Using Personas In Ecommerce Website Design

By  •  Updated: 01/17/11 •  5 min read

(Originally published on the Shine Marketing website)

Personas are a simple but powerful tool to aid better ecommerce website design. In this article we explain what a persona is, how it is used and how to create a useful set of personas for your ecommerce website project.

What are personas?

Successful ecommerce website design requires that you specifically address the needs and preferences of your web audience. By analysing your visitors and customers, you can create a typical demographic profile, but an even more effective approach is to use personas to typify the most important segments of your audience.

A persona is a set of demographic characteristics that provides information on the tastes and preferences of an important segment of your audience. Generally, web designers attempt to create at least three to five personas for any site.

The persona differs from an audience profile in that it creates imaginary “personalities” amongst the visitors to your site. These can be much more powerful in guiding design and functionality than a generic description such as “female 25-35 professional”.

Identifying personas requires a thorough analysis of your website statistics and customer data. Obviously the more data that you have on your customers, the easier it is to create useful personas. The first step in creating personas is to determine the ideal types of visitors for your ecommerce focus.

Determine who would be interested in your products; however, make sure at the same time that they are qualified to purchase the products online. What you are looking for is your “ideal customer” in terms of a variety of demographic characteristics including age, gender, income, profession, ethnicity, location, attitudes, goals, interests and personality traits.

Focus on just the ideal persona groups rather than trying to create personas for every segment of your audience. Of course, this will mean carefully analysing your available customer data. If your website requires registration, this job will be easier since you already have a tool available for collecting customer information. Another way to gain insight into your audience is to conduct user surveys.

The persona concept was created with the idea of forming imaginary models of customers with the idea of predicting how they will respond to specific presentations or situations.

When creating personas, it is important to give each persona a “personality” with behavioural characteristics that mimic real life types of characters. This personality can be used to create an ecommerce website that will have greater appeal to that persona and will also have a greater probability of increasing conversion rates.

Using personas in ecommerce site design

Once you have analysed your user data and created the ideal persona target groups, you then are faced with the task of incorporating this information into your site’s design.

Let’s say, for example, that the ideal persona for your website is a young woman professional that you name “Jane.” How will you design the home page to appeal to Jane?

Optimising website design requires knowledge of the “psychographics” of each targeted persona group. Thus, in order to appeal to Jane, you must find out what types of layouts, for example, are attractive to young professional women. Are there designs that will immediately “hook” users that belong to this demographic group?

The website design team must also consider Jane’s browsing and shopping behaviour. Does Jane want concise information that can be quickly scanned or is she more interested in analysing details before making purchases?

Creating the right kind of presentation and usability features is important in generating sales conversions. The merchandising team, for example, should know what price ranges are practical for the targeted persona group. Products within these price ranges should be the first to appear as the user browses through the website. Remember that web users are typically impatient and they will quickly go elsewhere if they are having trouble finding what they want on your site.

Again, if certain types of information on your persona group are not available, you can always survey your customers to gain more insight.

Another way to analyse your users is to study feedback from email, chat, forum, social networking and other records. If you do not have these types of feedback platforms, you should think of providing as many as possible. By creating a Facebook page, for example, you can study comments to gain insights into the personalities of your customers.

For example, if visitors to your site are complaining about not finding enough information about products, then you may be able to conclude that a particular segment is very interested in shopping and comparing before making purchasing decisions, and develop a persona that matches these characteristics. You may decide that providing layers of information is the best approach with the option of allowing the user to click through to get increasingly greater detail on products. However, you should not require too many clicks for the user to access the information they need.

However, if users are complaining about too much clutter and information on product pages, then these customers may represent “no-nonsense” types that want “clean” pages that provide only essential details needed to make a purchasing decision.

Remember though, that you should not try to overanalyse your audience. Restrict your focused personal groups to three to five personas or maybe a few more. However, do not attempt to create dozens of personas as this will dilute your efforts in concentrating on highly-targeted potential customers.

By concentrating on a limited number of personas, you can also gain greater insight into their motivations, interests, behaviour and other related factors as your experience and interaction grows. The new knowledge will help you tweak your ecommerce website design for even higher conversion rates.

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.