Lucie Avenell, Author at Conversion.com

5 Books every e-commerce manager should read (to increase conversions)

Keeping a healthy online sales engine is no walk in the park. From web usability and UX (yes, they’re different things) to copywriting and consumer psychology, there are many factors at play when it comes to your customers behaviour and their chances of converting (i.e. purchasing) on a given visit. With average e-commerce conversion rates at only 2%, an e-commerce manager needs every weapon at their disposal to ensure their visitor-to-transaction ratio is at optimal performance. Knowing the impact of each conversion lever – and how to pull accordingly – is an art which, in the long-run, is well worth the initial investment.

Whether you’re starting to think about testing, already running your own experiments or just looking to brush up on a few essential skills, this list has everything you need to get focused, and start thinking critically about your website conversion strategy and performance.

Usability

Don’t make me think – Steve Krug

dontmakemethink

A staple for the CRO community, Steve Krug’s Don’t make me think is refreshingly real and to the point, bringing some much needed simplicity to the often over-complicated world of web design. Krug eats his own dog food by keeping right to the point – the book could easily be read over half a week’s commute – with relevant (and occasionally hilarious) examples which paradoxically, will make you think a lot about your website design and user experience. The beautifully obvious takeaways make it both a satisfying and highly actionable read, guaranteed to trigger your first few site changes and make you think about your longer term optimisation strategy.

 

The Design of Everyday Things – Donald A. Norman

everydaydesign

The Design of Everyday Things is one of those books which will enrich your thinking far beyond your professional remit. Besides the vast reassurance that you’re not alone in your daily struggle against doors, microwaves and all the minutiae of present-day life, the takeaways for e-commerce managers, UX designers (or anyone concerned with web performance for that matter) is nothing short of profound. By delving into the mechanics of human-environment interactions using concepts like perceptual psychology and embodied-cognition, the reader’s discovery is something to have legitimately been described as ‘life changing’. Everything will look different after reading this book, not least of all your website, which is sure to undergo some gestaltian re-analysis after you’re done.

 

User Experience

Hooked – Nir Eyal

hooked

Not your run-of-the-mill UX recommendation, true, but Hooked makes the list here for it’s priceless contributions to the importance of UX in customer habit formation and retention. 30% of an e-commerce website’s customer base purchase only once per year – Hooked shows you how to create a sense of dependency in key moments and then keep users engaged enough to guarantee their return through association, just as soon as their needs arise again. As Nir Eyal puts it – “the result of engagement is monetisation”. The book centers around a clever model known as ‘the hook canvas’, and is handily split into succinct chapters for each phase.

 

Psychology/Behavioural Economics

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

influence

The seminal guide to persuasion, Influence single-handedly opened the literary floodgates of consumer psychology and behavioural economics to the masses. Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion – reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity – have become a major basis for every subsequent publication in the field, so if you’re only really going to give the time of day to one, let this be it. When you start running experiments based on cognitive-behavioural levers, you’ll get the testing bug, not just because you’re playing directly on your consumers motivations, but because it creates so much potential for agile optimisation and reactive campaign formation. Loaded with enchanting stories that make for a surprisingly fluid read, it’s guaranteed to stay with you, especially as you might read it two or three times.

 

The psychology of price – Leigh Caldwell

psychofprice

Applying well documented behavioural insights, the psychology of price gives a solid structure to pricing effects you didn’t realise you already knew (most likely from experience), all set to the backdrop of the fictitious Chocolate Teapot Company. This works perfectly by helping you to absorb all the theory whilst providing tangible examples, with practical application guidance and case studies throughout. Add that to the list of 36 solid pricing techniques providing abundant price test ideas and the book will likely pay for itself several hundred times over. Putting this in your bookcase is definitely a no-brainer.

While there are definitely many worthwhile books out there for this diverse (and demanding) profession, these would have to be our five ‘desert-island’ e-commerce necessities. Are there any you think we’ve missed? What did you make of our list? Let us know in the comments below!

Design for decision making: why it matters

Exhibiting information in a clear, yet compelling way is one of the more challenging nuances of UX design. As users become increasingly reliant on technology to provide answers in a given situation, designers come under more pressure to play the role of the choice architect. There’s a conflict between the task of the product or service provider (assuming impartiality) who wants to display all the relevant information as clearly as possible; and the user who wants to filter out the extraneous possibilities and get right down to a smart selection. Given that the average person makes over 200 decisions a day just about food in our choice-riddled society, it’s no wonder users want the burden eased when it comes to choosing the right product for them – (on that note, skip straight to end for the 5 key takeaways).

Map A – London Underground
Map B – Geographic tube map of the London Underground (source: Mark Noad)

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Often, the intention to provide users with all options results in a choice-paralysis which can both hinder customers in their journey, and harm your conversion rate – potentially sending users back a step and opening them back up to your competition. Alternatively, misrepresenting, or failing to emphasise important factors going into the decision-making process may cause users to overlook these factors, and adversely impact the eventual outcome the user ends up with. Let’s first look at this in the context of the transport industry, where the user literally just wants to get from A to B.

