UX Insider Interview – Justin Amphlett on ecommerce UX at Wiggle
by Damian Rees, Founder & UX Director

UX Insider Interview – Justin Amphlett on ecommerce UX at Wiggle

Justin Amphlett
Continuing with our UX Insider series where we’re interviewing UX leaders working on top UK websites. This interview is with Justin Amphlett, UX & UI Design Manager at Wiggle.

Tell us a bit about Wiggle, and your role there?

Wiggle is an online retailer that’s had pretty good success in selling into the Sports market. Not only in the UK, but now also internationally. It’s been growing roughly 20 percent year on year for the past two years, and it runs around 14 websites across different territories and languages. Supporting all of those websites is a rather small team of three UX design staff, although there are a lot more designers carrying out the wider marketing work. But the core UX site itself is just a team of three.

 

What’s the biggest challenges that you face in the next twelve months

It’s still mobile. Especially as we’re looking at moving into mobile apps. That’s not guaranteed yet, but we’re well aware that once you launch an app, it’s out there in the marketplace. People can quickly give you a score of 1 out of 5, and you can’t take that back. I think the biggest challenge will be to launch with a really rock solid eCommerce experience. It has to meet its target and meet it well first time.

 

What upcoming changes are likely to affect the way we purchase cycling and running equipment?

I think it’s getting the products to the customer, and allowing them to try things out and return them in a much easier way. That’s becoming the norm. Amazon has its Amazon Locker and services like CollectPlus have become much more popular. So for us it’s a question of “how do you allow customers to really try your product”, and if it’s not right to return it with minimum fuss or hassle.

We’ve just signed up with Doddle in the UK, which is similar to CollectPlus, and they have regionally located pick up points, but they are designed as stores. So you can actually go in and try on the clothing in the store, then return it to Wiggle.

 

Making an online purchase of something like a bike is a huge commitment. Some of the bikes cost quite a lot of money, how do you make this easier for your customers?

We’ve been experimenting with video reviews. We know that people want to be educated when you’re making a purchase of that size. We try and use high resolution photos that we take ourselves of the bikes. But, we’re also at the same time keenly aware that there’s a lot more work we can do especially for the high end products to really sell that lifestyle, sell that product, and properly explain why a customer should spend that much money on a bike compared to a bike half the price.

It’s something we’re definitely going to keep striving to do. And that’s the thing with UX, you never solve the problem you just keep working at it to make it better for the customer. I don’t think we have solved that problem particularly well yet. That’s a challenge in the year ahead, especially on mobile. Are people comfortable to click purchase for a two grand bike on their mobile phone?

 

Overcoming internal politics is a theme that comes up quite a bit for UX leaders, is this the same for you, and if so how do you deal with it?

Any business that grows starts to develop teams within teams, and if you’re not careful those teams will start to work in silos if there isn’t enough communication.

Keeping communication open between multiple teams is vital, especially for UX. Keeping a close relationship with IT Team, when you’re building eCommerce and keeping the developers involved in the UX process is really important.

One thing I’ve learned, and this is something I definitely want to communicate with other UX people, is that it’s really easy for UX to be ignored, or misunderstood by stakeholders. People who maybe have come from a more old school background and still don’t quite get what UX is. We tend to sit back and say that they need to learn what it is we do. But I think part of the job of UX is to educate and communicate what design is, and what user experience work is in the business. If they’re not getting it, that’s our fault, not theirs.

 

How do you keep your team focused on providing a good user experience when facing pressures from other departments in the business?

The great thing about user experience is you often take it back to evidence and data. Usually when something is coming in on a tight deadline, it’s been based on an assumption, and you can quickly argue against assumptions by questioning where that assumption came from and then asking if you tested that assumption would it be proved correct? That said, I think there are always business pressures, and sometimes you have to be reactive in the eCommerce world, and there’s a balance to be had.

We have to try and weigh up when do you go on a short-notice gut instinct versus addressing the problem properly and doing more research to make sure it fits with what your customers actually want.

 

What’s the biggest threat to the success of UX within your organization?

It’s very easy on tight time scales to cut out the research and actually talking to the user.

Sometimes a project will kick off in a waterfall manner, where the aim of the project is already defined before the UX team is involved. You can end up starting work on a project without the time to evaluate the core problem it is really trying to solve. If you had done this, you’d probably have come up with a very different solution. The risk of this waterfall approach is that you’re locked into a solution that may not be the right thing.

 

What UX methods do you find the most useful in helping you do your job?

Well, for me, you get the most insight from watching your customers. I think it’s the one-to-one sessions we run with you guys, where we watch customers in a lab. It’s not the only way we get customer insight, we get a lot of feedback from our customer service team whilst we have to interact with our customers, and they feel the customers’ pain, and get a lot of first hand feedback on what is going wrong that way.

