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5 Steps to Designing Consumer-Centric Web Experiences

Posted on 12.01.2013

:: By Justin Cowan, Director of Content Management for LightCMS, a NetSuite Company ::

via Website Magazine's E-Commerce Express Channel

Designing a Web experience around aggressive pricing and endless streams of catalogs is a strategy doomed to fail for all but the largest of e-commerce businesses.

Rather, the smarter approach to Web design is to provide a best-in-class shopping experience — understanding customers and building a digital presence that promotes conversion and loyalty.

1. Design From the Brand's Point-of-View: Successful retailers have more than pricing, selection and service on their sides. They promise to help specific groups of customers solve specific types of problems. These companies understand their brand promises — enabling their design teams to create experiences that best help target audiences, cut through information overload and achieve goals. For example, a brand that is a “tastemaker” emphasizing the “right thing” over the biggest selection, should present a curated experience like those from sites such as and Similarly, if a brand pairs trusted advice with comprehensive selection, then guided shopping, which lets the customer prioritize their needs, can be successful, as it has been for Kenmore with its “help me choose” feature (see this and other guided shopping examples in action at With the entire organization behind one communication style, the design needs become obvious.

2. If You Have To Ask, It's Too Late: Many brands that serve a variety of customer types have adopted a main-site landing page approach — asking visitors in plain language why they are visiting and what they want to accomplish. A merchant who has to ask that question after a customer has chosen to visit his or her site, however, may already be too late. When a visitor lands on a homepage, an Internet retailer should have the data and the demographics in hand to make sound inferences about why the shopper has visited and what he or she wants from the encounter. The channel that delivered the consumer’s visit should speak volumes about his or her wants — and if the shopper visited via bookmark or direct entry, that is equally valuable and telling.

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3. Fluctuate Engagement Levels: Customer personas are valuable, but consumer-experience design can become muddied by trying to serve each persona equally. When designing, brands should think about customers in two large buckets: “errand-runners” and “experience-engagement.” If a company speaks best to errand-runners, it must design to their needs: to get in and out quickly, to perform transactions as effortlessly as possible, and to repeat the same tasks and purchases repeatedly. This company then has to be the best shopping list it can be for an errand-running audience, and shouldn’t distract them with useless information. Conversely, visitors interested in brand experiences and deep engagement must be able to delve into catalogs, ask questions, evaluate recommendations and share their insights. They shouldn’t be forced down the transactional path that errand-runners seek.

4. Think Beyond the Web Visit: We know one thing: Mobile visitors are almost certainly splitting their attention between brands and “something” else. A Google study found that 86 percent of mobile users are multitasking. Whether that means mobile visitors are looking to engage in long, leisurely content searches, or they just want to order more diapers before the commercial break ends, is a question each retailer must answer with his or her own research. Without a clean, responsive design, however, mobile viewers won’t do much transacting or engaging at all.

In short, the rise of the “always-connected” consumer means that a Web visit is now just one component of an overall consumer experience presentation. Curated recommendations, geolocation-sensitive offers and in-store shopping aids are all part of the brand message now; and a brand’s voice should be consistent throughout.

5. Don’t Hide Superior Customer Service: Exemplary, loyalty-building customer service is useless if customers can’t reach someone in a jam. Retailers must ask if their most effective customer care channels are prominently featured to customers, or if shoppers are consistently funneled to lowcost, less-effective outlets. Resolving a problem is just as important to consumers as the checkout button is to merchants; design should reflect that.

About the Author: Justin Cowan is the director of content management for LightCMS, a NetSuite Inc., company that provides a powerful, yet easy-to-use cloud-based platform for creating websites.

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