Happy Shopping: Bringing a little emotion to ecommerce

By Kyle Wheeler, associate creative director at digital agency R/GA London

Happy shoppers loyally return, they generate more value, they advocate and create more business. It’s the ultimate goal for every direct-to-consumer business. But happiness is a fickle thing, how can a business make every customer happy? Especially in a digital commerce experience that has to deliver at scale?

A helpful start is to understand what makes us happy. A research team at UCL’s Computational Neuroscience Unit set out to do exactly that, leading to a study which defined a formula which when tested accurately predicted the happiness of over 18,000 people across the globe. Their formula to happiness in simple terms proclaims “Happiness is a state that reflects not how well things are going but instead whether things are going better than expected.” 

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So the key to happiness? Beat expectations. We need to create experiences that are differentiated and add a little magic, and with a 2018 PWC report survey noting that “86% of consumers claim they are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience”, it pays to make an experience a happy one.

The web right now, however, doesn’t have a lot of happiness. When the University of Indiana trained an AI to mine the web to study for common design patterns, it confirmed that yes, the web does really all look the same. Out of 200,000 pages from 10,000 websites, it found that differentiation of colour, layout, and AI-generated attributes has decreased by 30% in the past five years to its lowest ever score.

It’s no surprise then that e-commerce is hardly an endorphin rich shopping experience. Endless grids of products, rigid templates and the same soulless ‘add to bag’ CTAs. Yes, e-commerce has become a well-honed machine, but at the cost of joy, expectations are set, matched but often far from exceeded. In a race to create efficient experiences, the human, memorable and meaningful moments have been sacrificed.

So what can we do about this? Here are three thought starters.

1) Less linear process more lateral thinking

Now, more than ever, as we turn to digital to connect us to what we can no longer experience ’IRL’, digital design has the responsibility to think less in linear processes but embrace lateral and creative thinking. Creating experiences that genuinely appeal to our emotional and sensorial needs. This is how we can spark a little happiness in our experiences once more.

2) Best practice is the start, not the finish

Best practice should not be seen as an unbreakable template but as a foundation to build upon, a challenge to better. Understanding behaviours and rooting design in needs that are practical and emotional should inspire differentiated and relevant experiences that forge new best practices. We shouldn’t forget that digital as a medium is young, it’s exciting, we should always challenge the status quo and strive for better. We must find ways to emotionally connect and to move audiences, tell stories in meaningful ways, create enriching services with signature, unique, own-able moments. 

3) Create brand playgrounds to explore

The greatest stores in the world are brand playgrounds that become destinations in their own right. Boutique retail can be exquisite, full of sensory stimulus that transport and immerse us in new places, they stir our imaginations, and spark curiosity. They’re playgrounds that encourage us to explore and to engage.

Our challenge is to translate this wonder into a digital shopping experience. In digital, we have the added benefit of the magic of an interface where the impossible can become reality. It’s time for us to embrace technology as our superpower and look to create experiences that create scalable delight and truly beat expectations. Finding new ways to experience products and build confidence in a purchase, reveal the story of a product’s creation, how it can be used and what it can mean to the life of a customer. 

Homogenised experience is the enemy of emotional connection, we’re hungry for more. It’s time to bring a little magic to the e-commerce experience, raise the bar of expectations and spread a little happiness.

Kyle Wheeler is associate creative director at digital agency R/GA London

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