a freelance developer with an unbeatable price?  If either of these is the case, you should do your due diligence in checking him out before you hire him. Ask for his resumé.

#4 A support team is essential

There are a lot of talented freelance developers out there that do great work, but software design is more than just coding.  There are tried and true practices that require a high level of communication and specialized roles such as Product Managers, Quality Assurance Techs, and User Experience Engineers just to name a few. The more support a developer has, the more he can concentrate on developing a great site without stretching himself thin.

#5 Communication and transparency are pivotal

Communication is important on any project, but it becomes critical for a difficult project where many issues and bugs arise. You want to make sure whomever you choose as your developer has a staff member dedicated to your project who can answer your questions and update you on your project. There should always be someone available to answer your questions on your project.

#6 A stringent quality assurance process is vital

This can not be stressed enough. Software testing is the cornerstone of every project.  Ultimately, the success of your project hinges on efficient deployment and testing of your product.  The software cycle depends heavily on efficient QA and testing for improvements to your product. This ensures your project stays on course when issues arise. And when issues do arise, a good developer is going to do everything it can to resolve the issue and make you happy.

#7 When the going gets tough……”this number is no longer in service”

Continuity is essential to the life of your product. Some freelance software developers are notorious for disappearing on you. As mentioned above, good developers want to keep you happy. Their reputation is everything. They will do good work and warrant it for the future. Some things to look for that identify a committed developer:

  1. Do they have an office?
  2. Do they have references.
  3. Are they insured?
  4. Do they warrant their work?

It is undisputed that a search feature is necessary for all online stores. The only question to ask yourself is which category of online store you fall in: stores utilizing their search feature for their customers’ benefit (and ultimately to boost sales) or online stores that are allowing it to sit under-utilized.

Using Principles of Permaculture in Design: How Mother Nature is the Best Designer

Using Principles of Permaculture in Design: How Mother Nature is the Best Designer

permaculture design

In 2013, I worked on a farm in Brazil that practiced Permaculture, a philosophy (coined by Bill Mollison) that seeks to apply nature’s approach to the way we live. This farm I lived on was entirely self-sustainable. They caught rainwater in an apparatus on the roof that was filtered for showers. Plants grew in every corner of the property, and food scraps were composted or fed to the chickens who gave us eggs. The give and take was full circle. We needed nothing but what we had on that farm and the “work for food” process was extremely direct. Permaculture: permanent agriculture, no need for outside resources.

There are twelve design principles of permaculture and while some are specifically for farming, the idea of efficiency and observing what naturally works can be applied to design and in all areas of our lives. Yay Mother Nature!

Let’s use the natural world to create our worlds, businesses, and lives more efficiently and more beautifully. Nature is our best designer.

Design Principles of Permaculture

(underlined principles applicable to business)

# 1 Observe and Interact:

By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

Application: Get to know your industry, your audience, your market and cater your solution to fit those needs.

# 2 Catch and Store Energy:

By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.

# 3 Obtain a Yield:

Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.

Application: Don’t continue with a ceratin way of working if results are not worth the work.

# 4 Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback:

We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

Application: Have frequent discussions about what is and isn’t working. 

# 5 Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services:

Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on nonrenewable resources.

# 6 Produce No Waste:

By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

Application: This applies to your own energy as well. Use all available resources before putting you or your business into overdrive to prevent burnout.

# 7 Design from Patterns to Details:

By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

Application: Start out with a sketch of what you see in your mind. Every project starts with a good skeleton.

# 8 Integrate Rather than Segregate:

By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things, and they work together to support each other.

Application: This is a key to great UX. All things are integrated and build off of each other.

# 9 Use and Value Diversity:

Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

Application: Bring in minds of all types to collaborate on design to get the best results possible.

# 10 Use Small and Slow Solutions:

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

# 11 Use Edges and Value the Marginal:

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

# 12 Creatively Use and Respond to Change

We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Application: Our working environment and tastes in design are constantly changing. Keep aware of what is on the rise by observing. Then respond accordingly.

Permaculture design in practice

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture

First image from: http://fr.ulule.com/permaculture/

Second image taken by author, Heather Hasselle

Don’t Burn the Pizza: How to Work Effectively with Creatives and Developers

Don’t Burn the Pizza: How to Work Effectively with Creatives and Developers

A developer and a designer walk into a bar.  The developer complains about the layout of the bar while the designer complains about the style of bar stools and the color scheme.  The bar quickly empties out because no one wants to be around either one of them.

