Amazon, eBay, Shopify, and other online marketplaces offer unprecedented opportunities to market products to a wide range of consumers. However, competition is fierce. More than 350 million products are listed on Amazon alone.
As the number of sellers and products on these platforms grows, the design of individual product pages becomes even more important. In fact, Forbes regards this factor as the number one requirement for successful selling online. Amazon offers sellers various content options for building product listings, such as basic and premium A+ content or Enhanced Brand Content (EBC). Despite these options, most firms are still uncertain about how to create highly effective online customer experiences at the individual product and sub-brand level.
A new study in the Journal of Marketing seeks to empower firms with actionable guidance and a toolset to design pages for higher sales, ultimately driving rankings and category leadership. To this end, our research team collaborated with a specialized online content agency and four Fortune 1000 firms from various industries to create and conduct large-scale lab and field experiments, studying 16 products from 11 brands and creating 256 unique “Amazon look-alike” product pages. Using a special Taguchi method to design the experiments, we investigated how 13 online design elements shape multidimensional customer experiences to influence purchase and how these experiences should be customized based on the products or brands sold.
Key points include:
- First, data from 16 lab experiments expand insights into online customer experiences and identify four dimensions—informativeness, entertainment, social presence, and sensory appeal—which act as underlying mechanisms by which design elements influence purchase.
- Second, uncertainty about the offered product (due to its search versus experience focus) and its seller’s brand (due to its trustworthiness) influence the effects of the customer experience dimensions on purchase. Using actual product webpages on Amazon.com, we conducted a field experiment that validates the lab results to show that search products benefit from a more informative experience, but experience products benefit from a more social experience.
We create a two-step online customer experience “design guide” with actionable advice for marketers regarding how to strategically orchestrate design elements to shape effective online experiences in an era of increased web design importance. Our design guide advice includes the following:
First, sellers must determine the most beneficial experience, based on the search versus experience focus of the product to be sold and the trustworthiness of the brand. The measures we employ can help firms gather this information from current and potential customers.
Second, firms should leverage this product and brand knowledge and apply the design guide to select relevant design elements for their product pages. For example:
- To create more informative experiences, bulleted features are 83% stronger than their effects on any other experience dimension, while a comparison matrix is 62% more effective, and descriptive detail is 54% more effective. Recommendation agents are 150% more effective.
- More social experiences should be built by employing a conversational linguistic style and lifestyle photos, which are 139% and 134% more effective in shaping this compared to any other experience dimension, respectively.
- Sensory experiences are also beneficial and can be built through product videos and product feature crops, which are 106% and 29% stronger in building this compared to any other experience dimension, respectively.
In addition, firms need to consider the customer experience when assessing their existing digital assets. Managers often default to a logic that suggests that if a design element exists in the firm’s digital inventory, it should be used on the page (a more-is-better approach). Yet we show that certain design elements can induce unfavorable customer experiences for specific products or brands. An essential part of the process is thus to also determine which elements not to use. If the firm does not already own certain design elements, our design guide suggests where it should allocate investments to produce valuable new elements. For example, investing in high-quality imagery can benefit any product or brand, but the most appropriate amounts of textual detail and linguistic style depend on the product type (search versus experience focus).
Our product page design guide can also inform contract negotiations between sellers and retailers. Many retailers offer premium content options that require additional financial investments from sellers. Amazon, for example, offers multiple, tiered categories (e.g., Basic A+ Content, Premium A+ Content) that provide access to more design elements or configurations. For some products, these investments grant access to necessary design elements. For other products, though, investing in premium content might not be needed or could even be disadvantageous. For example, premium content modules might support larger pictures and more visually stimulating content (e.g., scrolling pictures) but also restrict the number of characters available to describe product features and benefits. Such designs can induce more social or sensory experiences, but they likely are less effective at creating informative experiences. Thus, a lower-cost alternative may be more attractive to a seller that seeks to provide mainly informative experiences.
Our design guide is also relevant for retailers. The more conversions sellers generate on a retailer’s website, the greater its earnings. Yet retailers must provide an infrastructure to support the digital content and guarantee adequate page load and transaction speeds. Helping sellers build effective pages, as efficiently as possible, is in the retailer’s best interest. With our design guide, retailers might develop tutorials to help sellers improve the effectiveness of their product pages, as well as recommend available design elements to those sellers based on the products and brands that they market. This approach could improve conversions and customer loyalty and reduce storage demands by decreasing ineffective content. With our design guide and a dedicated customer experience mindset, sellers and retailers can work together strategically to maximize the performance of their product pages.
Read the authors’ slides for sharing this material in your classroom.
From: Alexander Bleier, Colleen Harmeling, and Robert Palmatier, “Creating Effective Online Customer Experiences,” Journal of Marketing, 83 (March).
Go to the Journal of Marketing