Customer experience (CX) and user research are no longer relegated to a few lone champions in a retail organization. Understanding and improving the user experience has become the entire organization's objective, from product designers to marketers to senior executives.
Read that again. Just as artificial intelligence (AI) is booming, so too is organization-wide demand for the human input needed to deliver stellar customer experiences.
Advanced user research platform company UserTesting recently surveyed more than 2,300 professionals involved in improving CX, including product management, marketing, design/UX, research, engineering and other functions. In its fourth annual UX and User Research Industry Report, the company found 51 percent of respondents said AI will be the most important online trend affecting user experience in the next five years, and nearly two-thirds said user research frequency would increase in 2017. So, while machine learning and AI boom, retailers are putting strong emphasis on researching human behavior too.
Retailers are increasing customer experience research for a reason. The business impact is impressive. For instance, last summer — just before its acquisition by Wal-Mart — Jet.com announced changes that were made because of both in-person user research and feedback gleaned from on-demand user testing. The changes resulted in a 20 percent lift in customer savings, leading customers to increase the size of their shopping basket by 8 percent.
Here are three key takeaways for retailers from the UserTesting report:
The Total (Retail) Picture
When looking specifically at retail, the study found more respondents test mobile sites than other industries. In fact, 51 percent of retailers said they conduct user research on mobile sites, when the survey average was 37 percent. In addition, 57 percent of retailers selected "omnichannel" as one of the most important online trends affecting user experience in the next five years, when the survey average was 42 percent. Retailers are ahead of the pack in ensuring customer-centric applications across channels.
Research Done Early and Often
In order to understand their customers’ behaviors and attitudes to achieve customer centricity and fend off competitors, companies are conducting user research more frequently — and from the earliest stages of product development. For the fourth year, the majority (53 percent) of respondents said their testing frequency increased moderately or significantly year-over-year.
The majority also said they invest in at least three research methodologies (79 percent in usability testing, 65 percent in surveys and 59 percent in interviews), benefitting multiple disciplines. More than 70 percent of organizations conduct UX research before design or development, and 76 percent during design/prototyping. Product teams find continuous user feedback during prototyping helps refine concepts quickly before investing in development.
Execs Take Note: CX Budgets Boom
Support for UX, user research and end-to-end customer experience is smart business. According to Forrester Research, the revenue impact from a 10 percent improvement in a company's customer experience score can translate into more than $1 billion. Better user experiences dramatically impact customer loyalty and the overall customer experience, especially in retail.
The strategic value and return on investment of customer experience testing is now understood at higher levels within organizations. When asked if "user research makes [their] company more efficient," 81 percent of executives surveyed agreed or strongly agreed. When asked if "user research improves the quality of [their] products/services," 86 percent of executives agreed or strongly agreed. It makes sense, then, that 36 percent of respondents said their 2016 user research budgets increased moderately or significantly over 2015.
In 2017, savvy, customer-centric retailers will prioritize and advance their CX and user research strategies across channels. It’s simply too costly not to enlist human insights when they're readily available.
Janelle Estes is senior director, enterprise research strategy at UserTesting, a user research platform.
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