It’s 2023. We’re well past the days (like, decades past) of internet novelty when consumers were distracted from poor performance by things like flash, features, and fanfare. In a digital world once defined by the “if you build it they will come” mentality, there are now countless offerings competing for your customers’ attention…and their dollar. If you’re not working harder than ever to build an intuitive, empathetic experience for your audience, you’ve already lost. That’s where UX design can help.

User experience (UX) design is the practice of defining and understanding how a particular set of users thinks, feels, and acts in order to cater a specific service or product to suit them best. This practice has been significantly adopted across top performers in the retail landscape by creating internal UX teams or hiring external agency partners—a success shown by companies like Nordstrom, Target, Amazon, and Levi’s. As impressive as this transformation has been, UX Design is still underutilized in the eComm space. For example, while 6 of the top 10 specialty retail sellers have internal UX teams – over 60% of the top 100 do not. These companies are missing out on the financial benefits UX design provides including increased conversions, improved retention, and operational cost savings. 

If your organization falls into these groups, it would see measurable benefits with UX having a seat at the table:

  • You’re a catalog-driven creative org that’s updating your homepage 10x a month while the PDP that’s receiving over 80% of traffic is untouched
  • You’ve recently migrated commerce platforms to Shopify, Salesforce or the like with a one time UX surge from your systems integrator that has since disappeared
  • Your team launches campaigns or promotions with no end-to-end view of the customer experience from email through to checkout
  • You know that your KPIs and metrics are lagging but you’re not sure which part of the funnel to prioritize effort on 

Maybe you have worked with a UX designer in some capacity or maybe this could lead to your first encounter. Here are three changes you can expect when you give UX a seat in your eComm operations.

Three changes to give UX a seat in eComm operations

1. Your customer’s journey becomes cohesive and intuitive

A recent job listing by Estee Lauder aptly described the role of UX Director as “…imparting day to day design leadership that fosters a shared understanding of the user-centric intersection of design, content, business, and engineering.” To emphasize just how true that is, consider that a whopping 84% of consumers cite that their overall experience associated with a company is just as important as its products and services1. UX is responsible for ensuring that experience is optimized end-to-end—from macro systems to nuanced micro-interactions—all while balancing the niche needs of internal teams like digital marketing, merchandising, customer service, and development. 

At a recent specialty retail client, a newly established UX role implemented “journey reviews” as part of the planning process for all major promotions and seasonal launches. In these reviews the UX lead facilitated a cross-functional review of what the customer would be seeing and the potential impact from end-to-end. It quickly became evident during these sessions that small changes and updates over time can add up and affect the intended experience along different, sometimes unexpected parts of the shopping journey. Exercises like these always result in surprising findings that otherwise go unnoticed and therefore not addressed appropriately or capitalized on. In order to have the best understanding of the pain points in a product you need to have an in-depth and empathetic understanding of the user’s journey, UX designers can identify and communicate these and create ongoing actionable enhancements for the design, product and development teams to address.

2. Digital innovation, not budget, takes center stage 

It’s no secret that the retail space has been actively moving away from the physical world and towards the digital. The resurgence of live-shopping on social media, once a daytime television novelty, hints at changing consumer behavior. Pair that with in-App shopping from Meta and TikTok (targeting $20B this year!) and a clear picture starts to emerge: for today’s digital-first consumers, a frictionless customer experience when shopping online is merely the cost of entry. Innovation is the difference between clearing the bar, and setting it. 

We know innovation doesn’t come cheap. As much as we love CFOs, nothing is more heartbreaking than having to sacrifice new ideas, new features or new initiatives due to budgets. As UX designers, we can offer efficiencies and evidence to strengthen the case for your next big idea—and help you afford it.

