Blueleaf UX Director, Chris Jones shares his thoughts on why it's crucial to measure what's happening on your ecommerce website. Over to Chris....

Retailers’ handling of ecommerce has changed dramatically since the early days and it’s been an interesting transition. Responsibility very often sat with the Marketing department or the IT department initially, but both had their drawbacks. Marketing were justifiably focused on acquisition and brand recognition, whilst IT were concerned with delivering best-in-class, reliable, cost-effective platforms. Bit by bit, retailers realised there was a gap in the middle where a focus on selling was being missed – who’s merchandising product on the website, who’s improving conversion rate, who’s responsible for growing sales online?

And lo, the Ecommerce department was born, comprising elements of marketing, elements of IT and a huge chunk of retailing knowledge on top. This is often a fascinating melting pot of personalities – some with a focus on brand and marketing (the "fluffy" stuff), some with a focus on tech (the “cold” stuff), hopefully both glued together by everyone’s focus on retailing.

In my own career, I’ve seen a huge shift from a role where designers were paid to use their knowledge and experience to deliver a solution that they and the client were happy with, to a situation now where the most effective solution is rightfully the one that works best for customers, based on solid, quickly available data. The famous old quote from US department store owner John Wanamaker, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half” nicely illustrates the challenge that marketers and designers used to face before digital. The success of ad campaigns or other design collateral could be measured to a certain extent of course, but not with the speed and accuracy that can be achieved now in emarketing and ecommerce design.

Measuring user experience

It’s self-evident how to measure some areas – site speed and marketing for example – but how do you go about measuring something less tangible, like user experience on your ecommerce site? As the old maxim goes, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it, so with user experience becoming more and more important to retailers, how can you find out what your customers think and react to it?

As with all measurement, there’s two areas to focus on – quantitative and qualitative – both equally important and useful in their own way.

Quantitative data can tell you what is happening on your website. Qualitative data can tell you why.

Qualitative methods

Qualitative includes surveys where tools like Hotjar or Qualaroo will allow you to add simple, unobtrusive, pop-ups to ask questions whilst users browse your site, such as “Why did you visit today?” and “What did you think of our range?” Another great qualitative method is user testing, where you can employ an online service such as What Users Do to recruit people from your customer demographic to use your ecommerce site on different devices. You receive videos of their screen and a recording of them talking their way through the site, revealing what they think, what they enjoyed, what they found tricky etc. It’s a very cost-effective way of getting some really good, detailed feedback that can add flavour and context to quantitative data.

Quantitative methods

You’ll almost certainly be used to measuring quantitative data in your business already, most likely through analytics of some kind. Analytics is an absolutely essential part of ecommerce and you should know yours inside out. It gives you the data you need to help trade on a daily basis and helps you spot patterns and trends in user behaviour. Another quantitative method you should consider is a heatmapping tool (Hotjar is also good for this), where users’ clicks and scrolls are recorded and shown as areas of intense activity on each page template. Hotjar also offers screen recording where users’ visits are recorded on desktop, tablet or mobile devices, allowing you to watch their journey through your site, anything they may struggle with and where they exit. One advantage this has over user testing is that the visitor to your site is unaware that they’re being recorded, so reacts in a totally natural way.

One more quantitative method that you should really consider is split testing, where different designs can be tested against each other, live on your site. Version A is usually the control or status quo version, which could be shown to 50% of your visitors for a certain period of time. Version B would be a new version of one element of your website – e.g the position of the Add To Bag button on your product page – and would be shown to the other 50% of visitors. Success could be defined as whichever version achieves the most clicks that then lead to a sale. At the end of the test, the winner is decided and implemented on your site, before the next test is begun. Split testing is an ongoing, iterative process that gradually improves conversion rate. It’s an excellent way of measuring and building the effectiveness of your ecommerce site with customers.

Summing up

So, how many of these methods are you employing to improve your user experience and ultimately the conversion rate of your ecommerce site? They are all useful tools, the key is to use them all to constantly learn from the most important people in your business – your customers.