There’s a reason the word “homepage” begins with “home.” For digital enterprises, a homepage should bring to customers’ minds many of the feelings that an actual home does: comfort, relaxation, a sense of warmth and security. Home is a place where you don’t have to think too much — you simply walk inside and everything you need is waiting for you. A homepage should provide customers with a similar experience.
Shopping behavior has quietly evolved into a new era. Shoppers now are more likely to buy something online than in a brick-and-mortar store, and even those shoppers that prefer to make their final purchase inside a physical store will often begin the shopping journey online. As shopping behavior has changed, however, so have expectations. Customers today want things to be easy. They want to be engaged and rewarded online, they want promotions that are personalized and make sense for them and their lives, and most of all, they don’t want to have to work — or think — more than they have to.
In short, they want to feel at home.
In my work as a web psychologist and head of behavioral research at Clicktale, I work with numerous companies who are concerned with how their brand experience plays out on desktop vs. mobile, but this is short-sighted. For many shoppers, the device through which they interact is less important than the connection itself and its impact on the customer decision.
It doesn’t matter if your customers are shopping at home on their MacBooks or on the bus on their Samsung Tablets. What matters is how that individual customer perceives his or her brand experience, and how that experience feels. Brand loyalty is deeply personal and highly subjective. And the primary factor in how brand experience is internalized by a customer is — you guessed it — the homepage.
It’s time for enterprises to catch up with this new era of shopping, and the first adaptation that needs to be made is how we all think about a homepage’s purpose.
Until the early 2000s, homepages were just a signal that businesses sent to users. It marked an online presence. It offered contact information and a confirmation that the business was, indeed, online. Today, however, web traffic flows in so many directions, with users coming to sites from search, social media, email and beyond, that homepages are often bypassed. Customers on Facebook can click on a social link and find themselves directly in a product or category page, thus making the homepage essentially moot. It’s become so easy to navigate in and out of sites from multiple directions, that analyses show that most customers who do land on a homepage often have a single goal in mind and don’t spend much time exploring the content on the page.
To design a better homepage that serves your goals, designers must ask a simple question: What do my users on this page want to get out of their visit? What is their mindset and what is their intent? The key to unlocking this puzzle is to understand that your homepage is primarily a source of familiarity and comfort to the ever-coveted loyal shoppers, those who know and love your brand and are already familiar with it.
Digital users who come to homepages today are power users — the frequent visitors who already have a great deal of knowledge about the brand. They don’t need explanations of the company or value propositions. They need tools. They need content personalized especially for them.
As a case in point, we recently conducted a psychological analysis of the website of a leading big box ecommerce retailer. By better understanding their visitors’ states of mind at various points in the customer journey, the brand can adapt its content to better serve its customers. For this particular retailer, we found that more than two-thirds of the “power users” coming to the homepage were highly focused in their interactions. They knew exactly what they were looking for: more than 45 percent quickly found what they were looking for. However, a quarter of these power visitors were looking for a specific category using the navigation bar and the area above the fold but failed to find it and had to use the search bar.
On the one hand, this finding of focused visitors was a great indicator of brand familiarity. But on the other, the vast majority of visitors paid little or no attention to what the homepage had to offer. In other words, there was no perceived interactivity with the website, and this lack of interactivity could negatively affect the quality of the visitors’ relationship with the brand. Only a small percentage of visitors exhibited a “mindful” state of mind, displaying both high engagement and interactivity.
To boost the experiences of its power visitors, brands need to focus on three critical functionalities: seamlessness, interactivity and personalization.
Accept from the get-go that most users are going to bypass the homepage, and understand that this places an additional burden on site designers to make content pages as clear and informative as possible. Every content page is now also a portal to your brand and your products, as each page could serve as the visitor’s first interaction with your brand. Elements such as navigation, branding and UI should remain the same across your site. That way, no matter how or where a user arrives on your site, they’ll be greeted with the information and encouragement they need to take the next steps.
To make the website more interactive, it needs to become more communicative, controllable and responsive, so customers will have more opportunities to actively interact with the brand. Consequently, consumers’ perceptions of website interactivity are more likely to trigger stronger sensory, emotional, cognitive and behavioral brand experiences on the website.
Consumers develop stronger relationships with a brand when the marketing message contains products or services that are customized for their needs. Close to 50 percent of global shoppers are happy to provide retailers with their personal information as long as it results in a truly personalized offering. More than 60 percent would increase their purchases if they were offered a personalized subscription program, for example. Buying decisions would be favorably influenced by advance notice of sales and birthday promotions.
Shopping patterns have changed, and with them, so have the needs, desires and intents of shoppers. Homepage designers need to understand this shift, and take it into account when creating their companies’ crucial landing pages. Because no matter how your shoppers find their way to you, or what stops their journey entails, there truly is no place like home.