Saturday, April 12, 2008

Site Design for Your Customer

Hopefully everyone has heard the adage “know your customers”. This saying predates the Internet but it especially applies to companies that utilize the web as a major component to their business. Let’s face it, the Internet created a marketplace that now allows consumers easy access to goods and services that were either very hard or impossible to find before the ‘90s. Everyone has heard of major online retailers, or e-tailers: eBay, Amazon, J.Crew, and Dell. For Joe and Jane consumer these retail sites, plus entertainment and banking fulfill 99% of their web needs.

However, many companies are utilizing the web to streamline interactions within their supply chain. These companies are the “man behind the man” or “woman behind the woman” or “woman behind the man” (I’ll stop now; I think you get the point). They are the manufacturers and distributors for the retailers we all know.

Yeah everyone wants their home page to be sexy and cool. For a large number of sites the objective is to provide wholesalers and distributors easy order and account management. It’s the productivity gains along with the timeliness and accuracy of processing the orders that provides the true ROI.

Many times these sites do not provide an optimal experience and this is a problem that is usually overlooked because it appears that all the orders are being placed. However, in reality the true reason the order was placed is because of the sheer will of individuals that place the order on the other end of the site. Do you really want the success of your business to be outside of your control? Yeah the order went through but maybe the employee on the other end really wanted to restock three SKUs not one.

To overcome this site design problem, first you need to determine if the site is for wholesalers or retail customers. If your site needs to serve both the wholesale and retail consumer, make sure you provide each “customer” with a site that fulfills their needs. Designing a site for wholesalers is completely different then creating a site for retail consumers. Making this separation will provide design clarity.

Second, start a dialog with the actual users on the other end of the site. Find out what they like and dislike about the site. Also, make sure not to overlook the physical location from where they access the site. You don’t want the site to rely on audio cues if the end users are accessing the site from a noise shop floor. Creating this dialog with your users can be achieved through numerous methodologies (surveys, field inspections, ethnographic studies, etc). Sometimes you can tease this information out via a few phone calls, but most of the time it requires a more scientific approach.

These simple principles will drive orders increase, efficiencies for you and your customers, and many times, build goodwill for your company.

Ty Allen
VP Product Development

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