Optimizing User Experience with eCommerce Product Videos – Part 1

In this post, I will review my interview with user experience expert Paul Bryan about the importance of implementing user experience, or “UX” strategies and tools around product videos. In this first of two parts, Paul helps explain the role of a UX Specialist for conversion-centric product videos for retail and e-commerce businesses.

It’s not common to find a usability expert with a research and client background in eCommerce and online video, but Paul Bryan certainly more than qualifies in both areas:

  • He started designing e-commerce websites in 1995.
  • His user research and design strategy consultancy, Usography, reviewed the 100 top retail websites in the summer of 2011, and created the Retailer UX Audit to present the results.
  • Hi consulting clients have included some of the most successful corporations in the world, including: The Home Depot, Coca-Cola, SAP, Delta Air Lines, Philips, Macy’s and Bloomingdales, Cox, and GE.
  • He recently published two interesting articles, “10 Absentee UX Features on Top e-Commerce Sites,” and “Top Approaches for e-Commerce Product Videos.”

What do we mean by “User Experience?”

I’ve actually worked as a professional web usability specialist for a number of years and can speak with some experience in this field. (In fact, I actually wrote back in mid-2009 that we needed usability standards for web video. Here’s my updated definition, which I’ve borrowed partially from Paul Bryan, and Wikipedia:

  • User experience (“UX”) is about how a person feels about using a product, system, or service. UX is both about perceived objective and subjective needs of the user, which can change over time as circumstances change.
  • Usability is a term that’s used interchangeably with user experience (UX), which I consider having more of a goal-specific orientation – the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object (with the assistance of technology) in order to achieve a particular goal.
  • In the online community, UX is the practice of influencing how a person uses and experiences a particular website or other online activity, including online video. UX with online video is tested and measured both as a stand-alone entity and in context with the interface it is presented and played on – be it a website, tablet, smartphone, etcetera – and of course, with the target audience in mind.

(To note: Back in 2007, I did a usability podcast interview with UX expert Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering.)

How a UX Specialist helps with product videos for e-commerce

UX specialists are important to retail and e-commerce businesses looking to focus on customer needs, and how to design systems to meet those needs. “When retailers or other companies lack UX expertise, they tend to push out what they want to say, and are disappointed with the results.” says Paul. “They need user research and UX strategy to understand what customers will ‘pull’ into their ever-more limited attention stream, and how to design it in such a way that customers can achieve their objectives while at the same time helping the business to meet its goals.”

“I’m a big fan of product videos in the UX experience,” says Paul. “They offer more substantial engagement with a product, with no additional effort on the part of the customer.”

Here are some of the steps a UX specialist takes to help retailers and e-commerce businesses with the strategic planning of their video content:

  • Begin with customer research and data. First, a UX specialist will put together detailed behavioral segmentation that describes and prioritizes the different types of customers who are in their target market.
  • Build customer profiles. Secondly, the UX specialist will provide the client with in-depth understanding of how each of these customer segments shops them and their competitors. “Every purchase involves a shopping process that can be as short as a couple of minutes, or longer than a year.” says Paul. “Businesses need to understand these processes for the most profitable customer segments and the most frequent purchase processes. Both the segmentation and the purchase process is discovered through carefully crafted research projects.” For example, Usography is currently doing a research project for a top ten retailer in which customers are recording video of themselves using websites and mobile devices to make purchases in their day-to-day lives.”
  • “Video mapping” by product category. Paul says that once these pieces are in place, a UX Specialist looks through the clients’ product categories, maps the purchase process out, and determine ways that videos can fill the gaps that cause customers to abandon the purchase or switch channels. (For example, from web or mobile to in-store.) “I think video has a very powerful role to play in this process, but not for every product category. “Retailers should spend their money on product videos in categories where the user experience of the product catalog is insufficient to lead to purchase, and then upload and test the effectiveness of videos in those categories.”
  • Competitive analysis. “We look at how competitors and market leaders are using videos for instruction, product knowledge, marketing slideshows, etc.; and then we recommend product categories the client could benefit from by adding product videos.” Says Paul
  • Script-writing. Some UX specialists also have experience as concept directors in multimedia production, and can be an asset with the actual scripting of videos around UX strategy, towards driving increased user experience and sales.

What eCommerce businesses doing product videos should look for when hiring a UX Specialist

Paul says that whether retailer or e-commerce companies are looking at huge agencies or individual consultants, “they need to find people who have a deep understanding of retail in general, multichannel customer shopping behavior, purchase modeling, interaction design, and web analytics.” Ideally, they should also be looking for an individual, or a firm with an individual who has multimedia concept and project planning, and/or multimedia analytics experience.

Paul adds that finding a sizeable pool of applicants to choose from with all that criteria can prove to be a challenge. “The UX community has been rather silent on video. I’m not sure why, but I expect it to explode within 2 to 3 years and become ubiquitous within 5 years.” He says.

UX specialists’ rates range from $50 –$200/hour, and that is likely to be on the mid-to-high end for video projects.  “Experience with large, complex designs, planning, strategy, etc. pushes up to the higher range. People who can plan and lead are more expensive than practitioners.” Says Paul.

A Big UX Mistake with eCommerce Product Videos

Paul finds that one of the biggest mistake companies make with videos, and user experience in general, is creating a one-size-fits-all solution. “Obviously, that’s the least expensive way to go. But they end up producing videos and other design work that doesn’t meet the customer at the points of decision, and consequently are inexpensive but don’t move the needle.” He says.

A Big UX Tip for eCommerce Product Videos

Paul says that he’s found from his own research that retailers need to really understand where the gaps are in web and mobile user experience for each key customer segment; and to use video to fill the gaps and push them out of the browsing end of the funnel and into the transaction end. “Video should fill decision-making gaps for key customer segments and the purchase model of a specific category of merchandise.” He says.