With the joke introduction to this post out of the way, let’s get to the point.  Developers and designers are different breeds that spend the holidays together.  They rely on one another at times but can’t wait for time away from each other.  There are those that claim to be both a developer and a designer, but the greats in either field will only claim to be one or the other.  A great chef will never tell you how to run a restaurant because his priority, his passion is the food.  Just as the best maître d’ would never tell the chef that the gazpacho needs more smoked paprika.

Despite the different roles that developers and designers have, you will always need them if you want to take your website to the next level.  You can’t do their work just like they can’t do yours, so don’t waste time and resources trying to do it yourself.

Before deciding to utilize a developer and/ or a designer, never forget the single most important rule: DO NOT GIVE THEM FREE REIGN.  Giving either one of these professionals the ropes while you take a seat in the back of the wagon will result in a nose dive off a cliff.  Your business, your website belongs to you and you have too much to lose by taking a hands-off approach when hiring developers and designers.  There’s no scientific process that should be used, but there are some fundamentals to follow when the decision has been made to hire out.

Consider the following 4 points:

# 1 Take the time to determine exactly what you need and why you need it.

It’s a basic rule to always follow. Understand the problem so you can define it.  If you don’t know what your problem/need is, how will you know when there is a solution or the correct result is achieved? “Trial and error” is a great method when you’re in school, but this is business.  There’s no time or resources to waste in business.  It, whatever “it” may be, needs to be done correctly the first time.  Whether it’s streamlining your website checkout process, adding additional product pages, or creating a new page layout, you have to be able to explain it in as much detail as possible. Don’t be afraid to load them up with as many examples as you can find.  This will narrow the scope for the developers and designers and will keep them on track and focused on what you ultimately need.

#2 Maintain oversight.

The sacred ritual of cooking pizza requires constant peeps into the oven to ensure even and thorough baking to prevent the dreaded of all nightmares, burnt pizza.  If you use a microwave, I hope you find forgiveness in your life because I have none for you.  Even though you have given your developers and designers a detailed scope of work, you need to request constant updates and schedule reviews to ensure they are on the correct track and haven’t strayed.  Failing to schedule periodic updates and reviews can potentially delay your project and increase the costs of the project.  Of course, it may be challenging to review developers’ and designers’ work given the nature of what they do, so consider outlining ways in the initial work-plan that are to be used to achieve this.  Request sketches, wireframes, and any other work with the necessary explanations to ensure that your project is on track.  By staying in the loop, you can catch mistakes early and avoid getting “burned.”

#3 Keep up clear communication.

Yes, everyone knows the importance of communication, but there are endless reasons why we sometimes fail at it.  Two of the more common reasons are egos and failure to see perspective.  In the first case, there are no simple rules to handling others’ egos.  Some people are able to put their own aside when dealing with a challenging one, but others cannot.  The only advice I can offer is to try to stay focused on the desired goal.  If a man wants to be called a sandwich artist, I’ll do it for an extra slice of cheese even if the only artist I recognize is the one formerly known as Prince.  In my heart I know what an artist is, but I can’t let my ego get in the way of an extra slice of cheese.  Let people have their pedestals and boost them up at times, you’ll get more from them and might be surprised by what they do in return.  As far as understanding perspectives, remind yourself that you don’t know it all.  If you think you do, well, that’s an ego I’m not touching.  Ask questions and try to understand where the developer and/ or designer is coming from if there is a problem.  You’ll be in a better position if you understand both sides of the issue, and your project stands to benefit.

#4 Make harmony between ebony and ivory

If you have brought on a designer and a developer on the same project, you need to follow the above steps three times over.  Make yourself a quasi-project manager, and keep yourself informed with their progression.  The designer-developer relationship is like a hot air balloon.  You have fire, a wicker basket, and you’re dangerously high off the ground.  If you can define the scope of the project, maintain an active review of the project’s progression, and ensure open and clear communication is being utilized on all fronts, then you can avoid a fiery crash back down to the hard, unforgiving ground.

Developers and designers offer value and can be used to bring your website to the next level.  But never forget that it’s your business they are working for and so always remain actively involved in the projects that they’ve been brought on to handle.

