man on a bicycle
All he wanted was to buy a pair of bicycling shorts online. All he got were headaches PHOTO: Skitterphoto

I don't normally spend too much of my free time thinking about my friend’s cycling shorts. In fact, I can honestly say I’d given the subject zero attention until last week. 

We were both at an industry forum event and on a coffee break when our conversation turned to ordering things online. 

A Lost Sale in the Making

Don mentioned he was growing frustrated with a well-known online retailer as he was finding it almost impossible to replace his favorite brand of cycling shorts. 

Don knew exactly what brand and style of shorts he wanted but was undecided on the color. He knew the site he wanted to buy them from stocked the right shorts, but he just couldn’t find them. 

The faceted search was no help — it didn’t include “cycling shorts” as a category. The general search gave too many results that he didn’t want to wade through. 

He knew exactly what he wanted and felt he should be able to get to it with one or two clicks at the most. He also expected that when he did get to the right page it would show a series of images that allowed him to compare the different product color options.

We all share this set of expectations these days. 

Think of something you need, do a quick search, find the item, look at the images to confirm it’s the right item, make sure the price is right, click, order.

When it works it feels close to magic. But it only needs a one mismatch of data, or a missing image, or a poor search strategy to derail the experience. 

A Picture Is Worth ...

As the digital experience continues to evolve into a more visual one, having the correct image of a product has become increasingly foundational to delivering a good customer experience. Images are often used to make the final decision about a product purchase, and having clear well-defined images with the correct data can make that decision point easier and reduce costs for the seller.

I worked on one asset management project where the business case was built around the fact that the company’s existing print catalogs had such poor images that customers, unsure they had the correct spare part, would order four or five of the options to make sure they got the right part, and then return the unwanted ones. 

Once we have clear imagery of the various parts or products that show the differences and options, the next step is to ensure the metadata assigned to the images in the Digital Asset Management system can be used to ensure the right image is correctly aligned with the relevant product specifications and descriptions in the Product Information Management system. 

It’s no good getting the images right if the basic product information is missing. 

Even if Don had been able to find the right color shorts, he also needed to know that they were available in his size, and the expected shipping and delivery dates. Price would be useful too, which meant making sure that the Pricing system also fed the customer experience in a way that made sense to the customer. 

I have seen too many ecommerce sites that don’t display price until the last step of the purchase process, when that piece of data is often the first piece of information a prospective customer wants to know.

A Happy Ending For the Competition

Delivering a solid ecommerce customer experience is a combination of good digital asset management, product information management, search engine optimization, localization and customer insights. 

And for those of you who are wondering, Don got his shorts from another seller.