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Imagine going on an adventurous camping vacation where you want to hike regularly — sorry, hiking. The result is that you need a tent, mat, sleeping bag, hiking boots, backpack, stove, flashlight, multi-tool (and whatever else a person may need to get all the way back to nature). You don't start with the ambition to buy all that stuff and then figure out what you're going to use it for.
In other words: When buying a product, it's rarely about the product. Products are a means to an end.
So why are all e-commerce websites built entirely around the products — instead of the people and their needs?
Filters are not for laymen
This is how a webshop works now:
A company has products. It beats it down to specifications. And the user must search those specifications themselves with filters.
For example, you're looking for a washing machine on Coolblue. On their category page, 151 are offered - the products. All these different washing machines are equipped with specs - brand, fill weight, rpm, energy class, noise level - what you can do filtering.
There is only one problem. As a layman, these specifications mean little to you, of course. No one knows how DBs work. Or how many kilos of laundry you would normally want to put in a drum. You might think 'bigger is better', but did you know that washing with a half full (or half empty one?) The drum costs 30 to 50% more energy, so it is more expensive and makes the laundry less clean?
What you do know is that you have a family with two children, that you exercise regularly, live on two floors, that you have a dog in the house and prefer to do as little laundry as possible. You would like to know which washing machine fits.
Fortunately, Coolblue already goes a little further than the average webshop and also offers an explanation of the filters. For example, “A washing machine with an 8 kg fill weight is suitable for a family with 1 or 2 children”.
What Coolblue does here is quite simple: they asked a washing machine expert to translate hard product specifications into customer-recognisable applications. Because in the end, it's not about what the thing is, has or can do, but about the application. What are you going to use it for?
A product expert has knowledge that the customer does not have. This allows him to link the correct application (“suitable for a family with 1 or 2 children”) to the associated products or product specifications (washing machines with an 8 kg fill weight, such as the AEG L8FB86ES). We also call these applications “use cases”.
But what are use cases well exactly?
Use cases are often things you can't see or measure directly on a product. You can measure the weight and dimensions of a washing machine, but not whether it is also suitable for a family with 2 children. So use cases are not the what, but it how and why of a product.
Another example. If you want to buy new headphones, you now have to choose from specifications such as “wireless” and “noise cancelling”. But you just have to know that it's this magical combination that's going to make your time on the train a lot more enjoyable.
To make the right choice from all these specifications, a customer must understand them well. Use cases translate from hard product specifications into customer-recognisable applications. You link situations, uses and wishes to products.
Another example: a photo camera consists of a whole bunch of specifications. Consider, for example, the lens, size, battery life, number of photos per second, type of image sensor and image stabilization. Very nice, of course, but only a few potential buyers understand why a faster camera (more) frames-per-second) is really important. To make this more accessible, we translate the specifications into use cases that are personal and recognisable:
Make your products human
For years, product marketing has been about 'the story', the storytelling around the feeling that a product should give you. That's why Nespresso George Clooney is paying the big bucks - Why Else? But in e-commerce, we are thrown back to the marketing prehistory. Here we are not talking about the ambition of products, but about the functional specifications. Not about what you can use the product for, but only about its composition and characteristics.
If you want to get started with this as a company, you have to do 3 things:
Temporarily forget everything you already know about your own product offerings and take a fresh look at the catalog — a non-expert's eye. Tricky? Ask your mom. Or better still, someone from your target group (if that happens to be your mother, very handy).
Listen and understand what's important to them in their search. What situations, applications and wishes are there? And how do they come into their own in the catalogue?
Use your expert knowledge (or that of a colleague) now. For each product, you want to think about when someone should (should) (want to) use it. These are the use cases. A product can have multiple use cases, for example “suitable for trains” and “ideal for classical music”.
Then incorporate those use cases into your web shop. For example, as a new filter group. Or - even better! - as an interactive decision aid that takes on the role of the product expert. This way, customers will find their way through your product range much faster and easier, and you will see this in the results.
This blog is adapted from a chapter that appeared earlier in our book: Customers who are unsure don't buy. About why e-commerce is broken and why 'advice' is the missing puzzle piece in the e-commerce landscape. Both theory and practice are discussed because six leading Dutch brands (e.g. Bever, Swiss Sense and Mediamarkt) share their lessons.
Do you want your customers to be able to choose without stress and with ease? Then check our decision aid software with your customers at hand in their search for the right product.
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