Google Changing Mobile Search Results

Google Changing Mobile Search Results

As you probably already know, Google is constantly changing its search algorithm to provide you the most relevant, timely data. As fast as the world of technology changes, Google has to stay on top of the constantly changing environment. In that vein, Google recently announced a change to its algorithm that will start to more heavily factor in mobile-friendliness.

As you search from your mobile device or tablet, Google is already focused on getting you the most relevant information. Now, they will do even more for those of us using our mobile devices more and more. They will actually reward sites for mobile-friendliness with better search ranking. Below are the main points you need to know.

What to Know About the Change:

# 1 Mobile-Friendly Sites Get Bump in Rankings

Beginning on April 21, Google’s algorithm will change to rely more heavily on mobile-friendliness as a search ranking factor. Google is stating this will have a “significant impact”on search rankings. It will benefit users in that we will receive more pertinent, easy-to-access information perfectly tailored to our mobile devices.

#2 App Content in Search Results

As part of its effort to provide relevant information for all device types, Google has already begun including more apps in search results. As of February, Google has been using indexed app information as a factor in search rankings for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, information from indexed apps will appear more prominently in search.

#3 Steps to Take

To get more information on the changes to ranking factors and to know if your site is ready, you can visit Google’s announcement of the changes. It provides several links to sites where you can learn more about mobile-friendly sites, test your site’s mobile-friendliness, and identify any existing issues.

If you are unsure whether your site will stand the scrutiny of Google’s mobile-friendliness test, call an expert today. We can provide you with a consultation on your site’s responsiveness to all screen sizes and device types, and we can provide recommendations for improvement.

Shuhari: Follow, Break, Transcend–A Guide to Mastery

Shuhari: Follow, Break, Transcend–A Guide to Mastery

We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect, but maybe it’s a little more than that–or a little less.

The way to excellence is to learn the rules and then toss them, letting our inner creative compass guide us.

This is the lesson of Shuhari–the martial arts concept that describes the stages of learning toward mastery. To understand the full meaning of Shuhari, we must look at its three components: Shu, Ha, and Ri.

 

Shu: This is the first stage of learning in which you must learn all the rules. You must come to know them by heart, so much so, that they are internalized into second nature. They become so ingrained that the movements are mere muscle memory.

Ha: This step involves breaking the rules which you have become so familiar with, not just thoughtlessly, but with a focus on self-reflection. This is the search for your individual potential and goals, asking yourself which techniques are the best fit. In which areas do you as an individual excel? This stage is about innovation and customizing the rules to fit you.

Ri: This final stage happens more subconsciously, as the other steps have been internalized. It is “form without being conscious of form.”

It is the intuitive expression of technique, creating through inspiration instead of guidance.

Once you have been given the proper tools and know how to use them and have searched within yourself to find your own, you then transcend–becoming the only tool necessary.

The concept of Shuhari can be applied to business, art, theater, poetry, web design, etc. To see it more clearly, we will look at Shuhari applied to the art of figure drawing (drawing the human body):

To draw the human body, you would first need to become entirely familiar with both the body and with the act of drawing–learning, for example, exactly how to draw an arm, practicing it over and over and over. Then doing this with each part, with precision of your tool (pencil, charcoal) knowing exactly how to wield them to get the look you desire. This is Shu.

Then once you’ve reached the point in which you are able to successfully depict a person in their physical likeness, you must then break from these rules you’ve learned (Ha), trying different drawing techniques—(mis)using your tool, using an entirely different tool, drawing quickly, using your fingers to smudge, etc. So that with experimentation you progressively move in to Ri, in which your instincts guide you. So that you would not only be able to use the foundation of the basic rules that have become instilled in you to draw a person, but also able to pick from a variety of methods which feel most natural and inspiring. Then moving and acting not from a feeling of what has been learned, but by an internal guide of inspiration, so that you end up conveying not just the human body, but a person, and their essence, and within that, as an expression of yourself, the artist.

shuhari (1)

So let us, in this time of the rise of the creative mind and individual expression, apply Shuhari to our work, our art and ourselves–forever becoming closer to pure inner inspiration and mastery.

To Build a Sturdy House, You Need a Solid Foundation: Choosing an Ecommerce Platform

To Build a Sturdy House, You Need a Solid Foundation: Choosing an Ecommerce Platform

Every home builder knows that good construction starts with a solid foundation. The same holds true for building your online store. Your eCommerce software, or platform, is the hub of your online store.  It is an online manifestation of your business model, so it is important to understand what you are looking for before you start your search. Your eCommerce website is an investment, and like all good investments, it should be well thought-out.


