Deep Dive: E-Commerce Redesign for Luxury Retailers

As a freelance UX Designer for Publicis Sapient, I worked with a small team to redesign the e-commerce website of a luxury retail client.

Summary

The goal of this project was to redesign e-commerce sites for a NYC-based luxury retailer and partner sites. The sites would be migrating to a new backend platform.

  • Role: UX Research and Design (Experience Lead)
  • Design Tools: Sketch, InVision, Keynote
  • Collaboration Tools: Skype, Microsoft Teams, Box; Zoom (client)

Challenge: The challenge for the design team was that all sites would be migrating to a new platform. Solutions needed to work for all three. And they needed to be mobile first.

Team: I reported to the Associate Creative Director (UX). Other team members included the Design Director (Visual design), and two art directors. The project manager was the final core member of our team.

Phases of Work: Our work was completed in 2 phases. In phase 1, we focused on identifying best practices. In phase 2, we focused on completing the design.

Publicis Sapient calls itself a "digital business transformation company". Its headquarters are in Boston, MA.

Phase 1: Best Practices

The early UX phases of the project centered on finding examples and best practices for e-commerce websites. Many best practices came from the Baymard Institute, as well as other expert sites like Nielsen Norman Group (NNG.com).

Screen capture of baymard.com
Home page for Baymard.com

The best practices were organized by page or section, such as home page, product detail pages (PDP), and checkout.

We presented the best practices with screenshots of example sites, the current sites, and “out-of-the-box” functionality for the backend platform.


Surprising Finding About Quick View: Don’t Use It

One best practice that surprised me involved the use of Quick View. Baymard Institute identified that around 48% of websites utilize Quick View on product listing pages. However, their research concluded that “Quick Views are often symptom treatments for poor product list designs.” Therefore, the priority would be to create strong designs for the product list pages rather than create a new design for Quick View.

Screenshot
Baymard Institute recommends avoiding ‘Quick View’ overlays and advises focusing on building better product list pages.

Learn more about this finding on their blog: https://baymard.com/blog/ecommerce-quick-views


Early UX Collaborations with Visual Design in Phase 1

Starting out, the visual design team concentrated on UI foundations, like building a pattern library and exploring typography, etc. We collaborated in a few of the following ways:

Whiteboard with drawing on it.
Depiction of whiteboard exercise.

Shopping Journeys: As a team, we also discussed various shopping journeys to address specific requests from the client.

Information Architecture: We also discussed information architecture and iterated on multiple sitemap options, reviewing the current site, similar sites, and consulting with the tech team.

Phase 1 Conclusion

Phase 1 concluded with a focus on aspects of the product page, shopping journeys, and best practices.


 Phase 2: Design Sprints

Whiteboard with a schedule
Depiction of sprint planning.

Our goal starting Phase 2 was to complete several rounds of sprints. The work would include most of the site, starting with PDP. A few highlights from the start of Phase 2:

Design-Pairing on PDP: In the first month, I closely collaborated with one of the art directors on an early design of PDP. We discussed various options for page elements, like product descriptions and reviews. I gave feedback on functionality and usability.

Annotations for Visual Design: I also supported the visual design team that first month by creating annotations for visual designs, which were uploaded to Confluence.

Responsiveness & Functional Limitations: Throughout the project, I worked with the development team on understanding functional limitations and keeping the layout responsive.

Mid-Project Refocus Towards Global Nav and Framework

As with many projects, plans changed and our work refocused:

Refocus on Global Nav and User Profiles: We redirected our efforts towards the global navigation and user profiles, instead of the shopping journey. The work would now include global header/footer, sign in, account creation, favorites, purchase history, password, etc.

New Client UX Lead, Refocus on Design Framework: On the client side, a new UX team lead with a focus on longer-term goals — including a design framework for all three brands to use.

Collaborative Effort on Design Framework

In one sprint, following these changes, the UX and Visual design teams did a remarkable job collaborating on establishing a base for the design framework.  I used my experience with Basecamp, Foundation (Zurb), and Tachyons to advise the visual design team on UI components.

Eventually the UI and UX teams split into two. The visual team supported the design framework/UI and the UX team continued the product design/wireframes.


Outcome

The UX team continued with the product design, as planned. We focused on screens associated with user profiles, including purchase history, favorites, communications, user registration, address book, etc. We spent a lot of time iterating on form design and mobile layouts.


Screenshot references

Newsletter sign up for Dune London, a UK based retailer.

My Week Note blog posts document some of the tasks I completed in Phase 2. They can be found for March, April, and May. A few highlights are below:

  • Created wireframe desktop layout options for account profile dashboards in Sketch
  • Created workflows to map proposed account profile functionality, including update address from account profile and checkout, communication preferences, and expired cards/payment methods
  • Worked with the visual design lead and UX associate director to prep for a client presentation on wireframes and visual design of requirements
  • Included a table within the wireframes to map processes between systems, for better messaging for the customer

If you visited this blog post from my website, you can jump back here.


