Shop Direct opens UX Lab doors to retail rivals in call for greater standardisation of m-commerce

One testing area of the Shop Direct UX Lab

Shop Direct’s in-house UX Lab has opened its doors to rival retailers as the brand encourages shared learning to acheive greater standardisation of m-commerce.

The retailer – which owns online brands including Very.co.uk, Littlewoods, and Isme – ploughed £100,000 into creating its own UX Lab earlier this year.

Jonathan Wall, e-commerce director at Shop Direct, explained that until recently it had been spending up to £13,000 per project with a third-party agency, and was in some cases going to them 20 or 30 times a year.

UX as a sector of the business had also “struggled” to get senior stakeholder buy-in, according to Wall, and he knew that to achieve what the brand wanted would mean bringing the service in-house.

Wall claimed Shop Direct is the first major retailer in the UK to handle user experience and “testing at scale” itself.

“Back when we first started we had to go out and see what others were doing. We went to the best in breed; to the likes of Google, the Telegraph, and the Guardian, who had in-house UX Labs. But there certainly wasn’t anyone in retail,” he added.

Today, Wall stated that setting up the UX Lab (pictured) has been “the best thing we’ve done in the past two years for our e-commerce business.”

Based in Liverpool, the Lab is doing up to 50 AB tests a month in an effort to understand Shop Direct consumers better and Wall and his team are working to create a more refined digital offering based on those learnings.

Thus far, they have been predominantly looking at the product pages and the home-page gallery across the Shop Direct portfolio. Changes have already been made to the desktop and mobile sites such as the language used and type of error message shown to customers.

It is now welcoming other retailers, even rivals, who want advice on in-house UX testing or to discuss best practices in an effort to bring standardisation to m-commerce.

“E-commerce has been around for 20 years and there is a lot of standardisation in the customer journey now. The problem on smartphones and tablets is that there is no real standardisation. So when you ask about best practices, there aren’t any yet,” explained Wall.

“At the moment if a customer buys a fashion item across five or six sites they’ll have quite a different experience on each one on mobile. It’s confusing.”

Wall added that he doesn't want retailers to be copying eachother, but that shared learning is key.

“We’d never want to help our competition but they’ve got areas they can help us with and we can help them,” he said, revealing he has already had “several phone calls” from competitors who want to talk.

Wall hopes that within the next 18 months the m-commerce industry will have better standardisation in the user journey.

Moving forward, he added that personalisation is the “biggest bet” Shop Direct is making over the next three years.

“There are a lot of players in the marketplace which are claiming personalisation at the moment. But they haven’t – they are ‘wisdom of the crowd’ platforms based on algorithms of the last 100,000 people to visit the site,” he said.

“A lot of the UX testing and experimentation we’re doing at the moment is focused on making the offer relevant to the customer. For example, if a customer has a Shop Direct credit limit of £300 and we merchandise a £700 TV for them it doesn’t make sense. But in a personalised world we can merchandise products that we know our customer can afford.”

Data, of which Shop Direct has plenty, will prove to be invaluable in achieving this.

“We’ve always been rich in data and testing has actually brought in more data. Through AB testing we’ve delivered a lot of data about what’s happening on the site and whether customers are buying or not. But what it doesn’t tell us is why, although the technology the Lab has invested in such as eye tracking can. So it’s objective versus subjective and it’s the balance of both of those data sets that’s helpful for us.”

Earlier this week, Shop Direct detailed some of its plans to launch the first transactional apps in the coming months after admitting it is probably the last major online retailer not to have one.

Shop Direct is among the brands on board to help The Drum discover The Joy of CX on 16 October.

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