SA e-commerce, it would seem, is in a good space, particularly judging by recent acquisitions. These include Makro’s purchase of WumDrop, Pick n Pay’s of Bottles and Imperial’s of Parcelninja. Noticeably, all these transactions have been in the logistics and delivery space.  

But delivery means nothing if customers can’t find the product in the first place, or if they have to deal with endless fiddly check boxes when shopping on a mobile. Or if the site falls over on Black Friday – scenarios that we have now come to accept as par for the course.  

The reality is that retailers need to sweat the details in their online offering and provide a great – no, make that exceptional  –  e-commerce customer experience, otherwise they risk going the way of Edgars, Stuttafords and other once beloved SA brands.  

Experience trumps product  

The old quest of “how to make them come back for more” is a challenge that has always plagued brands and is likely the driving force behind most of the innovation and creativity in the retail space. 

It’s a challenge that doesn’t get easier to solve, especially not in the online space. In fact, an Anblicks article about the importance of user experience design in e-commerce says: “Research indicates that increasing competition and multiple choices make customer loyalty an impossible phenomenon.”   

The experience the user has is the best and only way to distinguish an offering. And it needs to be novel, creative and based on a sophisticated data narrative.  

Novelty is everything  

The “novelty effect”, while not particularly well documented in relation to e-commerce user experience, is well understood by savvy business people – as humans, we’re inherently drawn to the novel and the different, for no reason other than that it is new or different. 

The challenge is, of course, that nothing can remain novel. This is highlighted in the Cappasity Blog article that says: “Already the norm for consumers, rich content is gradually losing its novelty effect.” 

Clever, thoughtful, creative 

E-commerce capability is one thing; an engaging experience is something else. Every experience needs to be grounded in a narrative. The role of storytelling in online content and experiences remains crucial, as the brands that excel in the e-commerce space know well. 

Data plays a key role in informing these narratives. It presents the coveted information about who the customer is and what their preferences are. But turning this data into a meaningful narrative is where the real challenge lies for brands. Writing for Forbes, Domo senior director of data strategy Brent Dykes says: “To form [these] data narratives, data storytellers will lean on their human creativity, empathy and contextual understanding in ways that can’t be easily replicated by technology.”

Shaune Jordaan. Picture: Supplied
Shaune Jordaan. Picture: Supplied

Grab them with a story 

Data is touted as a panacea for all marketing, advertising and general customer retention woes, and it could be, but data without narrative requires the most specialist skill of all – creativity – to prove effective in its use. E-commerce players need to wake up to the importance of creativity, in its myriad facets, as it is a crucial component of designing the user experience. 

As choice and variety increase, which they continue to do as more brands take their offering online, consumers have greater power. With a mere click or swipe they can move on to a competitor, and often simply because they didn’t like where on the page the “buy” button is, for example. 

This means brands need to go above and beyond to understand, interpret and assess the user experience of their e-commerce offering. It’s about how the offering looks, how it feels, how it works – the overall experience. And the experience doesn’t stop there, but extends to future interactions and communication with the brand. 

The future is personal, intuitive and user focused 

E-commerce in SA has come a long way in the past decade, but we’ve got a long way to go to be truly on par with our global counterparts. The first step is in acknowledging the user, not as a data set but as a human being interacting with our product or service. It’s the online version of the old customer service mantra “the customer is always right”. 

Brands that fail to take into account that the user is a human and design their offering accordingly, are bound to succumb to the syndrome that has taken many down over the years – a steadfast belief that the status quo will hold. 

  • Shaune Jordaan is co-founder & chief commercial officer of Hoorah Digital.



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