by Gigi Kizhakkechethipuzha, Forbes Councils

We just can’t help it. We humans are experience driven. Fresh encounters captivate us. Bright, shiny objects lure us like catnip. No wonder “new” remains the most compelling word in marketing, promising something novel. Experiential marketing is not a new idea. Shopping malls and supermarkets have been ramping up their retail razzmatazz and consumer engagement for decades.

Thanks to e-commerce, the need to master consumer experiences is evolving rapidly and is more relevant than ever. After all, e-commerce now delivers millions of online interactions daily. Which has made consumers even more discerning — demanding more immersive, intuitive interfaces, while expecting seamless buying experiences across all channels. How do we delight this new generation of e-commerce customers in the ultra-competitive omnichannel marketplace? Well, you could get to know them a little better and learn their pain points by doing a little design thinking before you start creating the product to sell online, or you could design the user experience for your e-commerce store or retail buying experience for your physical store.

Design Thinking: Getting To Know You, Then Solving Problems You Didn’t Know You Had

If we want to please our customers, we need to anticipate their needs. That means being the crossing guard at the intersection of technology and humanity with design thinking. This approach to e-commerce gets extremely human before it becomes digital. The goal is to understand consumer behavior at the deepest levels, to develop empathy with the person we’re hoping to serve.

Although the phrase design thinking has come into vogue, the concept of developing products and services based on understanding your consumer has been around for as long as people have bought stuff. Now we have more data, a daily firehose of analytics from search and shopping behaviors, which gets processed through artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand and predict the customer’s buying choices. The results are being turned into personalized buying experiences using technologies such as natural language searches and augmented, virtual and mixed reality. This is the way to engage a generation that demands control — and not just any old utilitarian experience but an experience that is more immersive, dynamic and engaging by default. Once the sellers (retail or online) are able to provide this personal experience, the whole buying experience becomes enjoyable and memorable, increasing loyalty and virality. That makes buyers into fans, influencers and repeat customers. This is the underpinning of success in commerce, online or offline, whether it’s business to business, business to consumer or consumer to consumer.

To bring all this together and turn it into e-commerce interactions that consumers embrace organically, we need help from the six steps of design thinking.


Get to know your customer. Do your research and understand their motivations and behaviors. Get inside their skins without judgment. Discern and consider, but don’t judge.

Define Needs

Assemble your findings and reach some conclusions. What’s driving their behaviors? What problems are they trying to solve? Are they using features meant for other purposes or workarounds because the real ones don’t exist yet? That’s called opportunity.


Develop dozens of ideas, no holds barred, working around the conclusions you’ve drawn in the previous stages. Remember the three Bs: Brainstorm, blend and build and on each other’s concepts. Work without critique or self-consciousness. All ideas are welcome. Let them inspire you to see bigger possibilities. This famous quote from Henry Ford sums up this distinction nicely — “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”


Score and rank your favorite ideas, and then create them. Generate a few of your most valued concepts to put in front of people for a trial. It doesn’t have to be the finished and final product. It can be what developers call a minimum viable product, like a piece of simple representation.


Go back to your test audience and get their reactions. Does this solve the problem we identified? Why or why not? How, dear user, would you improve it? Is this a real solution or an invention in search of a customer?


This is the courage part — taking the idea after research and deploying it. The thing is, this is part of the research as well. Usually, it’s not until a page is live that we see the good, the bad and the ugly or have the opportunity to improve and win.

Here are some questions to ask your team to make e-commerce more humane:

Are we building to gather, learn and react to customer input instantly? If this happens, then what? Yes, we’re in the experience business, but each experience transmits useful data. Beyond capturing it, we can anticipate it with responsive features that customers trigger with their behaviors.

What have we done to develop an emotional bond with site visitors? Are your experiences truly immersive? Do the imagery and copy of your site reflect your brand’s messaging and show up on your interactions? Do your videos captivate or educate your potential customers? Have you considered augmented, virtual or mixed realities to focus and orient the visitor?

Are we considering all experiences from the shopper’s point of view? Humans don’t care that you wrote some slick code with a back-door toggle switch that only another developer would appreciate. Maintain a shopper-first mindset every step of the way. If it doesn’t enhance the shopping experience, kill it.

Is our product content interactive? Are you just posting dry information, or do you give visitors useful ways to engage with the content? Can they upload trial images? Mix and match outfits? See sample designs? Input their level of skill and get back specific responses? We live in the age of engagement and enlightenment. Inform and delight your visitor if you really want to keep her.

In short, use design thinking to focus your e-commerce solutions and develop customer empathy. The greatest technology in the world starts when we first think about who is using it and how.



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