Fixated on fixing: Windows & B2B eCommerce

June 22, 2024
 · 
7 min read
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TL;42 *

Perhaps you’ve heard of The Broken Windows Theory. The idea is simple: small signs of disorder, like a broken window, can lead to more significant issues if left unaddressed. What are the implications for B2B eCommerce strategy? Read on and find out.


Websites are people too

Your Ecommerce is much more than the hidden cogs, bolts, code and pixels that make it work. It’s a living artifact that communicates with other humans, on your behalf.

A distinctive voice that, done right, can tell your visitors exactly why they should become customers. Why you are different, special, perfect for them.

Sometimes we forget this, as we’re too busy swimming through conflicting priorities, and the voice representing us becomes pale, distorted, inaccurate, or plain ugly.

In social sciences, the Broken Window Theory essentially looks to explain that when nobody gives a crap, willingly or not, problems scale quickly.

The landscape talks to people. When a broken window is not fixed, the remaining ones will be broken soon, simply because it conveys the idea that no one cares. And that idea is pervasive enough to stick and become a reality.

Unfixed problems are contagious. Both a symptom and a disease.

Designing for gut feelings

Most of us don’t come up with lists of pros and cons, detailed comparisons or decision matrices to choose vendor one or vendor two. We decide based on a ton of factors that are subconsciously processed, and then rationalize them to convince ourselves that “good enough” equals “optimal” (see Bounded Rationality).

Providing a façade without broken windows – ideally one that’s beautiful and thought-through as well – is key to creating a good first impression and removing blockers that alter the heuristics on conversion decisions. Medina’s Brain Rules state that emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.

You don’t necessarily have to be the best to be the perfect choice. “Good enough” works. And when it’s delivered frustration-free, it creates trust.

Trust is a gut feeling more than a rational process, and visual design affects emotions in a very powerful way, perhaps more than any other stimuli.

Jason Putorti
Former Head of Design at Mint.com

Money on the table

Every time you postpone a fix, you incur a debt. Keep adding fixes to the ledger, and it becomes very hard to pay. On top of that, it makes you lose money. There’s plenty of research on the subject:

  • 88% of users are unlikely to return to a website after a bad user experience​ (Spiralytics)
  • 17% of cart abandonment is due to errors on the website (Baymard)
  • 94% of rejections come from poor design-related first impression (Paper)

If you read our previous insights, you know we’re big on the 95-5 rule that states that in B2B, only 5% of your potential buyers are actively looking to make a purchase. Businesses cannot afford to lose such a small percentage to poor experiences.

Let’s see the glass half full

This is a massive opportunity to stand out. More numbers:

  • A company’s customer base can increase by 1.11% for every 100ms decrease in homepage loading speed (Hobo Web, 2023)
  • Only 18% of customers feel satisfied with a company’s effort to personalize experiences (Adobe, 2023). In other words, 82% of companies suck at personalizing their customer’s experiences. The bar is very low.
  • 72% of customers will tell six people about a good experience (Spiralytics)

In short, basic, good enough work puts you above your competition.

As an agency we often see this drastic scenario: Clients are so tired of their platforms not delivering, their websites being slow and hard to update, and their customers complaining about bugs, that they decide to throw everything away and start over.

Sometimes it’s a good idea. But many times, it’s not. You don’t need to implement crazy expensive and complex redesign, or serially adopt new technologies, or have an endless budget. Start with fixing what needs to be fixed, and work your way up in small improvements.

This is what a broken window looks like

Think of your own shopping experiences. You try to shop for something online, and often find discouraging elements like:

  • Slow loading times
  • Broken or generic images
  • Keyword overloaded product descriptions that don’t really say anything to you as a human
  • Search boxes where it’s impossible to find anything
  • Poor mobile experience with websites that are badly optimized
  • Broken links
  • Broken features. How many times do you stumble into broken sign up forms, password recovery issues, crashing captcha, and more?

