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Why Recommendations Aren’t Enough for Ecommerce

Over the past decade, UX optimization has become a key area of focus for digital businesses. The most successful platforms today are going beyond recommendations: They’re investing in UX that anticipates ahead of time what users are going to want. In many cases, UX optimization can even adapt the interface in real time to create a custom experience for each and every visitor.

As a result, when people use sites online, they now expect to get faster results in fewer clicks — and they’re bored at best and frustrated at worst when every interaction isn’t easy and delightful. It’s not enough anymore to deliver a pleasing design with a static layout. Particularly in ecommerce, UX is now an area where brands compete to find the best ways to connect with their users.

But What do Users Want When They Come to an Ecommerce Store?

For most digital platforms — like browsers, messaging services or media sites — there are only one or two main things that people want to do when they arrive on the site. The user’s intention is clear.

What about ecommerce, though? Why do people visit a digital store? To buy, yes — but it’s more complicated than that. Buying is not just about adding an item to the cart and clicking “check out.” It’s mostly about everything that happens ahead of time, as people research and prepare to make a purchase, finding the best fit for their needs. They might spend a few minutes comparing different grocery items for the best price, spend hours reading reviews for a new TV, or spend weeks picking out new living room furniture.

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Most of these behaviors won’t lead to an immediate purchase, but it doesn’t mean they’re not important for brands to address with a great UX. The preparation stage usually includes multiple site visits, so if an ecommerce store really wants that audience to come back and actually buy, this stage is a great chance to win their loyalty for this upcoming purchase (or forever).

No Matter How Good, a One-Size-Fits-All UX Will Lead to Lost Sales

Because ecommerce customers can arrive at your site with so many different intentions, there’s no way to create a single UX that works for everyone.

Don’t believe it? Here’s an example. You’ve launched an ad campaign that brought traffic to your site. A first-time user is starting at your homepage, having clicked on your appealing ad — but this user is currently short of money and feels stressed about their lack of funds. They see a big button on your homepage saying “shop now” — at a moment when they’ve seen very little and haven’t yet become interested in any product. Words have a powerful effect on people; that’s why CTA and buttons are one of the most popular areas for A/B testing.

Another customer could be researching which sneakers to buy from your store, but might keep needing to close annoying marketing pop-ups that suggest a random item they’re not interested in. At what point does it become more interesting to look for sneakers from a different store or go to a big platform like Amazon? It can depend on the customer’s loyalty — for a new customer, a small amount of irritation may drive them away, never to return.

But What About Segmenting Customers?

Often, ecommerce sites will attempt to segment customers into groups and deliver a few different UX variations for each one. But categorizing customers is not the solution, because it’s impossible to pin down a user and say that they will always want the same thing every time they visit your store. Each user’s shopping intention is constantly changing, based on a variety of factors.

Depending on the goal each customer has in each specific site interaction, whether they want to buy a specific product or simply go through new collections, the ideal digital experience will require a UX that’s ready and able to adapt and meet those needs.

Today’s Ecommerce Stores Are Competing on Customer Convenience

Customer convenience builds positive emotions and, ultimately, loyalty. And loyalty is the gold of the 21st century. People read news from the publications they trust, and people buy from the stores they trust.

To build this trust, your store needs to deliver a successful user experience every time. What does a successful UX look like? It isn’t just about finding products quickly. It’s more nuanced than that. The feeling of success can be extracted from each step in the interaction when the interface does exactly what the user expects in terms of experience.

AI Unlocks the Next Level of UX Optimization

How do you anticipate what users will expect and want when they arrive at your store so that you can deliver the experience that meets their needs perfectly? Until recently, it’s been an extremely difficult problem; this is why most of the web still uses a single, static UX. But today, the landscape of UX optimization is changing. With new data engineering and AI tools, it’s now possible to analyze the different scroll and click patterns that happen on your site. AI can instantly combine the historical data of all interactions on your site with real-time data about what each user is doing now.

Using all this data, AI can predict what each user is intending at each moment of their shopping sessions. When you connect AI to your UX, you can optimize your store in real time, creating the right experience for each and every user. For instance, AI can choose which menu items, buttons, default selections and product images to show based on what performed best with other users who had similar behavior.

The best part about this is that AI works continuously to improve the customer experience. As it processes more and more data, product and engineering teams and the AI itself can find constantly improved ways to connect with customers and provide them with the most convenience possible.

In a mature market (which ecommerce definitely is), competitors fight for loyal repeat clients. You can’t rely on traffic alone anymore. Rather, you have to serve the users who make up that traffic in a smart, proactive way that makes them want to visit your site over and over again. The technology and tools to do this exist today. A better question might be, what are you waiting for?


Peter Szalontay is the DataGoat at DataMilk, which empowers ecommerce sites to build AI-powered UX.

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