3 key questions to keep your brand’s digital experience engaging

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Consumers have spent much of the past year online, accelerated by COVID-19. The lockdown gave us all a greater appreciation for the internet as a source for everything from social interactions and remote work (Zoom, anyone?) to shopping, schooling, entertainment and much more.

Activity in one of the busiest sectors — eCommerce — illustrates the massive move to the web: consumers spent more than $861 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up by 44% over the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Even as the economy begins to open up, the habits developed over the past year are likely to linger. With more people visiting more sites, there’s enormous competition for winning over prospective customers. It’s more critical than ever for businesses to make consumers feel welcome and provide a digital experience that keeps them coming back for more.

The best design and web solutions balance three attributes: desirability, feasibility and viability. If you overlook any one of this trio, or overemphasize one at the expense of another, odds are the digital experience (DX) you’re offering won’t be as successful as it could be. The following are some points to consider and key questions to ask to ensure that your digital project is on track from the outset.

Is the digital project worth doing?

The idea is to add value to the world by filling a customer need, as well as benefiting your company by furthering its business goals. There’s no point investing time, resources, and money on something that won’t satisfy the goals above.

In most situations, there is a cohesion between what your customers want and need, and what your organization’s goals are (there’s a reason why “customer-centric organizations” are popular). However, it’s crucial to ensure that everything is aligned to the organization’s overall objectives. With this in mind, it’s critical to always ask yourself, “What is my organization trying to accomplish and does this strategy and/or tactic help us?”.

It’s easy to be distracted by a cool idea, like a mobile app or chatbot, but it might not fit with your organization’s overall objectives. Under Armour is a great example of a brand that understands their core customer and worked to create an experience that their customer would value. They branched out in a way that made sense for the brand: they developed and acquired fitness apps that customers use every day to track their exercise and set their fitness goals. These apps didn’t simply extend the company’s eCommerce store- they became useful lifestyle tools for their customers. This combines both the business goals of Under Armour, with the needs and desires of their customers.

Now, let’s look at it from the consumer perspective. Functionality and usability are essential elements in creating a seamless DX. Customers who can quickly do what they want and find what they need on your site are more likely to stick around and interact. They’re also more likely to return and become loyal customers.

Whether it’s a mobile app or an entire site redesign or both, to determine if the DX you’re creating will resonate with your audience you need to have a clear understanding of the target audience. The following are questions to consider to determine the best strategies and tactical solutions:

  • How will your company’s digital experience fit into the customer’s life?
  • How will your customer use the product to support his or her lifestyle?
  • Will your customer understand how to use and navigate your digital product?
  • Does your digital solution fit a need the customer is requesting?

There are countless examples of companies that have recognized and addressed customers’ preferences that emerged over the past year. A notable one was how the retail and restaurant industries responded to customer demand for online ordering and curbside pickup, which reduces or eliminates the need for them to venture into a building. By creating and investing in a digital solution for customers to order online and pick purchases up in a contactless — or minimal contact — way, consumers are getting what they need during an uncertain time. From the consumer standpoint, this option also showcases that the retailers and restaurants care about their safe and convenient shopping experience.

Is the project feasible?

The greatest idea in the world will fall flat if you can’t execute it well, on time, and within budget. Before you get carried away by the potential, make sure you have everything you need to make it work. The following considerations can be helpful to determine how feasible the project is:

– Do you have the technology needed to enable the design solution? If you don’t have the tools and capabilities or the resources to acquire them quickly, you might have to scale back your ambitions, at least for now.
– Do you have the staff and skills not only to get things started, but to see everything through? A seamless customer experience relies on many things working together smoothly in the background. It takes expertise to make sure that all the pieces fit together and work as they should.
– How long will it take to complete your design and how much will it cost? If your design has to be up and running for a specific season — summer or back to school, for example — or to meet a hard deadline, be realistic about your ability to deliver on time. Keep the agreed-upon budget in mind as well. Accurately predicting and controlling the costs involved is essential to ensure that you can complete the job within budget.

When it comes to finding the best solutions and tools for your project, the overall feasibility can be a challenge with large, proprietary digital experience platform (DXP) options. Today’s solutions may require extensive customizations and code development, plus complicated upgrades and add-ons to add the desired functionality. All of that can boost the costs and slow the process. Opting for an Open Source Software (OSS) solution instead means that customization and new capabilities can be added to existing code, reducing both time and cost. Additionally, utilizing Open Source options allows brands added flexibility, and the option to integrate with their current solutions. Having the ability to integrate multiple solutions saves time, money, and resources.

A company we recently worked with wanted a solution for their holiday demand that would enable its customers to order prepared meals, bundles and sides directly from its website. However, the eCommerce system it was currently using didn’t have that capability. Fortunately, its system was built using an Open Source framework, so it was possible to architect and build a custom plug-in offering with the capabilities they wanted — and in time for the high-traffic holiday season. Building a solution that integrated with their current platform meant they didn’t have any downtime switching platforms, their internal team was already familiar with the set up, and it allowed for future expansions as their store grew over the years.

What will the return on the investment look like?

Businesses generally look at ROI in terms of dollars and cents, and that’s certainly a big part of it. But success often involves more than just money. Will the desired outcome also justify the time and effort that went into the project, as well as the opportunity cost of not pursuing other possibilities? If it looks like the investment far outweighs the potential benefits, consider a different solution.

Rip Curl, a surfing gear company, illustrates the kind of ROI the right project can yield. The company created an online publication featuring stories, videos and photos from their core audience — the surfers themselves. They’re engaging their customers and gaining original, on-brand content that’s earning them credibility with their customers, along with an increase in site traffic. That’s a healthy ROI no matter how you look at it.

With more and more businesses vying for attention online, combining the human experience with the digital experience is crucial. Do your homework, know your customers, and keep the basics in mind. That will enable you to use your resources strategically to solve real problems and add real value to their online experience.

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