 

 

Before choosing an eCommerce platform, you have to ask yourself three important questions that will put you in the best position to find a cost-effective eCommerce solution.

 


 

What functionality do I NEED?

This is the functionality that you must have in order to run your business. Essentially, if the platform does not have these functions, the software will not work for you.  You should have these ready for your web developer or software provider and let them know the lack of these is a total deal killer.

What functionality would I WANT ?

How much return can you get on your investment? Before dumping money into a product with many features that you may not need, you must make sure you have an idea of how many sales it will take to cover the added cost of that platform and how much the extra features are contributing to the excess cost.

What can I AFFORD?

Now that you have your list ready,  it is time to get a budget together. Your budget must cover the NEEDS for your platform. If reputable developers are telling you that it doesn’t, then you need to revisit your list of NEEDS.  If you have room to play with, then start adding WANTS to your project scope. Last thing to remember,  if you find someone whose quote sounds too good to be true, then it is.  “You get what you pay for” cannot be more true in web development.

There are essentially 3 categories of eCommerce platforms, known as Shopping Carts, available to choose from. It’s important that you know the differences between the three along with the costs and benefits of each so that you can make an informed decision about which to use when building your eCommerce store.


 

Hosted Shopping Carts

Pros: Low Upfront Cost, Low Barrier to Entry, Speed to Market, Automatic Software and Hardware Upgrades, Support

Cons:  Lack of Customization and Features, Higher Long-Term Cost and Monthly Fees

Recommended for:  Businesses with limited budget, time, and a generic business model.

Often referred to as SaaS(Software as a Service), hosted shopping cart software is an ecommerce platform that you essentially lease from your provider.  These, for the most part, are turnkey solutions that provide the easiest and most cost-effective way to get your products on the Web and up and running.  You pay the provider a monthly fee to host your store and maintain/update the software.   The software is hosted on the provider’s servers, and because their software is subscription based they often market to the largest common denominator to maximize their subscriber base.

 The benefit to this approach is that you do not have to worry about managing and upgrading the software and hardware and a lot of popular features already exist on the platform.  The big hosted ecommerce platforms are constantly updating their software and improving their platforms with new features.

There are two major disadvantages to a hosted ecommerce solution.  One, you generally pay more over the long-term, especially if you have a lot of products.  Two because of the largest common denominator approach the hosted platforms often spend their development budget on the most popular features making it difficult for this software to cater to specific need of individual businesses.

Also in most cases, you are unable to customize the software because the hosted solutions are maintained on the server of the provider, and web developers do not have access to the source code to customize the website; recently, this is becoming less of an issue as major hosted partners continue to add hundreds of third-party plugins that accomplish much of the customization you would need.  Examples of popular hosted eCommerce platforms are Big Commerce and Shopify.


Licensed Shopping Cart Software

Pros:  Lower Long Term Cost, Existing Platform and Features, Customization, Existing Plugins, Online Support Communities

Cons: Higher Upfront Cost, Lack of Phone Support, Manual Software Upgrades Often Required

Recommended For: Businesses with reasonable budget and moderate custom requirements

Licensed shopping cart software can range from very simple plugins to your existing CMS like WooCommerce to even more robust, customizable platforms like Presta Shop and Open Cart.   Licensed software can be free “open source” software or software that requires you to purchase a license that may need renewing yearly.  Because you have access to the source code of the platform licensing your shopping cart software allows you to modify your store’s shopping cart to meet your specific needs.  This may be simply modifying existing features or building out a complex integration with third-party solutions.  The cost of implementing licensed ecommerce software is usually more expensive on the front end, but you save the monthly fees of a hosted solution.  If you require detailed customization for your business model but lack the budget to build proprietary software from scratch then licensed software may be the only solution for you.

Licensed software usually requires the user to host his own software.  Depending upon a company’s needs, this hosting can be provided by a third-party hosting provider such as Rackspace or Inmotion hosting.  This ensures that all your data will be backed up properly in a secure location.


Fully Customized Demand-ware

Pro:  Top-to-Bottom Full Customization, Investment in Infrastructure

Cons: Development Cost, Support, Internal IT staff might be necessary

Recommended For:  Enterprise level companies with sufficient budget, companies with a niche business, custom database requirements, resource intensive database and hosting requirements .

