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Customer-Centric Vision

Customer-centered design draws from successful usability engineering methodologies typically applied to software product design. At its foundation, usability engineering employs user-centered design principles. Successful software product design starts with user insight and needs. These needs determine the product design so that software products are easy and intuitive to "operate."

Customer-centered design starts with the user-centered design approach and then carefully balances and blends relevant customer behavior data from shopping research and behavioral studies. It integrates the value of the shopped product, business factors that drive profitability, customer needs, the uniqueness of the shelf, and other business factors.

Applying this approach optimizes web store design and benefits the business, the customer, and the manufacturer. The customer enjoys a superior shopping experience that enables him to easily find, select, and purchase products and services. The merchant maximizes the online shelf for profitability and attracts and retains "customers" instead of "buyers." Buyers typically "price-shop," but customers are willing to potentially pay more in return for customer service and trust in the merchant. The manufacturers' products and brands are represented in the best possible manner.

The motto in retailing used to be "the customer is always right." Stiff competition and intense focus on profitability required a shift to shorter-term, sales-oriented store goals. While profitability is essential to the survival of a business, customers have been lost in the process. Consumers are now required to take more responsibility for shopping services that were routinely provided by the store. Depending on the outlet, these include unloading carts at the checkout counter, marking prices on products, and even scanning their own purchases into the cash register. Customers prefer to shop where they can find their selections quickly, where they enjoy shopping, where they receive added service, and where they perceive value.

Customer-centered design not only integrates and balances customer shopping goals with store business goals, it also places the emphasis on the customer experience. Customers want to be able to find what they need but they also want to be entertained and enjoy the shopping experience. The merchant's goals are satisfied as well: attract and retain customers and sell products profitably. It's important to make sure that the merchant's goals don't unintentionally interfere with the customer's goals.

The online merchant must provide a value proposition, the right product mix, and the right experience to increase sales and achieve customer loyalty and return visits. To stay in business, stores must focus on profitability, product, category margins, and overall sales as economic success factors. They must also achieve operational excellence in managing the technology infrastructures and supply chain efficiencies. These metrics will be achieved by securing a strong customer base.

Online customers' needs are not different from traditional retail customers' needs. They are focused on time, convenience, getting the most value for their money, and ease of purchasing a product. They are similarly interested in the availability of quality products. Balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the customer requires intimate knowledge of both groups. Understanding customer segments is discussed in Chapter 2.

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