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Key Lesson Learned from the Dell Idea Storm

Forrester Research asked members of their North American Consumer Technology Adoption Study (NACTAS) panel to tell them what they like best about the website they visit most. Interestingly, superior content and function were not at the top of their panelist's list.

Instead, they rated ease of finding content and function as the most important attribute of their favorite sites. Text legibility came in a close second, while trust in website security and reliability ended up in third place.

Online consumers value clear navigation, strong text legibility, and high reliability -- but that's not what they usually get. Many sites that Forrester previously evaluated failed tests of how well they help users find, read, and trust content. And when sites serve up a series of flaws in a single scenario, it adds up to a major headache for users.

As an example, consider the focal point of the highest ranked suggestion to improve the user experience on the Dell.com website. The recently launched Dell Idea Storm forum includes a plea from its customers to "organize the sales pages by need, not product line."

The ensuing customer commentary highlights a common problem with other eCommerce websites -- the company's shopping experience is all about Dell, and not the user. Specifically, their website navigation was built on an architecture that's based upon the internal organizational structure of Dell -- consumer, small business, medium/large business and government/education.

The most obvious flaw in the navigation design is an assumption that people who visit the website must think like a Dell product manager. As an example, if a consumer wants to purchase a notebook computer, Dell assumes that the first thing they will likely do is narrow their selection by "product category" -- as in the Inspiron or XPS Notebooks brand names.

Even if you have purchased a notebook computer before, would Dell brand name be a primary criteria that you use to find the best fit solution to your individual needs? Now, imagine that you are an inexperienced consumer that knows enough about a notebook computer to be dangerous, and you will develop empathy for people's confusion and frustration.

Most computer and many consumer electronics vendor websites were initially designed with the most experienced consumer in mind -- the gadget geek that has the same affinity for technology specifications and feature lists that their product manager peers apparently appreciate with such passion. So, why are mainstream consumers still drawn to Dell?

Advertising that features compelling messaging like a "Purely You" product customization with plug-and-play simplicity naturally sets consumer expectations that when Dell says "we'll help you build your perfect PC from the ground up" -- they mean to do just that; help them.

The whole notion of "Purely You" implies an awareness and respect for the individual consumer needs -- not just for the purchased product, but also the essential shopping experience that results in a best fit (my actual needs, your best fulfillment). My point: design, usability and consumer segmentation are all intertwined in making a meaningful and personalized experience.

In the bygone era of mass-marketing, the concept of an "average consumer" -- each with virtually identical needs, understanding and skills -- may have made some sense when every potential customer was an early-adopter geek. However, today if you sell a complex product or service to a broad addressable market, then a one-size-fits-all shopping experience is proven to fit nobody in particular.

The geeks certainly aren't happy because all the new 'crap' content and guidance that explains applications are an unwelcome addition to the otherwise pristine features-price-purchase flow that they crave. In contrast, the novice struggles through the semi-intelligible website flow and product text that only masquerades as a customer-centric shopping scenario.

While it may never be practical to design a website that sells complex products in a way that is personalized to the exact needs of every individual customer, you can design a website that is targeted at a logical cluster of segmented customers -- with common values and expectations.

Scenario design and persona profiling is a proven approach to better fit the novice, intermediate and expert consumer experience requirements. Furthermore, empathetic design team leaders who are informed customer advocates, armed with full veto powers, will ensure that every constituent voice is heard, understood and respected in the design process.

If Dell is to decisively move beyond its current 15 percent share of sales from the global consumer marketplace it's surely going to start with a bold goal, but then that objective must quickly produce a clear and meaningful point of competitive differentiation.

Customers have offered some actionable suggestions for improvement via Dell Idea Storm, and made it very apparent that incremental tweaks to the existing navigation model is unlikely to deliver any breakthrough results. The key lesson-learned is pivotal to Dell's future success.

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