Your company may have a specific business model that requires software that has a level of customization that cannot be achieved by merely modifying existing open source platforms.  For example, a website like http://www.timbuk2.com/customizer allows customers to customize back packs on an individual level, down to the last detail.  It would be impossible for an out-of-the-box software to specifically cater to that business model.  In cases like this, the user would need to develop a specific list of requirements that his software would need and work with a web developer to build a custom piece of software that automates his business model.

Hiking, Healthcare.gov, and Bad UX: A Case Study

Hiking, Healthcare.gov, and Bad UX: A Case Study

Designing a website with great usability is an intricate process and can be accomplished in many ways, but in its most basic form, a well-thought-out website boasting solid user experience should accomplish one thing.  It should provide clear direction that allows your user to navigate the website resulting in no “dead ends” or uninformed decisions.

Being an outdoorsy person who enjoys hiking, I like to relate the user experience to a trail map. An inaccurate map causes a hiker to lose confidence in its value very quickly. The same goes for a website.  With both a trail map and a website, you have to assume the user knows nothing and has never been there; therefore the two things you want to avoid are the user coming to a “dead end” or the user becoming lost and confused.

When I refer to a “dead end,” I am talking about a situation in which the user comes to a point on a website where he can’t accomplish the task he set out to do because the user interface is not giving him a clear option on how to navigate to the next step or, even worse, the next step does not even exist. More often than not this results in a user leaving your site or calling customer service, both of which cost you money and potentially, your customer’s happiness.

A dead end is bad, but even worse is when a user becomes lost and confused.  Go back to the hiking analogy. A lost and confused person on a trail, using an unreliable map, does not know if he is continuing down the right or wrong path and could eventually tire himself out to the point of exhaustion walking in circles. The same can happen on a website.

We don’t claim any political affiliation here at Xtra Mile Media, but we think one thing both sides of the aisle can agree on is that a poor user experience is frustrating at the least and very costly at the worst, especially when it comes to important issues like health care.

Case Study:  Healthcare.gov

Let’s take a look at healthcare.gov, a beautiful website with a clean appearance.  After spending just a little time on the website, you will begin to see that the UX was secondary to design when this website was being developed.  We will cite a case study or “user story” of a healthcare.gov user who wants to reset his password.

Problem:

Lost Password on Healthcare.gov

User Story:

User should easily be able to reset his password.

Analysis:

The User lost his password and was sent a password reset email.   The email had a link that redirected him to the website, where his goal, of course, is to reset his password. Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, you would think, but this objective obviously was not tested for optimal usability.

Step 1

He is asked to enter the answer to three security questions.

Step 2

He enters the three answers

Step 3

He enters his new password info.

Step 4

He is returned an error message that tells him 1 of 2 things could be wrong and gives him the option to return to the login page.   Time to start over.

Problem Solved:

No

User story accomplished:

No

Analysis :

First, he feels confused. Second, he is not confident that if he proceeds and spends additional time on this site that he might be able to solve his user problem. Does he want to keep heading down the wrong path and invest more time into this?  Probably not.   Most users will probably pick up the phone and call healthcare.gov, or they will leave the site.  Either option probably results in a frustrated and angry user.

What’s the main issue here? Healthcare.gov does not define a clear direction or solution to the user.  Instead, the error page gives him two different things that could be wrong:

    1. One or more of your three answers to your security questions could be wrong. (Once you return to the login page to start the process over again, you have very little additional information with which to solve the problem on the 2nd time around.)

2.  You didn’t provide a new password.

 

Start with option one: It’s a little more complicated than it seems because you could have one, two, or three of any combination of the answers wrong.  Let’s take a look at the possible combinations of answers: use w for wrong and r for right.

www, wwr, wrw, wrr, rww, rwr, rrw, rrr

That is 8 different combinations of possible right and wrong answers that you have to play a game of memory with until you get them right, each time navigating through the entire loop to get to the final screen telling you if you got them right or wrong.

Then there’s the second error message. It is just absolutely unclear.  If the user didn’t enter a new password (which he did), then why the heck is it even suggesting that he did? Plus, he clearly did because he had to enter one to progress to this step.

Solution:

The solution here is fairly simple and could be solved with a little bit of thought accompanied by a few extra lines of code from the developer.

On this screen, the user should immediately be told which questions are wrong and not allowed to proceed until they are right.

If there is a password issue, he should be told that issue on this screen

With a little bit of testing and these few tweaks, you have provided clear direction for the user and enhanced a beautifully designed website with a beautiful experience.

