Luckily for us, the world shops in a pretty homogeneous way. People look for products they want, add them to their basket, and pay for them in some way. This is rooted in most cultures. What differs from country to country is the range of products available and the value we attach to them. For example, in Europe a melon will never be as expensive as a family car, but if you’re bidding on a Yubari King Melon in Japan then that is a definite possibility.
In ecommerce, we rely on these global shopping patterns but inherit the same cultural nuances.
Payment is a friction factor for instance, as paying before even touching the product requires a certain level of trust between the shopper and other actors (store, payment provider, delivery services, and so on). For this reason, online payments are regarded as riskier in countries with a high rate of corruption and scams. In that case, cash remains king. In other countries, the opposite might be true. The Nordic countries are an increasingly cashless society, for example. Ecommerce designers respond to these challenges by focusing on reducing the amount of friction in the shopping experience.
But what happens when this experience collides with another fundamental human experience: feeding ourselves and our families?
The big three
In online groceries, we face three additional challenges:
Basket size. When buying clothes, you’ll basically add 1 to 10 items to your order. When buying books, perhaps 1 to 3. When buying groceries, we’re talking 50+ items on average. This means a longer shopping time and multiple searches to find everything.
This is an important focal point for us: to help the shopper get everything they need, quicker. The thing is, they don’t only shop for 50 items at once. They do it every week. Trends show that basket size is getting ever bigger. Which brings us to the second point:
Basket frequency. Food gets stored, prepared, cooked, enjoyed, shared, and even photographed, but the bottom line is that food gets eaten. Then we need more food. So shoppers come back, a week later - and increasingly daily - to shop again.
This is why we allow users to shop from their past orders easily. Which brings me to my third point:
Basket repetition. Around 80% of products shoppers buy are repeat purchases. If you are looking for milk, the chances are that you know which one you like, so whether this is the full-fat organic cow milk you grew up on or that hazelnut & oat milk you love, you’ll buy it again… and again.
We make it easy to find these repeating products by displaying them first in search results. We also have dedicated sections to find these products quickly, like Favourites. We also work on algorithms that can read shopping history to suggest items you have run out of and even propose something new and interesting to the shopper; after all, we all like a little adventure, even if it’s just a new dessert.
We also never clear the user’s basket. So if you add some basil on Monday when you used the last leaves for your pesto pasta, you’ll still find them in your basket on Thursday when it’s time to checkout, acting a bit like a digital shopping list.
These three online grocery specificities become even more important to keep in mind in a world where shoppers do not only eat, but also work, travel, raise children, take classes, and more.
It’s our job to make our grocery shopping experience fit with life, and not the other way around.
Because we want to help shoppers do their shop in a seamless way, we give them the option to do it via multiple channels for every moment in life - on their phones while commuting, on their laptop while working (yes, we know), and so on.
This means that we strive for consistency in the user experience across our channels. Half of the users of our mobile apps are also using the website for instance. Therefore we want to make sure that they can transition from one to the next without having to learn where things are or where to find them. To do this, our robust Design System helps us re-use patterns and have a seamless journey between interfaces.
The fact that our retail partners have physical stores is also bringing more research possibilities. Ocado.com solely focuses online, but most grocery retailers started with bricks & mortar stores before moving to ecommerce. This presented us with a new opportunity to reconsider some of our approaches, as the goal might not be to shop 100% online anymore, but shop 100% with the same retailer, online or in-store. Integrating with our retailer’s loyalty scheme is one of the first steps taken, but a lot more is on the horizon to blend the division between real and digital.
A seamless experience is often the holy-grail for designers, but even the smoothest flow can become unusable to some users or inaccessible to people with disabilities, and this is where testing becomes key.
Global vs Local
Even though our solution is adaptable to any marketplace, it is really important to be mindful of regional differences. Remember that ecommerce inherits the nuances of the local culture. For instance, in the UK, postcodes are everything. They are very handy to select a delivery address as only a handful of addresses share the same one. In continental Europe, a postcode might be for an entire town, and some countries don’t use postcodes all together. So our UK solution became a challenge in Spain. To move forward, we organised User Testing sessions, both internal - with our colleagues from the Barcelona office - and external - with customers of Bonpreu Esclat, our retail partner in Catalunya. Testing helped us to find a solution that would work well for the Spanish market, but also allowed us to learn things that will benefit all our users.
We also had the recent challenge to design the checkout experience for North America. We don’t have net prices in Europe - what you see is what you pay. However, our transatlantic neighbours are used to paying taxes at checkout, so we worked closely with Sobeys, our retail partner in Canada, to find the best approach and tested our solutions remotely with users based in this geography.
It’s a good reminder that research is key to understanding these local nuances and how best to address them.
Finding the balance between a single platform and custom local shoppers’ needs for each retailer is a challenge that we all face at Ocado Technology, but it’s also one that brings the most opportunities to user experience designers and researchers. Creating, testing and releasing our solutions in foreign markets is a really exciting space to be in, and watching more and more shoppers use our products from every continent of the globe is definitely what keeps us inspired and motivated to design user experiences that shape the way the planet shops.
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