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Prioritising your customers needs – All needs are not equal

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
Founder & Owner
25 September 2007

There is much discussion and research in terms of what elements of a website are required and in what way, on an ecommerce website, to be successful.

A recent study, “The Online Consumer’s Hierarchy of Needs” (Joseph S. Valacich, D. Veena Parboteeah, John D. Wells), looks at defining which of these elements are most important in shaping a successful ecommerce experience for a consumer.

As there is such a broad range of interface elements (or characteristics) that can be identified, the elements were grouped into 3 categories.

1. Structural Firmness – Web site’s security and performance

2. Functional Convenience – Features that help the consumer interact with the interface

3. Representational Delight – the aesthetics and entertainment elements

The above order of presentation should also be the basic order of priority in terms of making sure that the basic needs of the consumer, for each category, is met before moving onto the next category. The minimal level, within each category, where needs are met is called the “zone of tolerance”. If the site does not meet the needs that fall within that zone, then customers will leave the site, possibly to never return again. The key is defining what that threshold is for your customers.

For example, as Structural Firmness has been found to be the most basic need for a website’s survival, those characteristics should be prioritised before focusing on the next most important need (according to consumers), which is Functional Convenience.



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However, all ecommerce/transactional sites obviously do not serve the same purpose so while it is true that the above categories need to be prioritised the amount of design effort spent within each category should differ based on the type of site that it is.

To facilitate understanding, websites can be categorised into one of the follow three groups:

  1. Utilitarian websites – usually visited out of necessity. Very useful and oriented      towards solving a problem.
  2. Hedonic Websites – focus on fun, play and pleasure
  3. Hybrid websites – support both utilitarian and hedonic task and interests. As      product comparison or keeping up on the news can both be utilitarian and      hedonic, the websites that support those activities are usually hybrid web      sites.

The sites that consumers visit can be mapped across a continuum with Utilitarian sites at one extreme and Hedonic sites at the other. This, of course, leaves hybrid sites existing somewhere in the middle.



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So, there are two main goals for website design

1. First, a website must meet the minimal levels of expectation for each interface category (Structural Firmness, Functional Convenience and Representational Delight)

2. Then, designers must consider what the purpose of the website is and what types of tasks customers will expect to do (Utilitarian, Hybrid, Hedonic). The type of site will define where the greatest focus should lie for the Interface categories.


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For example, if the download time for a page or feature is too slow, the customer will never experience the easy navigation or price comparison facility.

It is also important to note, that a hybrid site will require the designers to note which aspects of the site are utilitarian and which are hedonic, so that the design focus and goals can adjust as required. For example, during product research (hedonic) it will be important to provide more features to enable the necessary information gathering so that the customer can make a decision to purchase. Once that decision is made, the site switches to a utilitarian mode as personal details and payment processing will require a different approach.

Moving forward, Personalisation 2.0 will provide the opportunity for designers to dynamically personalise the interface. As a customer moves through the site and makes decisions the interface will adapt based on the tasks and priorities of the user. This level of personalisation will require designers to be even more cognizant of where the customers goals lie in the framework In order to best meet them.




© TAMAR 2015