User Experience should always be the primary concern of your product design and development team.  Often, people get art and design confused. Exceptional design can be great art, but unlike art, good design must provide clarity and direction to the user.

Ignoring usability on your website could limit your beautifully-crafted work of art into being just that, a work of art.

SEEK & FIND: The Importance of a Search Feature on your online store

SEEK & FIND: The Importance of a Search Feature on your online store

Search feature

There  is no confirmed percentage, but most e-commerce experts will agree that customers browsing a particular online marketplace have a general idea of what they are looking for.  If it’s not a particular item, it’s in a definable realm of products.  The beauty of online shopping is that within moments of realizing that you want something, you can be browsing virtual shelves displaying the exact product you seek.  There’s no having to take a shower, or having to change clothes, or dealing with traffic, or parking, or annoying crowds.

If a customer enters your virtual store, then they most likely understand that you are carrying, or potentially may carry, the item they desire.  But how easily is it for them to find that item?  Is your site easy to navigate? Are your products placed in clear and concise categories? Can they find that velvet turtleneck within three or four clicks?  Of course they can. You did your due diligence, and you understand that to get that item in your customer’s cart, they have to find it first. Your practical and logical navigation features are simply perfect.  So we’re good there.

But not every customer browses online stores the same way. There are people that shop with a precise efficiency and determination. These shoppers take a different approach, and they know exactly what they want. They do their research, and they want to give you their money.  The only catch: they want to use the search tool, and if yours is hard to find or tucked away in a corner they will be a “gone pecan.”  (Southern phrase that translates to something having to do with leaving.)

All online stores should include a search feature.  The feature allows a customer to bypass the stroll down the aisles and go directly to the product or item they are seeking to find.  Your site needs the search tool just as I need my walkman playing Darius Rucker in order to fall asleep at night.  But how obvious is your search tool?  Is it placed in an obvious spot?  Are you using an icon that is easily recognizable?  Will it lead a customer to the right item?

The search feature can sometimes be an eyesore in an otherwise beautifully designed landing page.  Its mundane and common appearance gives it an unoriginal quality that just bothers you.  Too bad, this isn’t about you.  It’s about your customers, and customers will use it, so you have to have it.  An intelligent and creative designer can make it fit.  Regardless of your feelings about the search bar, consider the following three questions when incorporating it into your sight.

Consider the following 3 questions:

# 1 Is it in plain sight or can it be found within a second or two?

The search feature is an integral way for your customers to find the goods that fill up their carts.  This fact should make you drop any qualms you previously held against the “search.”  You should view the feature not as a hindrance but rather a feature as important as the navigation menus you’ve worked so hard on.  Placing it where it can be easily spotted near the top or close to your menu bar will ensure that the customers that intend to use this feature don’t click away because they can’t find it.

#2 Is there text already sitting in the search box?

Some search boxes already have a word or phrase sitting in the box.  The purpose I’m sure is to inform the page visitor that this is where they type what they are searching for.  Although useful, online shopping and surfing the web in general have now become routine activities for most of us.  Don’t waste your customers’ time by forcing them to erase pre-existing text in the search box.  Customers should be able to click in the box and begin typing immediately.  Having to delete words that they did not fill in is annoying, and although it’s trivial, in the big scheme of the shopping process, why allow yourself to be the one store behind the curve?  No major online marketplace does it, so why should you?  “So for now, for your customer’s sake, for your daughter’s sake,” (Chris Farley, Tommy Boy) you should avoid it.

#3 How can customers use your search feature?

This can quickly become a time consuming and drawn out process because it may require adding additional descriptions to your inventory. But because every sale matters, you’ll decide to do it. Some customers may search by SKU number, some by product descriptions, some by obscure references that don’t relate. How have you identified and tagged each product? You’ll want to be sure that no matter how a customer tries to search an item, it finds its way onto the search results. One of the best ways to handle this is to examine a competitor’s site and perform a search for a product using a variety of references. Then do the same to your site. What differences do you encounter? This will not only allow you to analyze a competitor but will also show you some better tags to use for your products or give you other additional ideas.

It is undisputed that a search feature is necessary for all online stores. The only question to ask yourself is which category of online store you fall in: stores utilizing their search feature for their customers’ benefit (and ultimately to boost sales) or online stores that are allowing it to sit under-utilized.