by Ashley Heltne, Director of Client Engagement, YML

October 6, 2020

With the retail climate making a dramatic and immediate shift online in the past seven months, we, as digital makers and builders, have had an influx of clients asking the right questions: 

  • How do I mirror the in-store experience, online?
  • How do we make it better?
  • How do we convert with the same enthusiasm as in-store?

When recently partnering with Thrive Market, an inherently digital marketplace, our team defined three key rules that are true of every successful online retailer. The remit in this instance was to make a first-class user experience even better, with an emphasis on driving conversion.

In doing that, we were forced to deeply evaluate the components of a best in class experience in this new, socially distant, digital-dependent world. Here is what we learned, and is critical to consider when building your customer experience and, consequently, your evolved business model.  

1. Friction is the Enemy

Early development principles would have us believe that number of clicks, or time speed to checkout are the most important things to measure, but we keep finding that users are becoming more and more adept at navigating the online purchase process. In fact, several users actually look forward to searching, shopping, and creating carts.

In other words, online grocery shopping could soon replace the proverbial game of Tetris.

With this behavior shift, the real killer to conversion is friction. Upselling? Fine. Added recommendations engines? Fine. Inspiration boards? Fine. Additional features blocking the user's ability to add an item to cart? Friction.

Key takeaway: 16% increase in 1st time orders for Thrive Market members.

2. Try Everything, Pivot Quickly

To more efficiently make an impact on our client’s business in this shifting landscape, YML has evolved your typical client / agency relationship into a more transparent partnership. Gone are the days of waiting two weeks for your agency to put together a dog and pony show deck for the bosses waiting in Conference Room B.

To keep up with the rapidly changing nature of product development, our client teams collaborate in the same working files (shout out to Figma and Miro - our new necessities), to take notes, suggest edits, and build out new user flows in real time. Our rule here is simple: no idea is bad. Build it and test it. But if the idea doesn't work - move on. The only true expert in product development is the user, which will come to light in user testing. Even the most brilliant design system is out the window if our core user isn't able to navigate it easily.

Key takeaway: 9.7% increase in membership sign ups for Thrive Market.

3. Customization is Key

Navigating an online marketplace with over 7,000 sku's is overwhelming. But unlike brick and mortar stores, your digital product has the opportunity to learn and grow. With robust data collection and analytics, the ability to create customized experiences results in efficiency and stickiness; for example, when Thrive users search for an organic, dairy product, they have always been served a variety of recommendations based on those specifications.

Simple enough.

But now, when we also find out that this user is a mother of two who is married to someone with a peanut allergy, we offer meal suggestions, put together thoughtful shopping lists, and introduce recipes that inspire further discovery in the kitchen.

Key takeaway: 64% increase in Thrive Market customers who added products from personalized recommendations.

Users have come to expect these principles as table stakes from online stores. And every leading retailer has already conquered them; Target, Houzz and, of course, the all powerful Amazon know that users become loyal when they find delight in knowing that their online experience causes zero frustration, knows what they like, has fun searching around, and, most importantly, saves them the hassle of roaming crowded, picked-over store aisles for an hour on Saturday mornings.


About the Author: Ashley Heltne

Ashley is YML's director of client engagement. She has over 12 years of experience building successful and lasting client partnerships. She has worked at several top advertising and consumer experience agencies including R/GA, Digitas, and Y&R. While there, she led integrated marketing programs for brands like Verizon, Taco Bell, eBay, EA Games, and Liberty Mutual. Ashley’s agency tenure has equipped her to tackle any business problem from a strategic, solutions-first approach.

Several of the consumer engagement programs Ashley’s team built for Taco Bell, Verizon, and Liberty Mutual were regarded as first of their kind, securing three Cannes Lions, four Clios, and one Effie. While this work garnered attention from the industry, they also increased acquisition, retention, and loyalty for her clients’ business.