eCommerce Insiders

Best eCommerce Websites: Usability Testing Shows AO How Customers Buy

As it enters its 14th year of online operations, one of the best eCommerce websites – the UK e-commerce appliance retailer AO.com – has been valued at $2.7 billion, and is now looking at expansion plans into Europe.

Key to its success, the kitchen appliances internet retailer has prioritized user experience throughout its growth. It is recognized globally as having established one of the best learning and feedback loops from studying how visitors and shoppers engage with the site, testing what they see works, and then scaling those features across the whole site.

Through using social media effectively and generating the right content for their audience, AO have managed to make white goods sexy. And for an Internet retailer, they have overcome the most difficult hurdle facing pure-play businesses that do not have a physical store: being seen as trustworthy by buyers.

Who can learn from the AO.com model?

  • Appliance internet retailers
  • Any pure-play internet retailer (that is, that only has an online presence and no physical store)
  • Retailers selling mainstream and household products

Branding and PR

1. Tell us who you are

One of the biggest challenges for pure, online-only retailers is building trust with an audience to the point where they feel confident buying from you.

AO has managed to address this head on by creating clear, engaging and friendly “About” pages that evoke a sense of trust through clear vales statements and commitments. This includes: About Us page – which is rated by Smart Insights as one of the best on the web

AOcom About Us page

The comprehensive “About Us” website section also includes more customer testimonials and, of course, the ability to track your order (an essential feature for any online retailer these days: luckily there are APIs that can help you provide this service easily, based on your shipping partner).

How this is useful

  • Do not underestimate the importance of providing multiple opportunities to asset your trustworthiness.
  • Don’t let your trust content waffle on. Use dot point lists and share your key values to explain why your customers should trust you.
  • Provide multiple avenues to explain your shipping, returns, and
  • pricing policies.
  • Provide a variety of shipping and delivery options if possible, particularly for after-work deliveries.

2. Integrate social as testimonials

AO discovered that by using various Facebook elements, they could increase conversion rates on their website. According to a Facebook case study of AO, using Facebook’s Facepile feed raised conversion rates by 10% while incorporating other types of comments into an AO website content stream called “Made Us Smile” raised conversion rates by 15%.

AOcom social proof

All up AO use 6 Facebook products across their website. The impact of this reaches beyond social media. For example, as a result of an increased presence both on Facebook itself, and from integrating Facebook user comments into their own website, customers are now more likely to search for AO online when they are searching for branded appliances.

That is, after implementing all of these social media products, AO saw an increase in website traffic that came from Google for terms like “Westinghouse Dishwasher Appliances Online”. These are highly valuable search terms: the searcher is indicating they have done some research and know what brand they want, and by adding ‘appliances online’ (that is AO.com), they are even indicating where they want to buy from. (Granted, in some cases, searchers could just mean they want to buy appliance online, not necessarily from AO, but the increase in search traffic came after all of the Facebook social feed integrations suggesting a strong link between the social media strategy and impact.)

How this is useful

  • Do not underestimate the value of social media in building a customer’s preparedness to buy.
  • Use social media integration products to populate user generated content into your website.

Product Range

3. Use Videos to help drive sales

One of AO’s most-talked about business strategies has been its focus on understanding how site visitors watch videos on the site. AO knows that website visitors who watch videos are 120.5% more likely to buy, and when they do, they spend 9.1% more than shoppers who do not watch the site’s video content.

AOcom uses video

AO use embedded videos on product pages to describe each product, and have made them ‘responsive’ in their frame so that if a website visitor is playing a video and scrolls down on the product page, the video follows them down so it is still viewable.

How this is helpful

  • Use video content strategically to drive sales.
  • Make sure you do not use auto-play features of video embeds, a lot of users will leave your website if every page they turn to automatically triggers a video to start and it is disrespectful to the noise level and data-service plan of customers.
  • Make sure video watching is part of your analytics measurements, especially seeing how many shoppers watch videos and which videos are most successful at encouraging sales conversions.

4. Personalize your product pages

Across the whole site, AO replaced product description text provided by manufacturers with their own text, written by copywriters hired to do this work.

product pages from AOcom

While it may be quicker to use product descriptions written by your suppliers and the product manufacturers, original product description text can reveal the personality and brand image of a website better, and is more effective at search engine optimization ranking.

How this is useful

  • While you may start by using supplied product descriptions to populate your product pages, work regularly to rewrite each of these pages with original content, tailored to your audience and with a flair of your business personality.
  • Use tables with key buying characteristics. For example, AO indicate the noise levels of appliances like dishwashers in a table, along with usual specifications like size measurements, energy saving rating and available colors.

eCommerce Platform

5. Use shopping trust certification

While AO downplays many of the banners and stickers that can be added to a site to indicate trust, they do make sure to use Google Certified Shopping accreditation. This website feature available in the UK links with Google eCommerce analytics to measure things like service quality and delivery.

How this is useful

  • Many online retail platforms and online payment providers offer certification processes to help you demonstrate trust and security to your customers.
  • In addition to sharing customer testimonials, consider sharing data on shipping delivery reliability, speed of returns policies, and customer satisfaction ratings overall. Be transparent with this data and your customers will respond favorably.

Customer Experience

6. Watch what customers do

AO are constantly reviewing how visitors engage with their website and analyzing what makes customers buy from them. When they understand a particular effective strategy – changing the “buy” button to be larger, in green, and say “Add to Basket” for example – they then roll that out across the whole website and see the impacts scale alongside the strategy implementation.

For example, AO used the WhatUsersDo service to track 125 visitors who were asked to complete a particular task on the website. These sorts of usability testing services are a paid service that internet retailers can use to get a sample size of potential customers and see how they actually engage with your website.

usertesting
ABOVE: How services like UserTesting work

By analyzing these tests, AO were able to increase sales by 9.5% by improving their customers’ experiences on product pages (for example, they found that most product pages were too busy and didn’t include enough clarity around the after-sales service that AO can provide).

How this is useful

7. Offer a personal touch

As with other best eCommerce websites like Grainger and Cherrybrook, offering a personal touch is essential. Providing a chat function or having a policy of responding to every comment made on social media networks builds a sense of community, trust and loyalty. AO have a 15 minute target response rate to respond to any comments made on their website or on any of their social media channels.

How this is useful

  • Being online isn’t a set and forget business strategy. Engage with your customers and provide a variety of means to spark a conversation with your business. This may include online chat features on your website, where customers can get advice prior to making a sale, or more long-term community engagement conversations that may take place on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.
  • Set a goal such as responding to every comment made on social media within a certain time frame. Set aside time several times each day to check recent comments, or set up automatic features so you are always alerted when a new comment so you can respond in a timely fashion.
  • Review Ruben Daniels’ article on social eCommerce for more advice.

Will You Be Ranked One of the Best eCommerce Websites of Tomorrow?

AO are a massive online retailer now so it is easy to think that what they do has no bearing on a smaller eCommerce venture. But that is exactly how they started off: as a small eCommerce venture! The techniques that they have used to grow are scalable and available to anyone who is willing to take a data-driven approach to eCommerce (which, lets face it, needs to be everyone these days).

Don’t be overwhelmed. Focus on conducting usability tests and doing one A/B experiment at a time and start implementing what works across your whole site. Month after month, you will see sales grow as you continue to roll out the strategies that your customers most appreciate and value. And, who knows where you will be in 14 years, just like AO!

Mark Boyd

Mark Boyd is a freelance writer based in Barcelona, focusing on the ways we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly for Programmable Web

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