“Frictionless” is a hall-of-fame e-commerce buzzword. It’s one of those business concepts that almost feels like a quest for enlightenment. If you could just fine-tune the UX, store enough secure data, bring your check-out time down to milliseconds … then customers (and brands) will glide through a perfect, pleasant, seamless experience in which everyone gets what they want.

Of course, enlightenment can take a while. Often, the premise of a frictionless shopping experience is based on a quest for speed: how fast can a customer find a product, how quickly can they personalize it, what’s the shortest route to a pain-free checkout? 

Speed and ease-of-purchase are critical parts of the experience, but one of the hidden forces guiding frictionless e-commerce is trust.

If you trust a brand, you’ll have confidence in its data security measures, its payment processing system, its recommendations, and its understanding of you as a customer. A highly-personalized shopping experience won’t feel invasive, it’ll feel like concierge service. But how do you reach that level of trust?

Trust Issue 1: Determine how frictionless should this really be

The answer for a lot of retailers is “all the way.” No friction at all. But, as we’ve seen with certain stock-trading apps, a little friction in your UX doesn’t have to be a bad thing. 

There is a big difference in creating products for general consumer items versus luxury products. For toilet paper and laundry pods the buying experience needs to be fast and easy, like a quick-buy option and easy quantity change. For fine jewelry, you want increased friction. You want users to consider their experience more, allow them to feel involved, and create a connection.

Out of necessity, purchasing bigger ticket items online is becoming the COVID-19 norm, but a frictionless experience for a $20,000 motorcycle still feels a little weird. We’ve designed carts for luxury goods brands that make it harder to accidentally increase quantity because each item is thousands of dollars.

The same goes for a product that may have an age requirement, shipping restriction, or safety consideration. A few safeguards (tested through user research so they’re not cumbersome) can add a tremendous level of trust as price tags and products change with the times.

Trust Issue 2: Ask who should benefit from your frictionless UX

One of the biggest pitfalls brands fall into is making assumptions about what their customer wants without actually verifying it in a UX research phase. A weary sentiment along the lines of, “We already understand our customers, why would we waste time and money to find out what we already know?”

That mentality skips over a more pertinent question, “Who is the frictionless experience for?” Founders often have biases they’re not fully aware of, which leads to a lack of consideration for disabled people, people of color, gender non-binary people, and more. Using an app can be a personal experience, a closed circuit of actions and reactions, so it’s easy to assume that all other users engage with it the same way.

Accessibility should be a no-brainer — everyone should have a pleasant and easy experience. Is your web and mobile experience up to current color, text, and other accessibility standards? A survey in the United Kingdom found that “82% of customers with access needs would spend more if websites were more accessible.” The other side of that coin: “71% of disabled customers with access needs will click away from a website that they find difficult to use.

Representation is a factor too. Fit models for fashion brands tend to be shown in one very small size (and are often overwhelmingly white), which doesn’t help a significant swath of the population. Lingerie brand the Underargument is embracing the idea of anticasting, a blind process that selects models based entirely on their written submissions inspired by the brand’s collections.

Trust Issue 3: Online shoppers have mandatory expectations

Red flags pop up when customers notice what you don’t include in the shopping experience. There’s an expectation of sophistication, a robust site that seems intuitive and respectful. These no-brainers are now essentially mandatory for an e-commerce site:

  • Save for Later functionality
  • Collapsing product details (viewable, but not visible all the time)
  • Gift hints
  • Add-on suggestions
  • Related products on product pages

Another mandatory expectation is for design simplicity. Uncluttered, clean UX keeps the focus on products and purchasing. A consistent design system creates a friendly environment for users, and presents less UI for them to learn. Think of every design component as part of a family, different but sharing core traits you define at the outset.

If you have a big inventory, you know that keeping track of thousands of products is hard, and keeping track of thousands of products each with individually-customizable options is exceptionally hard. Don’t overcomplicate with fussy or intricate design components on the page.

Trust Issue 4: Simple cart, happy shopper

The cart experience should be clean, simple, with little extraneous design, and focused on moving your shipping/billing/payment through as painlessly as possible. Any other messages or doo-dads you want to add to the cart page: don’t.

Reliability is a huge indicator and reinforcer of trust. A recent study shows that consumers who had a problem when shopping online were 35% less loyal than those who had no problems.

A key part of Shopify’s rise as an e-commerce leader has been cultivating that delicate mix of flexibility and sophistication. It’s a robust platform that still presents as a turnkey solution, and one of Shopify’s major benefits is a checkout flow that is standardized across all its stores. 

Shop Pay is very smooth and on par with Apple Pay’s one-click UX (Shopify supports Apple Pay on all sites for both desktop and mobile). On desktop particularly, Apple Pay removes a huge point of friction, which is filling out payment and shipping info.

Shopify also doesn’t push its own branding during the shopping experience. For instance, there’s no Shopify logo in the cart area, which is nice for retailers. That can feel massively intrusive for customers during checkout (you’ve been in a store’s bubble the whole time, then suddenly, when money is changing hands, this other company shows up).

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