Context isn’t always so easy to consider on the internet. The person you’re chatting with could be in their pajamas or at work, eating breakfast or simultaneously cooking a meal. It’s probably a wise choice not to read in to a user’s context too much, since context can change so rapidly. For many websites/mobile apps, context isn’t so important. Angry Birds players could be on an airplane or in the John and it wouldn’t really change the experience of the game nor the design of the game. In sales and in e-commerce, however, context and feeling are vital.
Let’s differentiate between sales and e-commerce. They’re roughly the same, but the focus is different. Sales means selling you something, e-commerce means buying it online. Sales, whether online or at a brick-and-mortar, has to consider the context of the user. If they came in to the store, are they rushed? Are they Christmas shopping? Are they a man or a woman? Ask any salesman at a store who his ideal customer is and who he sees and immediately know it won’t be worth dealing with. They know because they have instincts about who buys and who doesn’t. Many salesmen get commission based on upsaling, so knowing how to use context (It’s only available at this price right now!) and feelings (Trust me, if things go wrong you’re going to be happy you have this warranty!) to their advantage is really important. Generally we can make some assumptions about sales, upsaling, and especially at physical retail outlets we can see exactly who the customer is and how best to deal with them.
E-commerce means buying things online. It’s similar to sales, and there is some overlap (I’m not suggesting these are two completely different things), but with e-commerce most people know exactly what they want to buy, buy it, and leave. The context is almost entirely irrelevant. People order all kinds of things (including cars!) online at all hours of the day from all over the world. This makes considering user context far more difficult. So how can sales and e-commerce more closely consider context and, in turn, increase sales?
I’m by no means an expert here, but I’d like to suggest one way:
This quick graphic shows that people order more pizza when it’s raining. Dominos was able to capitalize on local conditions to increase sales. It’s not the weather that’s important in this graphic, it’s the idea that in a global world, a major multi-national company is considering *local* conditions. This is great! It means they’re considering their users and considering their users’ contexts. It’s not always so easy to know where your users are, but since most e-commerce revolves around revealing a home address, it’s certainly possible. It’s also possible to consider logins based on IP address, and address issues in that area in real time. IP addresses use isn’t flawless, but it’s possible to get a ballpark idea. Another simple consideration of context is showing whether or not a store is currently open or closed.
Considering context will become a hotbutton issue in the near future if it’s not already. Privacy is a major consideration and a controversial issue. Is it acceptable for a store to be conscious of who I am and (more controversial) what I’m doing? Is it okay to know where I am and market directly to me based on my location that was found in a kind of surreptitious way? The ethics of designing internet sales based on local information have yet to be entirely fleshed out. It’s interesting to note, however, that regardless of how this issue gets resolved, the focus is on the user. The issue has changed from– “How can my store attract people to come in and buy things?” with the focus on the *store* attracting people, to “How can I attract people to buy things in a store?” with the focus on the *people*. User-centered design is at the heart of this matter, and that’s good news for UX designers. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s a rainy Friday and I’ve got to check what kind of sales are going on at Dominos!