Sidenote

It sounds like science fiction, but right in the middle of this project a new and deadly virus spread across the United States. A global pandemic was declared. The city of New York became the hardest hit locality in the United States. In the early weeks of March, we stopped travel to the client’s location and the main office. For 2-3 months, all work became remote.

However, back in 2017, I wrote this blog post with tips for better conference calls. The remote work affected some members of the team more than others, but we were able to find new ways to collaborate using online tools and lots of patience.

UX Audit of Guest Management Service: A Project Deep Dive

I evaluated a guest and event management platform using personas, a competitive analysis, and a heuristic evaluation.

Summary

Over the course of several weeks, I completed a UX audit of a guest management platform including personas, competitive evaluation, and heuristic evaluation. The research revealed an internal user base, many usability issues, and a number of competitive features to consider for future redesigns.

  • Role: Freelance Product Designer
  • Firm: DOOR3 Business Solutions
  • Design Tools: G Suite
  • Tasks: Personas, Competitive Research, Heuristic Evaluation
My portfolio includes a quick overview of DOOR3: alliwalk.com/ux/guest-audit/

Note: DOOR3 had their own UX/presentation templates, which I followed for each of these deliverables.


I. Personas

Personas are used by design teams to create representations of end-users that can help ground the design team in the realistic capabilities and expectations of users. I conducted interviews with the client, to learn more about their users and develop personas.

Introduction

The template for DOOR3 organized personas by the following:

  • Characteristics: What do we know about them?
  • Goals: What are they trying to achieve by using our product or service
  • Questions: What are some of the common questions they have while using our product?

Personas were then separated into Internal Actors and External Actors.

Client Interviews

In order to answer these questions, I set up an interview with one of their lead client services managers and a product manager. I also read job descriptions for some of clients they worked with, such as an event manager or director of development. Using this information, I created six personas, which the client reviewed and validated.

(Note: These are replicated originals.)

3 Key Learnings

I learned three key pieces of information that affected the user experience:

Roles & Permissions Restricted Functionality: User roles and permissions was a core aspect of the user experience. Many functions required could only be accessed if permission was granted by admins.

Internal Core User Group: Most end users were internal members of the client services team; many did not have admin access. Only a small minority of users were actual customers. Of those, only a rare few had accessed the site independently. There were no plans to add user registration so that new customers could sign up on their own.

Extensive Training Required: I learned that the platform required a significant amount of training before users could became sufficiently productive. The reasons for this became clear during the heuristic evaluation.

 


II. Competitive Evaluation

The competitive evaluation or analysis is a common stage in product design. I identified at least 20 competitors and related industries, to gain knowledge of industry conventions and identify potentially useful features.

3 Tiers of Competition

To locate competitors, I reviewed Capterra and Software Suggest, and included obvious choices such as Eventbrite and Splashthat. I included a few I’d learned of during the interviews. Competitors were organized into 3 tiers of competition: direct, secondary, tertiary.

Direct Competitors

I identified 10 and evaluated 4: PlanningPod, EventSquid, Eventbrite, Envoy Visitors. I reviewed all competitors, but included examples from these four in more detail.

Screenshot of Planning Pod website
Planning Pod, a direct competitor, has a robust set of features focused on event and guest management.

Secondary Competitors

Offered the same functionality but specialized in specific types of events, like weddings or travel. I identified 2 and evaluated 1: TripIt.

TripIt Screenshot
TripIt specializes in helping their users keep track of travel itinerary. The client’s owner said he was a user of TripIt.

Tertiary competitors

Represented tools or industries that the users encountered frequently as a part of their work, such as airline websites or industry news. I identified 7 options and evaluated 4: SendGrid, BeeFree, Flight Stats, BizBash. These services specialized in only certain features and I wanted to review the functionality they did well.

Screenshot of BeeFree (BEE).
BeeFree (BEE) has services related to email marketing. I reviewed this tool because it was mentioned by the client. I was impressed by the cute animations and whimsical email character throughout the site.

 

4 Categories of Findings

Findings were organized into 4 categories, based on functionality or features users would be likely to find important. Examples are below:

Competitive Overall Features — integrations with third-party apps and services, (e.g., MailChimp, GoldStar, Zapier, etc); branded user profiles

Platform-Specific Features — ability to create and share a favorites list or vision board; easy access to help or reference guide

Design and Information Architecture — high-contrast between foreground and background colors; strong global and sub-task navigation

Additional Event Capabilities — real-time RFID event tracking; ability to preview and export name badges


III. Heuristic Evaluation

The bulk of my time was spent on the heuristic evaluation. In a heuristic evaluation, a UX expert uses an established guideline to identify potential usability issues.

A large number of issues were revealed during the heuristic evaluation. While many were not critical, the cumulative amount was a concern.

Method: 10 Usability Heuristics

DOOR3’s template only referenced Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design, which I used. I also included principles from Bruce Tognazzini’s, First Principles of Interaction Design.

Over 70 Usability Issues Identified

I identified over 70 usability issues, from their main platform as well as their public website. For each usability issue, I included a suggested recommendation on how to fix it. I also included an appendix with additional UX references on typography, accessibility, and navigation.

