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As Head of eCommerce, what does your remit include?

There are three key elements to my day to day role at USN:
– Customer acquisition – Paid Search, Organic, Affiliate, Email, Social and Referral traffic.
– Conversion optimisation – User experience, data insights and testing, content, product merchandising, site abandonment and optimising the journey on both mobile and desktop.
– Maximising lifetime value – Customer Retention through segmentation and engagement with our audience, be that via email or social media.

With so many moving parts, where do you typically begin your efforts?

As you come into any opportunity you want to go after the low hanging fruit first. Usually there are things being overlooked that can represent great opportunities for quick wins. However, you have to be careful not to be too short-termist. If you’re purely focused on driving immediate sales, you may neglect longer term considerations such as protecting your margin or acquiring the right kind of customer. Equally, however, you can’t be solely focused on the long term. E Commerce Leaders cannot operate at such a high level that little of it translates into any action. My job is to ensure there is a clear 12-24 month plan but that we are also agile enough so things get pushed over the line daily.

If you’re purely focused on driving immediate sales, you may neglect longer term considerations such as protecting your margin or acquiring the right kind of customer

What’s the most common cause of poorly built eCommerce websites?

The biggest problem occurs when the user experience of a website is determined by a technical team, rather than by the users themselves. A website can be technically flawless, but if user tests haven’t been held and rigorous analysis conducted into where people are dropping out of their journey, then the site is destined to underperform.

What are the key metrics you look at to determine performance? Are there any that you feel are undervalued?

You need to understand where traffic is being generated from and how well each channel is converting, but other really important KPI’s that often get overlooked include:
– Key abandonment points – where exactly are people leaving the website and why?
– Average order value – the average order value is one of your most important metrics and even small increases can have a significant impact on your annual revenue.
– Mobile metrics – it’s also important to understand how each of your metrics on mobile compare to desktop. Many eCommerce sites find that their mobile conversion rates are far lower, and with so much traffic now being generated from mobile that can have a huge impact on the business.

How do you know if your website is optimised for mobile and what are some of the things that can be done to improve mobile UX?

You can do automated checks through various online tools and they may tell you the site is mobile optimised, but is it really? Have you manually been through the user journey on a mobile and tried to buy something? You cannot beat physically picking up an iPhone or whichever device is the most popular used by your customers and experiencing it for yourself.

Some of the most common problems and their solutions are as follows:
– Site speed – speed is everything on the mobile web. Not only does it impact the user experience and conversion rate, but also your rankings within organic Google search.
– Displaying information – on desktops we have become used to seeing large volumes of information, but that doesn’t work so well on mobile. Information has to be intelligently prioritised, buttons should be large and customer journeys should be as short and streamlined as possible.
– Search functionality – search is really important and often delivers a higher conversion rate, but it’s usually very fiddly on mobile. You have to ensure it is kept large and clear, and the results are accurate. If people can’t find what they’re looking for after their first search they’re likely to leave.
– Mobile payments – the last thing a customer wants to do on a mobile phone is have to dig out their wallet, so make it easy for them by using third party plugins like PayPal Express or Amazon Payments. These brands are immediately trustworthy and allow the user to pay with just a couple of clicks.

You cannot beat physically picking up an iPhone and experiencing it for yourself.

What is the key to reducing abandonment rates?

The first step is to identify the problem pages. You can then experiment with different tactics to minimise the loss. Find out why they are leaving; is it price, trust, availability or simply a bad experience. Use the data available to make decisions on what to change, develop an approach, roll it out, then measure the impact over the days that follow. The key to effective conversion optimisation is analysis, actionable insights, testing and continual development.

If abandonment occurs during the checkout process, you often already have a lot of data that will help you convert the customer there and then, or even at a later date. You can design a complete solution to recapture as many of these people as possible, an example would be as follows:
– It begins with their initial attempt to leave the page. You could show them a popup with an additional incentive or ‘save for later’ email option. On a mobile, you don’t have that option, so be clever and pre-empt issues arising. If they are just below the free delivery threshold, for example, show them another product that they’re likely to be interested in that takes them beyond that threshold.
– If that doesn’t succeed then engage the email recovery solution. If you have their email address, send them their basket after an hour, a day, a week and promote your USP’s, or additional incentive, reminding them of the product they were about to purchase and why they should.
– Alongside all of the above, use remarketing to the user across social media, the most viewed and visible media.

How do you perceive the role of social media? Is it something that you measure by its direct return, or is it more to do with brand?

This is the ultimate question for social media. There’s no question that social media and how you use it to engage with key influencers and your audience is hugely important for credibility and telling your brand’s story. However, I also believe that it should carry a direct value. We can track how much each social platform generates in terms of eCommerce revenue and we can also see how customers who interact with us via social compare to those who don’t. At the very least your social media should be paying for itself.

At the very least your social media should be paying for itself.

How important is it to do something truly unique as a brand?

There’s no doubt that brands should offer something unique in the market. Otherwise how can you expect to stand out and generate the exposure your brand needs? Whether this is product, user experience or functionality, it helps to draw people to your site, but you have to ensure that these attempts to be unique are aligned with your brand, otherwise it just feels gimmicky.

However, as important as it is to be unique, there is little point worrying about that until you reach a certain baseline. Have you got the core functionality in place first? 9 times out of 10 there is something basic missing, and there is little point moving on to these exciting brand building strategies until the foundations are robust.

What’s the most underused channel for eCommerce sites?

Obviously every market is different but something I often hear is that email is on the decline and doesn’t offer the value it once did. This just doesn’t make sense to me. Email is seriously important. After all, your email database are your customers, those that have experienced the brand, trusted the brand and purchased from the brand. They are the people most likely to make the next purchase or inform others to do the same. Offer your email database choice, exclusivity, personalisation and engaging, informative and relevant content and they will continue to be your customers.

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