• Personas: Can Ecommerce do without them?

    user personas

    Not a single day goes by without some question or comment from clients, potential clients, or subscribers to our RSS on the validity of personas for an ecommerce website. Of course, once we get our clients results, they are certainly on board. But convincing them of the personas role and effectiveness at the ecommerce front before beginning a project, has posed as a challenge.

    Let’s get something out of the way though: is it possible to optimize without the use of Personas? Definitely.

    So why personas for an ecommerce website? Let’s dissect this further:

    1. Personas guide the optimization process: Gathering the demographical information of your target market is very valuable. But pairing that information with user behavior on the site is even more insightful.

    There is not a single component or element that defines your target market, specifically the target market of an ecommerce site. We define 3 main areas that need to be focused on for our purposes when creating personas for an ecommerce website:

    • Psychographics,
    • Demographics,
    • Usability behavior

    Optimizing an ecommerce site based on mere basic market demographical information does not allow you to really get into the heads of the users enough to define their motivations, likes and dislikes, anxieties, and online behavior.

    Let’s say that your target clients are 25-35, white, college-educated females. How does that demographical information impact the way you design the main page on your site? Why would you include or not include certain elements on a product page? But if I target Elizabeth, 29, white, nurse, who enjoys comparative shopping and searches by brands – suddenly I understand what elements I need to focus on and I can really relate to Elizabeth.

    The more information you are armed with going into the optimization process, the more successful you will be at catering the site to their needs. The more personalized the user becomes to you, the more likely it is that you can relate to them and optimize accordingly.

    2. Usability testing is key to succeeding in optimization: Personas not only guide the optimization process, but they allow us to select the correct individuals for usability testing on an ecommerce site. Of course, we do not optimize a site blindly. Prioritizing what elements or pages need to be optimized first relies on 4 main factors:

    • Personas
    • Analytics
    • LOE (level of effort)
    • Usability testing

    But we can’t move forward with usability testing until we know who we need to recruit for the test.

    For instance, if I have the persona John Edward, 38, construction worker, enjoys riding motorcycles, is an aggressive yet logical personality type, not very web savvy, and takes his time when he shops – I can easily locate users that matches this persona profile before moving forward with a usability test. What’s the point of a usability test if the “user” does not fall into the target market. The more specific I am with the personas, the more likely I can locate individuals that fall into that category and target market for usability testing. If we create 4 personas for a given website and for each persona we recruit 5 individuals that fall under the specific personality, motivational, demographical traits of the personas, our usability test becomes a lot more insightful and helpful when prioritizing what needs to be optimized and how it should be optimized.

    3. Humanizing the optimization process: Like we mentioned before, your users are living, breathing individuals. Just because online shopping can be impersonal doesn’t mean we have to make it an impersonal experience for the users. Put a face, life, personality to your different market segments and suddenly optimizing for them doesn’t seem like a daunting task.

    Okay, so what are some of the counter arguments against personas, specifically for ecommerce websites:

    Complaint: Back in November, EcommGuru made this comment on one of our posts about Personas:

    My two cents worth on why personas are not useful in an ecommerce environment.

    Take into consider our scenario. We sell products that are higher end products (price range of $400 up to $5000).

    We have identified our site visitors into three groups: small business owners, network administrators and value added resellers. We have also identified ages, sex, and other traits for these personas.


    It is near impossible to create product descriptions for each of these personas and present them in an organized fashion. Example: we can easily create three product descriptions for each item. However, you cannot control the product descriptions based on the user’s persona unless you invest a LOT of time and money it to creating a hyper-dynamic ecommerce application. It’s not worth the resources.

    This is the problem companies face when dealing with personas. Even having two personas complicates the matters beyond any reasonable means to invest in pursuing.

    Our Response: There is no way that you can possibly create product descriptions for each persona! Of course, that is not how we utilize our personas for large ecommerce sites.

    Product description of course is very a small part of ecommerce stores. Personas impact hundreds of other elements in an e-commerce store. Even on a scale of only production descriptions though, we had clients who invested the time and had copy writers who would create product descriptions that catered to the different personality types.

    Sometimes it even makes sense to start with small set of products. Consider your best selling products, and test with varying descriptions to see the impact. A perspective client had a product that generated over 60k in sales per month. Would we target the copy for that particular product page? Of course we would.

    FigPii Heatmaps

    So, if I know that there are these specific personality traits, motivations, interests, guiding factors to 4 or 5 distinct individuals that visit my website – it’s a lot easier for me to cater to what they need than to 15,000 individuals that land on that page per month. I can take site product descriptions and add persuasive elements that would appeal to each of these personas. I can enhance a product page, beyond description only, with varying elements and applications that would cater to each persona type.

    With personas, we’ve ultimately shrunk the target market tremendously and added some personality to the buyers we are dealing with. It’s no longer JUST a transaction – it’s Jane Kim from San Diego who owns a small business and worries about costs, but will spend money only after calculating a sizable ROI.

Ayat Shukairy

My name is Ayat Shukairy, and I’m a co-founder and CCO at Invesp. Here’s a little more about me: At the very beginning of my career, I worked on countless high-profile e-commerce projects, helping diverse organizations optimize website copy. I realized, that although the copy was great and was generating more foot traffic, many of the sites performed poorly because of usability and design issues.

View All Posts By Ayat Shukairy
Ayat Shukairy

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