But, I think, for educating people in the business for how something works, and just seeing your product in use, nothing beats seeing behind that one way mirror and watching a customer fail to use something that you thought was great. That is the most useful tool I think I’ve found.

 

Do you outsource part of your UX process? Which parts, and why?

Yes, I really think it’s important to recognise your strengths and weaknesses. In our team, although we’re UX we can also code HTML, CSS, and front-end design pretty well. But that also means that we are not that strong on traditional research methods. We recognise that we’re better off outsourcing research. We get involved in brainstorming sessions, customer journeys, and watching research. And from there we use the skills we do have internally, by wireframing solutions, and refining those solutions down.

 

How did you first get into UX?

I spent about eleven years working as a graphic designer and web designer working for agencies and freelance. In that time you begin to recognise that a lot of the businesses you’re working for just aren’t doing any UX, and the only person thinking about it is you as the designer. It’s was a drive to become more professional, to use better methodologies for understanding what is the problem I’m solving, and not relying upon my assumptions… that’s what got me into UX.

I think the only difference between a UX Designer, and what you would call a Graphic Designer, is that one of them is building on assumptions, the other one is building on what the customer wants. All designers will have effectively become a UX Designer by now, because UX is inseparable from the design process.

I was given the chance to take over control of UX after being a senior designer here, I just jumped at the chance and used that opportunity to learn and grow. It’s still a never-ending process of learning, and I’m now looking into cognitive psychology, human computer interaction text books, and filling in those gaps that I don’t have that I didn’t pick up as a designer.

 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to join a similar ecommerce UX team?

We’ve been recruiting recently. It’s fascinating to see different opinions from people who do UX who are looking for work, and I guess it’s having just that right mindset of continuing to want to learn. I don’t think anyone in the UX industry really knows everything, or ever will. UX is such a nebulous term. There’s so many areas I don’t think any one person can really know everything, and it’s always just focus on the customer first, understand what your weak points are, and try and expand on and improve them.

 

When you are in the interview process have you got a favourite interview question that you ask?

I think it depends from person to person, but it’s probably how do you keep up to date with the current industry, and what excites you about it. I think you quickly understand if someone is on the same page as you. If they’re looking at the same resources you are online, or the right books, or the right authors, or following the right people on Twitter. Because, I think that the UX industry is quite an interesting one, in the sense it is a community with lots of conferences, blogs and support for each other because it’s still growing, everyone is still learning, and everyone is keen to share.

That’s one of the main things about the user research. If you look at other areas, perhaps online, I think enterprise, ecommerce systems, you’re not going to find anyone really talking about how they used them in any depth. UXers seem, even in large businesses, happy to share their knowledge and how they do things. I think you look at the Gov.uk team and they just made a big push to just make everything public, and explained their thinking processes. It’s there for everyone to learn from. It’s really positive.

 

Do you have any blogs, podcasts, and books that you find yourself recommending a lot?

I use Feedly to keep a feed from about 30, or 40 UX blogs [Download Justin’s Feedly opml file]. That ranges from more design led stuff to more high-end thinking like A list apart to more traditional UX writers, and bloggers. Book wise, there’s so many, but I think if you were just starting out you need Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make me Think!” For someone like me who isn’t great at researching and is keen to research quicker and cheaper, I also think his companion book “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” is quick to pick up and consume.

 

What websites do you look at and think, “Wow! They’ve nailed it?”

Gov.uk website. They’ve nailed it. They’ve realised what they need to do and they’ve done it very well, which is serve their content to everyone. Everyone in the UK is their customer. I think they’ve got a wonderful way of communicating, the important information first, and then allowing you to drill down to the secondary information.

I would have said the BBC although they’ve gone a little bit off recently, they’ve been experimenting I think it was about mobile design, mobile first, and I they have gone a bit too mobile first in some cases to the detriment of the desktop experience.

I find it very easy to criticise everything, and so I always find myself picking holes in other people’s work which is a terrible thing to do, because you don’t know the problem they’ve had to solve, or they budget they’ve had to solve it with.

As the user all you care about is has it been easy, has it made you think? You selfishly then start judging them on that without knowing their constraints. I find it very frustrating, in the design industry at the moment that there’s a theme where people are redesigning other people’s work, and publicly saying, “Hey, this is how this company could have done this.” That’s really a harsh thing to do because you don’t know what the original problem was, you don’t know what the brief was, and you don’t know the constraints on time, design, research and resource. You just redesign someone’s stuff without understanding the problem they faced or their audience.

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