  • Uncovering and surfacing user needs. Through any number of routine UX research methods, we seek data and insights from real customers that help drive innovation. It’s naive to think that top-down idea generation will always lead to the best solution. Yes, smart people can generate good ideas but a pool full of all your customers has more of a likelihood to spark new ideas. After all, your users bring with them an immense variety of backgrounds, experience and perspectives that don’t always align with your brand’s expectation or vision.
  • Bringing ideas to life visually. An experienced UX designer listens to ideas and inputs from the cross-functional teams and is able to quickly synthesize and reflect those back through visual artifacts to aid conversations and decision making. A recent client in the insurance field was discussing adding a new feature to their product. After digesting the problem and intended solution, we created a low-fidelity, click-through prototype. The simple demo helped the development team determine technical feasibility, established content and copy requirements, and ultimately convinced leadership it was a worthwhile investment.
  • Saving time and resources in the development phase. A not-so-fun fact: it typically costs more to fix issues and bugs post-development than it does to address them in the creation phase2. While the design phase can be highly predictive of user pain points and development limitations, there is a natural occurrence of development contingencies and restrictions that will inevitably need to be addressed. When your UX team is privy to these moments, and works to actively avoid them, you ensure both user success and ease of development. UX teams have better tools than ever to create exacting documentation for the development team. In some instances, a UX team may even provide the dev team with some foundational code created directly from design tools to reduce the interpretation gap between the two groups.

3. You support your customers… and they’ll support you

Let your user guide the experience, not your tech stack. Out-of-the-box solutions are powerful but ultimately geared towards mass adoption, not specificity. Tethering yourself to predetermined offerings, you’ll fail to react as quickly to the needs of your users as you can with an experienced UX designer. UX involvement ensures that as your products and services grow—and your user needs evolve and clarify—your company is able to adjust efficiently. It bridges the gaps between the leadership team, marketing team, and dev team in service of your customer.

After launching a product or service, an influx of real user data for your specific offering will be available. SaaS and PaaS platforms can be incredibly valuable as a part of your tech stack but they should always be subservient to insights gathered from your actual users, which can be difficult to impossible if you are completely reliant on your service providers teams and capabilities. Having UX on your team gives you an expert in both interpreting the user data, and prescribing how to respond to it. They can adjust existing roadmaps for the product development and recommend an actionable course to improve the user experience. Without your own UX team member you are limited to waiting for your service to release new features, consulting customer service, or jumping ship to a new platform to essentially start from scratch.

How to set yourself up for a UX hire

Successful first time UX hires happen when companies have the right pieces in place. A common approach to priming your organization is bringing in an agency or a fractional leader to help bridge the gap and create the runway for a budding internal team. These are experts who will help you knock out short term goals, give you guidance on priorities, set precedents for your new practice, and develop an actionable roadmap. When the timing feels right you can scale back the agency relationship and focus on onboarding, knowledge transfer, and weekly or monthly check-ins to support your internal UX hire. We’ve seen the greatest success by hiring below the director level, but still above the junior or associate level. A seasoned senior or lead level designer who can jump into an executional role but also has experience thinking strategically will prove the most value.

MOJO PSG helped Rite Aid in a similar capacity—right around when the COVID-19 vaccines were rolling out. While they did have a small internal team, they were bogged down and scrambling to get a vaccine scheduler up and out the door. We came in to help them conceptualize a more ideal version of this experience that their development team could work on after the initial rush. Simultaneously, we collaborated closely with their product team to develop a forward thinking roadmap and acted as their UX muscle in all things until they were ready to invest in and expand their internal team.

Hiring an external experienced agency for UX work is always on the table and is a very effective short term solution. In the long run; however, it can be quite expensive to continuously rely on external agencies and will leave you without UX representation at the inevitable end of the project or retainer, unless you continue the relationship in some capacity. There are many factors to determine when it is the best time. In almost all cases, we are firm believers that the end goal should always be to have an on-staff seat at your company’s table dedicated for an UX hire to take your business to the next level.

Interested in going deeper on this topic and discussing how UX could help your organization? Click here to leave us your contact details and we’ll reach out to set up a free 30 minute consultation.