Metro maps and schematics have been the go-to solution for route planning since transport lines began to converge – the earliest map for London transport was published in 1908. They are integral to the smooth-running of big cities – particularly when you consider the growing population and the suburban sprawl of city workers. The trouble is, public transport maps do not scale with geographic reality. A recent study found that this distortion affects travelers perceptions of relative location, route selection and associations of different routes – e.g. train journeys that look ‘long’ are often actually quicker on foot – seemingly small oversights that can actually have quite significant consequences on efficiency among other success factors, when applied at such a large scale. The study uses an example of a passenger travelling from Paddington to Bond Street with a choice between two seemingly equidistant routes according to map A – either travel to Baker Street and change to the Jubilee line (Path 1), or change at Notting Hill Gate for the Central line (Path 2). Path 2 is about 15% slower by time on-train, and actually starts in the opposite direction to the destination on a geographical map, however the experiment found that 30% of passengers chose path 2, probably because on the schematic tube map, path 2 is about 10% shorter than path 1 and Notting Hill Gate is shown to the south (not west) of Paddington. Map B shows the map scaled to London’s geography.

The London tube map suggests that Marylebone and Baker Street are significantly farther apart than in reality

Another example is that Baker Street is shown slightly south of Marylebone and significantly further away, when seasoned Londoners know the two are actually situated only 5 minutes apart on foot (and are on the same road).

Some app designers have already begun tapping into this opportunity to more intelligently guide users’ transit decisions. Apps such as Citymapper and Tube Map provide additional insights to help users make contextually informed judgements, such as approximations of taxi fares, walking times or weather-based alternatives such as ‘rain safe’ options:

This is something UX designers will be tasked to consider increasingly as the discipline evolves and matures. User interfaces need to make it easy for users to choose, not just to use, and having this practise baked into web and app designs is guaranteed to be the difference between those who grow and those who stagnate, especially in competitive market spaces.

The e-commerce, travel and SaaS sectors are choice among those to start putting serious weight behind their online choice architecture.

Dressipi checks that it’s making the right predictions during onboarding, then learns continually once the user is actively engaged
Et voila, the user is given a personalised shopping experience with stylist-approved items customized to their preferences; whittling down the selection and boosting customer confidence in their eventual purchase.

Littlewoods and Very.co.uk have confronted the barrier of an expansive clothing catalogue and indecisive female shoppers (need I say more?) with a ‘style adviser’ – a super smart backend system courtesy of Dressipi designed to narrow and intelligently guide womens online fashion shopping, based half on self-preference and half on insider stylist tips and tricks.

Users primarily search by map, determining the results they’ll see and filtering out extraneous possibilities that typically clutter the accommodation selection experience in travel.

For hip traveller types who know that location is everything, Airbnb allow (even encourage) you to search by map, turning the selection process on its head by honing in on their users’ priorities. Custom filters can then be added by region, amenities, and user generated keywords to further refine the options, continually driving users towards their end goal. In future, a nice touch might be to extend the crowd-sourcing with user-generated contextual cues within the map for different areas and districts – e.g. good for shopping, coffee shops, nightlife or museums – but I digress (occupational hazard!).

In the SaaS space, Rackspace know their visitors are arriving with a diverse array of needs, and realise the importance in getting to the bottom of that quickly to avoid losing out on custom.

By guiding users through a smart flow of options, the urge to overload visitors with a comprehensive range of services is removed, and you can avoid confounding users who aren’t really sure what they need yet. For more complex hosting problems, the flow diverts to live chat or callback, whilst the outcome and final CTAs leave users assured that they’ve taken positive strides towards resolving their specific needs which are now ready to be picked up on the other end.

The key to solid choice architecture, whatever your business, is quite simple: know your customers. Anticipate their needs, and learn to see things through their eyes.

Don’t know who your customers are or what they need? Ask them. In the long run, gathering a little intel is better than leaving your customers alone in the wild. Package it up in some effortless UX and users will feel like it’s part of a bespoke service tailored to their needs.

Here are some golden rules to set you on the path to informed, but guided customer conversions:

  1. Ask the right questions. If a user can see why you’re asking, and what’s in it for them, they’ll already be bought in to the process. Make sure the user benefits and can see the rationale behind every question – if they can’t, lose it, because it’s not helping them.
  2. Don’t tell your customer what to do. Choice architecture is not a substitute for effective information architecture – make sure that you’re only ever guiding your customers decisions and not shoehorning them into buying something they didn’t want. Let your users know you understand them and are there to give honest and impartial guidance to help them reach the best outcome for them. The alternative could erode trust and potentially hurt your future relationship.
  3. Set clear progress indicators. Answering a few intelligently structured questions is all good and well, but if your user can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, they’re likely to lose hope and abandon the process. Make sure the method is organised and transparent if you really want your customers to engage.
  4. Refine choices, but stow the rest away somewhere that’s visible and organised. No-one likes to feel that they might be missing out and some users may prefer different ways of navigating through your site. Sometimes it’s curiosity; sometimes a need for confirmation we made the right choice – we want to be able to see what we didn’t go with. Keeping this transparent is key to a healthy customer lifecycle.
  5. Make alternatives omnipresent. Ultimately, the customer knows best, and if they lose faith in your  site’s ability to meet their needs, make sure they have a jumping off point to avoid losing their custom altogether.