The Experience Problem

Quite often these days, our clients, regardless of category or industry, want to understand how people are using the Internet to learn about products and services, and ultimately to shop and purchase online. On the surface, this goes exactly as you might imagine… how do they want to sort and filter search results? How do images influence their choices? What do they think about the big red button at the top? Should it be smaller? Redder? Maybe turn it blue?

Of course, here at Insight Safari we gather all that, but we often find ourselves digging deeper. What are they hoping for when they sit down at the computer or pick up their iPad? What emotional needs are driving them to their device in the first place? What do they expect to find? What if expectations don’t meet reality?

As consumer experience and user-centered design climbs in interest with our clients, we’ve found ourselves asking these questions a lot lately.

Along the way we’ve learned something a bit unexpected: no matter how great the site, how snazzy the app, how intuitive the information architecture, how bang-on the predictive algorithms… consumers feel there’s still something… missing.

Let’s say I’m buying a beach chair for my father-in-law’s birthday. (Thank goodness for 2-day shipping, y’all.) He’s a single guy that lives near the beach and spends a ton of time in the chair, toes in the sand, so this thing has to be deluxe. I find one that seems to fit the bill… it looks sturdy, it has backpack straps so he can haul it easily, has a nice cup-holder for his beverage, a pocket in the back for his book, and — get this — a COOLER on the back for a couple of extra brews. Perfect.

A couple weeks later I’m strolling the aisles of my favorite club store and I spy an identical beach chair. Lo and behold, it’s even set up on display so I can look it over in detail, touch it and interact with it. On closer inspection, I notice a couple of things and find myself cringing… it’s actually kinda cheap-looking. And that fancy cooler I liked so much on the Internet? It looks a fanny-pack sewn poorly onto the back. That means the message I just (mistakenly) sent to my single beach-going father-in-law is: Happy Birthday, buddy. You’re worth this shoddy little chair. Good thing I also sent him some comfy slippers.

How often has this, or a similar scenario, happened to you? I’m betting more than once. It’s happening to your customers too. Monthly? Weekly? On a regular basis, they’re ordering stuff (not necessarily from you, of course) that is arriving at their house too small, too green, too cheap… too something.

So imagine their hesitancy when they’re making a really BIG purchase online, or at least researching one. Any time there’s a hefty investment involved, our consumer friends, burned by orders of ill-fitting shoes and bad beach chairs, are nervous. They’re doing a lot of research. They’re going to a ton of sites. They’re Googling you. They’re looking for opinions from friends and neighbors. And at the end of all this… they’re still making a leap of faith.

When we ask them what could make it better, what could make them more confident in their choices? Here’s the kicker — they say, in so many words — you have to make them FEEL it.

All the facts and data in the world about my father-in-law’s beach chair were not enough. I knew it was made of aluminum, I knew its exact size and specifications… but I didn’t know how I would FEEL until I touched it, interacted with it.

Extrapolate this out to a bigger purchase decision. I’m buying a train ticket for my husband and me to ride the train cross-country. How will that train ride feel? What will the experience be like? Don’t just tell me there’s a sleeper car. Tell me what I’m going to feel like when I’m lying in bed, rumbling down the tracks, hearing the whistle blow.

Or you’re planning a big night out for your spouse. Dinner and a show. There are a few fancy restaurants in town your wife wants to try, and you’re trying to figure out which one is best for the evening in question. It’s not just about the food, it’s about the experience. What is it going to be like to sit across from her in the candlelight? Will you be squinting to see the menu, or will the hipster Edison-style light-bulbs give you just enough light to choose the confit?

When I sat down and thought about it, I realized this isn’t a huge leap from traditional product marketing. Sure, there are the used car salesman ads incessantly shouting at you. But think about a memorable — no scratch that — an iconic tv commercial for one of your favorite products. By chance, did it go beyond the functional? Did it take you to a place where you’d be able to imagine how you’d actually feel using that product? Did it go beyond the facts, and instead tell a story you could actually picture yourself in?

What does all this mean? For one, it means this stuff is hard. But rather than adding another product specification to the list in an attempt to paint a clearer picture, think about how you might be able to get your online customer to imagine themselves interacting with your product or service. Help them see themselves there, standing in their skin with their heart beating, in the context of which they’ll use the product or service. Think about how — in that moment of truth — it’s your brand that is in their hands and on their mind. Because the better you can help them imagine what they’ll actually feel… the longer their eyes will stay on your site, and the closer they’ll be to clicking “Purchase,” thereby inviting you into their tangible realm of experience.

Sara Collins is a founding partner at Insight Safari LLC, where she also holds the “no-pressure-at-all” title of The Narrator. That means it’s her job to tell consumer stories in a way that brings deep-seated truths to life. In between earth-shattering insights, she repeatedly loses her diamond sword in Minecraft to that one creeper she didn’t see out of the corner of her eye.