UX in e-commerce: Horizontally bound vertical blocks

Here is the root cause of the friction in digital transformation projects: For over 100 years, we’ve created siloed companies with defined task forces, namely departments, to conduct their operations with autonomy. We’ve directed all our effort on departmentalization and hierarchy, and as a result, we got pyramid-shaped organizational charts with lots of layers. But, upon shifting our mindset and channelling our energy towards what users and customers actually need, we came to the conclusion that digital transformation is only possible if we carry out a horizontal work, encompassing all the layers. And that’s when the problem started, we tried to horizontally transform the vertically-structured companies. 

Connected divisions

Likewise, it makes sense to view digital e-commerce products with a similar modular perspective. Essentially, there are four principal blocks in each product: 

  • Homepage
  • Listing page
  • Product page
  • Check-out funnel

The idea is to treat them as compartments and if possible assign a product team to each one of them. By doing that, vertically, all teams can run towards a single goal while having the autonomy to experiment and optimize their “products”. But, it is also notable that, the navigation, the consistency between the blocks and the overall UX Strategy must persist throughout the product; otherwise it’s likely to have unification issues where users could not figure out the logic in the system. Thus, the same vertical approach is legitimate to compartmentalize e-commerce products, but learning from the hurdles of the past, we have to employ intricate ways in which we can maintain the connection in terms of user experience between the blocks.

From a UX perspective, there are three points that need to be highlighted in order to optimize the performance of each block:

  • It’s easier to think each block as a separate product. This way, the focus can be amplified, and besides the ultimate goal, each team can own and spend time for the metric that matters for their product. If the product is a homepage, then the team can go for directing more users to product pages. Or, if a listing page is the case, then the team can solely focus on filter usage or add-to-cart shortcut on the product cards.
  • Rules and connections defined in information architecture should be kept in mind for all times since it is easy to lose track when you assign teams to each block. You need an eye out for the consistency, acting as a spectator during the optimization process.
  • While going after a north star metric or any vital indicators for a product, turning a blind eye to what users need is something we often see once we start auditing digital products. Once you lose your users in this vertical, it easily becomes a costly operation to retain them. Competition in the e-commerce landscape is fierce and incessant, therefore each mistake is almost irreversible if you become business-oriented. 

An idea or a product

If you’re on the verge of creating a new e-commerce product, that’s fine. Yo should start with the things that may fundamentally affect the whole system, the things that should be taken care of horizontally at the ideation stage.

  • What is your promise? 
  • How do your online and offline services talk to each other? 
  • What are your competitive advantages?
  • How are they embodied in your digital product? 

Principles and building tenets of your strategy basically are the first things to be sorted out. Because only this way you can see and sort out the things that will help you grow your business while keeping your users happy. 

You can only envision a holistic service that is engineered over your strategy at each level unless you map out these details on day one. These details will be the horizontal reflections which are engraved in your navigation functionality, content, the overall interaction approach you choose to embrace. 

The characteristics that identify a brand, according to their interaction with the customers, greatly influence personas. When we focus on a new product, we start off by matching essential personas with analytics data to first answer high-level questions.

If there is an ongoing process to improve your product, then the rules change a bit, and the tactics to be employed depends on a few factors. 

  • Do you follow a UX strategy? 
  • Do you have a UI library to render consistency? 
  • Is there any change in your roadmap that may affect your relationship with your users? 

All these questions aim to achieve one thing before generating hypotheses to optimize a product. 

  • How far can a team go? 

Drawing from experience, we’ve had projects that belong to one of those two categories, new & established products. We created brand-new e-commerce products from scratch, and the first question we fired was what is (y)our goal? Do we want to show as many products possible? Or is our goal taking users to a payment page with the quickest route? It all goes back to day one where you conceptualized your business. Who you are as a business and where is your strength comes from. 

At the other end of the spectrum, we nose-dived into projects where there is a fully functioning product that needs to be optimized. At those encounters, we first elicited the main KPIs, created a backlog and moved along with a product team to create solutions which are aligned with the overall strategy. Simply acting in a vertical manner as we welcomed the business reality, thinking horizontally. 

Consensus on strategy

Apart from the tactics, the key thing is always keeping both external and internal teams on the same page regarding the overall strategy. As consultants, we are the ones that broadcast warnings over consistency issues. Given that the vertical structure of teams is an invitation to rapid testing, it’s also quite easy for each team to get way too focused on the piece of the puzzle in their hand. An external eye is needed there to oversee the integrity of the whole picture and to intercept when a piece seems like doesn’t fit. Besides, someone is also needed for organizing a plan to take users’ opinion account and ensure their voice is heard. After all, a horizontal approach to solving UX issues and engineering improvements in core features turns into a necessity to consolidate every vertical block’s understanding of the business. 

In conclusion, creating and working on vertical blocks of your e-commerce product will facilitate the experimentation process. Yet, each team must be in unison when it comes to horizontal connectedness of the product. A butterfly may flap its wings and all of sudden you see your users flocking into your competitor’s products unless you keep your horizontal factors in sight.

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