Many of the main issues had to do with inconsistent use of UI elements, navigation, or labels, as well as accessibility issues like low contrast. There were also technical issues, cryptic error messages, and confusing workflows.


Presentation of Findings

I presented the evaluation so that the most important findings came first, then organized the rest of the findings by section such as groups or account tools.

Since their users were internal, I focused on the connection between usability issues and productivity — that is, a interface with a shorter learning curve would save money in training and overhead costs.

During my presentation to the client, they revealed that they were aware of many of the usability and design issues I identified, but they had been backlogged in favor of “hot fixes” due to many issues in the code.

Outcome: Prioritization

The DOOR3 team worked with the client to help identify all the issues with the platform — front-end, back-end, design, future features. The issues were then prioritized, so that they could be put into a backlog and managed over time.

The client continued working with DOOR3 on engineering updates and some design updates.


Thanks for visiting! Feel free to read my latest blog post, or if you came from my portfolio head back there.

e-Commerce Shipping Update: A Project Deep Dive

An in-depth look into an e-commerce update for an electronics retailer. The update focused on improving the international shopping experience by clarifying shipping information.

Summary

By conducting UX research on competitors and examining the shopping journey, I made a number of recommended changes to improve the user experience for international customers.

  • Role: UX/UI Design and UI Development
  • Design Tools: Sketch
  • Development IDE: Coda with HTML and CSS
My portfolio includes a quick overview of Adorama: alliwalk.com/ux/adorama/

Problem: Unhappy Customers

Adorama regularly shipped internationally, but many international customers were unhappy when they received their items.

The short answer is the site was not providing enough information about the fees associated with international shipping, leading to unhappy and expensive surprises.

The business owners had only requested a change to the checkout page, which they felt would solve the problem. However, in order to provide the best user experience, I explored the shopping journey, from PDP to checkout, to find out where improvements could be made.


 1. Research & Findings

I researched at least 30 websites to find out how other companies handled international and domestic shipping. I discovered that Adorama was solving a unique problem.

Many online shopping sites do not offer international shipping, even to Canada. Of those that do, the vast majority provide a localized shopping experience, where product prices are displayed in the local currency and shipping destinations are restricted to a single country.

I also discovered that many companies will also not allow customers to associate a US billing address with a Canadian shipping address, or vice-versa. They must both be Canadian (or American).


Shipping and Localization Examples

Sephora, Overstock, Nordstrom, B&H, JCPenny

 

List of E-commerce sites reviewed:

OfficeDepot, IKEA, Sephora, Target, Overstock, REI, Williams Sonoma, Michaels, Sears, HomeGoods (doesn’t ship), Shop.com, QVC, Macys, Nordstrom, Zappos, JCrew, JC Penny, GameStop, ebay, NewEgg, BestBuy, Walmart, Cars.com (no CAN), plus competitors (Abe’s of Maine, Keh, B&H, RitzCamera, MPB, Samys, and BuyDig).

Conclusion

Adorama offered a unique, non-localized, multi-currency, and cross-country international shopping experience. Given the complexity of the problem, I felt a more comprehensive solution was more appropriate.


2. Design Patterns

Although I was solving a unique problem, I did uncover a few patterns that could be used on Adorama’s website:

A. Supportive Help Pages

For most sites, the best place to look for shipping information was in the help pages, but Adorama’s help pages did not include all information about international shipping.

In fact, while most international customers would only be able to select FedEx International Shipping, the help pages did not include any information about this shipping method.

Screen shot of international shipping information on Adorama website
No FedEx shipping information on Adorama’s help pages.

B. Easy to Access Shipping Information

Competitors included shipping information well before checkout. For instance, Nordstrom advertises its shipping information in the header on the homepage.

Nordstrom homepage features a link to shipping details in the header.

C. Provide Clear & Obvious International Shipping Information

For some websites, the international shipping rates were available when viewing the cart. JC Penney (pictured), Nordstrom and Adorama competitor, B&H (pictured), were good at this.

JC Penney does a good job explaining the choices between international shipping options.
B&H clearly explains the differences in international shipping fees.


3. Recommendations for User Workflow and Wireframes

After all the research and collecting design patterns, I started clarifying the user workflow and the wireframes, focusing on international shoppers. The workflow would flow in the following order:

Help Pages

First the help pages, accessible via the footer, would need to be updated to include new language about FedEx International Shipping. This task was sent to the business owners to complete and finalize.

Product Pages (Wireframes presented)

The next place customers would learn about shipping is on the product pages.  The recommended product page features improved language and tooltips, as well as an updated shipping information section.

Cart and Checkout (Screenshots presented)

The final place for customers to learn about shipping fees.  The recommended changes for the cart and checkout pages would include clarified shipping information, as well as an updated tooltip.


UI Development & Next Steps

As a dual UX designer and UI developer, it was up to me to begin the implementation of changes to the cart and checkout pages.

As of April 2018, only changes to the cart and checkout pages have been implemented. Additional development work will be created in May, or possibly June, for the product page modals.

 


Thanks for visiting! Feel free to read my latest blog post, or if you came from my portfolio head back there.