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Creating a Great E-Commerce User Experience with Buyer Profiles

Ross Beyeler

When it comes to User Experience Design, a common first step in defining your website's strategy is to create a profile of your target audience. Typically companies will focus on the demographics and psychographics of their target audience as a way of creating a 'profile' for each primary type of user that will interact with their website. These profiles differentiate users by gender, age, education, etc. Segmenting users by demographics is a helpful way to think about the differing ways the site should be structured and designed. However, limiting profiling to just demographics overlooks the influence the 'buying process' has on users and their experience with the website. For example, you could have two urban-dwelling women in their mid-20's visiting the website but one has only flirted with the idea of buying an item while the other has just finished a week's worth of comparative research and is on the verge of making a purchase decision. These two are demographically the same but in two totally different phases of the buying process. By not thinking about the difference in user experience between these two buying profiles, you miss out on conversion opportunities for each audience respectively. It is because of this that we encourage our clients to consider crafting Buyer Profiles in addition to Demographic Profiles to help ensure their e-commerce user experience strategy caters to the full spectrum of their audience.

In the world of e-commerce, users tend to fall into one of three phases in the buying process, which serve as the three most common Buyer Profiles: Searchers, Browsers and Discoverers. In this article we'll define each one of these three profiles and provide a few recommendations on how you can cater your e-commerce user experience towards the unique buying needs of each group.

The Searcher


The Searcher is someone in a 'transaction' mindset, at the very end of the buying process where they're ready to make a purchase decision. They've likely already identified a very specific product (i.e. "I want a new pair of black skinny jeans") and have already done research as to the available options for that product. At this point, they're likely to be making much of their purchase decision based on product attributes such as price, added features, added service or general availability. Creating an effective user experience for this buyer profile is all about making direct access to your products as easy as possible. The most common way they'll interact with the website is through the use of a traditional search bar while trying to find a specific product. Here are two strategies in creating a better e-commerce user experience for the Searchers coming to your website:

1) Optimize Your Search Experience

The default search functionality of most websites is pitiful at best. They often rely entirely on 'keyword relevancy' to serve up the results for a specific query. Relevancy, in this case, is simply the number of times a particular search term appears on a unique page, regardless of whether that page is a blog post, product page or something else. By using tools such as Swifttype and Nextopia, you can modify these search algorithms to serve up actual relevant content, and in the case of e-commerce, product suggestions. In addition, you can capture analytics on what your users are searching and use that information to modify your product offerings or positioning to ensure you're doing a better job of meeting their needs.

2) Help Them Buy Tomorrow if They Can't Today

When a customer has finally made a buying decision, they typically want that product then and there. However, you might not always be in a position of having that product available. Unfortunately this could leave to an entirely lost sale should a competitor have an available unit or substitute. In the event that you have exclusivity or the entire 'market' does not have the product available, make it easy for customers to stay informed as to when the product does come back in stock. Setup a simple 'back in stock' form using your email marketing tool or shopping cart specific app such as the Back in Stock app for Shopify. This will allow customers to easily opt-in for email notifications informing them when the product returns and is available for purchase again.

The Browser


The Browser is someone in a 'comparison' mindset, at the middle of the buying process where they're on the fence of making a purchase decision. They haven't necessarily identified a specific product but rather a product category (i.e. I'd like a new pair of pants) that they're looking to purchase. At this point, they're likely to be making their purchase decision based on uniqueness of a product that stands out, available promotions or extra incentives, or comparison to other alternatives. Creating an effective user experience for this buyer profile is all about making it easy for them to see and navigate the depth of product offerings within a specific category. The most common way they'll interact with the website is via filtering through product collections/categories and comparing products side-by-side. Here are two strategies in creating a better e-commerce user experience for the Browsers coming to your website:

1) Make it Easy to Compare Products

When a customer has the intent of purchasing a product within a specific category but isn't yet sure of a specific product, you'll want to make it easy for them to compare their options. Consider adding a 'compare now' feature to your website that allows users to compare two or more products side-by-side. The key to success for comparison tools is to ensure you're providing meaningful data for the customer to use in their decision making process. Show product attributes that will likely have an impact on their buying decision such as price, size, availability, etc. and not just manufacturer-provided specifications.

2) Offer Exit Intent Based Promotions

Customers in the middle of the buying process can be fickle and often require a little extra nudge to make their purchasing decision. Users who might indicate their intent to leave your website can be be prompted with a 'unique' offer such as a 5% off promo code. Tools such as Privy make adding this functionality to your website fairly easy. If possible, offer the discount code in exchange for their email address to ensure you can enroll them in any future marketing in case they don't act on that code at that moment.

The Discoverer


The Discoverer is someone in the 'educational' mindset, at the very beginning of the buying process where they're likely not going to make an immediate buying decision. It's unlikely that there is an overly-strong driver in reviewing products but rather a general curiosity around a product type or brand (i.e. I wonder what's new in the world of fashion). At this point, they're not likely to make a buying decision but could be interested in 'leaving the door open' for easily making future buying decisions. Creating an effective user experience for this buyer profile is all about putting them in front of engaging content that could influence their interest in a product and getting them into your 'marketing funnel' to capture them down-the-line for a potential purchase. The most common way they'll interact with the website is through key content areas such as lookbooks, blog or social media. Here are two strategies in creating a better e-commerce user experience for the Discoverers coming to your website:

1) Make it Easy for People to Resume Shopping with Wishlists

Customers who are in the very early stages of the buying process will treat your website as an educational resource. You want to make it easy for them to 'bookmark' anything they find interesting on the website so they can resume their buying process down-the-line. An easy way of allowing them to resume their previous experience on the website is to enable a wishlist feature so they can save their favorite products for future viewing. This is particularly useful as creating a wishlist requires that customers create an account, thus adding them to your 'marketing funnel' for future engagement.

2) Get Users to Subscribe to Your Newsletter

Similar to both the wishlist feature and the exit intent promotions, your primary goal for Discoverers is to get them in your marketing funnel as they're unlikely to make a purchase decision on their first interaction with your website. By offering discounts and unique offers in exchange for their email address, you ensure a means of continuing to connect with that customer down-the-line. Tools such as Klaviyo take the traditional newsletter service and put it on steroids using advanced segmentation and personalization based on user behavior. This ensures you're offering the right messaging at the right time to your users.

Realize that these buying profiles are broad strokes in the world of e-commerce user experience design. In certain instances, you would likely throw some of these profiles out altogether. A single-product company wouldn't necessarily need to create a robust search experience given the inherent simplicity of their offering. A B2B e-commerce company with strict customer accounts might not want any Discoverers snooping around their offerings. How exactly you structure your buyer profiles should reflect the uniqueness of your customers' buying process. Taking this perspective on e-commerce user experience design will give you a leg up on thinking through the different methods by which your users will engage with your website and ultimately make a purchase.

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