These things say loud and clear “we don’t care”. But we do. We really do. 

So let’s fix them.

Quick things you can do on a budget

Who has two thumbs and loves quick wins?

1: Find the problems

Microsoft Clarity can help you spot UX behavior and track customer activity. Install it, let it run for a few weeks, and see what you can learn from it. It’s excellent and it’s free.

Back in the 2000 Nielsen found that testing with five users is enough, and it still holds true. Bring five real customers. Mix brand champions with users that left your website frustrated. Be generous and reward their time, and have them run multiple small experiments to see how they use the website. Explore the objective results (Did they perform the task successfully?) as well as their emotional response (Was it easy? Are you pleased with the outcome?).

Repeat this process at least twice a year. Getting real feedback helps leaving personal preferences aside and focusing on what actually matters to your customers.

Lastly, have someone on the team run manual testing of everything on the site. There are many opinions on how, how much, and how often you should do it. Our rule of thumb for testing is:

  • Low traffic websites (> 50k monthly sessions): Test all your key content, sections and shopping cycle end to end on 5 popular browsers (desktop and mobile), once a month.
  • Mid sized traffic websites (50-200k monthly sessions): Text every two weeks and grow that list to at least ten devices. You can use tools like Browserstack to test remotely.
  • If you have more traffic, you might want to consider a full or partial resource that can stay on top of testing on a daily basis, and in permanent touch with your development team or your AOR.

Remember we can help too and the price tag is a no brainer.

2: Understand the problems

Where does it hurt? Dig deeper to identify the small issues that are causing friction. This could be anything from a slow-loading page to a confusing navigation menu.

  • Create a KPI dashboard with Looker, Databox or similar
  • Run lighthouse performance tests
  • List problems identified with Microsoft Clarity

Not all problems are created equal. Prioritize fixes based on how they impact on customer experience and business outcomes.

  • Run a quick matrix with two axes: Effort and impact. Effort is more or less objective. Impact depends on how happy you can make your customers, or how extensive the problem is.
  • Plan a reasonable dev calendar to work through the list.

Focus on making small, incremental changes rather than attempting a complete overhaul. This approach reduces risk and lets you to see the impact of each change more clearly.

“Making a choice that is 1% better or 1% worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be. Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” 

James Clear - Atomic Habits

3: Solve the problems

“Go big or go home” doesn’t apply to website maintenance. Implement small incremental changes and keep delivering nice surprises to your customers. Atomic changes accumulate and become exponential very quickly.

  • Consider Agile or Growth-based sprints. Batch tasks in short groups of two to four weeks. Have a release schedule. Make sure you keep an eye on the analytics available to figure out what’s moving the needle. 
  • Breaking down projects into smaller, manageable tasks and iterating continuously lead to steady progress without the need for massive overhauls. Sprints → feedback → iteration.
  • Not every change implemented works as expected, and that’s okay. Knowing this reduces internal team pressure, friction and frustration, and makes you better at handling change fast.

Last, make sure you let your customer know about what’s new and better. Convey urgency and thankfulness in support requests and follow up once the issues are fixed. Remember that solving a complaint in the customer’s favor can lead to a 70% retention rate.

“Good fences make good neighbors” 

Robert Frost, Mending Wall.

Fixing B2B eCommerce Windows2

Mending the fence

Beauty and function – the two essential pillars of general purpose design – are good for business because they intrinsically say “I care”, generate trust and facilitate post-rationalized gut-based purchases

Every new unfixed problem incurs a technical debt, and makes you lose sales. It hits twice, and twice as hard.

Fix your windows in small chunks and make plans to make things more beautiful little by little. You don’t need a big budget. You’ll save money in the long run, get better commercial results, and lovingly show your customers that you can – paraphrasing our favorite beatle – handle them with care.

*We like our TL;DRs in forty two words.

Tagged: B2B · ecommerce · insights
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