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Do online shopping apps need a design overhaul?

As 90s kids we have witnessed the evolution of shopping stores from a local clothing store with a dingy excuse of a trial room, where the only fun activity used to be looking at our infinite reflections, to a modern and chic store which provides one with a so called “shopping experience”. The evolution of these stores is what has converted shopping from a mundane chore to a fun distraction, even a hobby for some of us.

To many us, shopping is a means of entertainment. We make a day out of it by clubbing it with a movie or that restaurant that just opened. Shopping is not just about searching for the right product and buying it anymore, it involves all our senses. We want to know how a watch looks on our wrist, or how a perfume smells, or how that jacket fits, or how much bass can we get out of those speakers. This wholesome experience is what makes us buy things, not only the ones that we need, but the ones we discover during the process as well. This affair of seeing and feeling products, the instant gratification and the sheer pleasure associated with shopping is the reason why more than 60% of the people still prefer shopping offline.

Now, let’s take a brief look towards the online shopping world. We had flipkart enter the Indian retail market in 2007, followed by Amazon in 2012. While these e-commerce giants have significantly reduced the gratification period with their one day deliveries, introduced heavy discounting, implemented recommendation systems and finally brought the entire store to our phone screen, their apps have not changed a lot over the past few years. We have to follow the same process to search for products, a similar browsing mechanism and the same unstructured information.

Here we have screenshots of the two e-retail applications comparing the design in 2013 to the current user interface. While the products and services portfolio has definitely expanded, we can hardly see any difference purely in terms of the design of the application.

In fact, surveys claim that as the number of products on these applications increased, consumers found it more and more difficult to land on a purchase. Over 42% planned purchases are abandoned due to a choice overload. We can attribute this high abandon rate due to a poor design which prevents users from finding the perfect product for themselves. If we go through the process of purchasing a product on these applications, it is a tiresome activity of searching, filtering, sorting and then finally comparing prices on different stores.

So, it doesn’t really come across as a surprise that even when over 30% Indians are online through their phones, only a little over 5% retail happens online. While the online solution to the problem of seeing and feeling products is still a little further away (there are certain people working on it — shoutout to


), we wonder if a design overhaul is needed at the moment in online shopping apps to create a more engaging experience.

A major aspect of design involves personalization. Just like there is a sales person at a retail store to guide us through the vast selection of products that the store keeps, online shopping apps also need a mechanism to curate products for shoppers so that we don’t have to go through hundreds of products to find the ideal one. Now, personalization is not as straight-forward as it sounds. Most e-retail applications, and others, face a problem referred to as the “cold start”, when they go about personalizing the products and services for their users. For the uninitiated, cold start refers to the problem of personalizing the product/service when there is no information about the user in terms of the purchase or browsing history. To remedy this, we have created a step-wise preference collection mechanism on our app so as to understand the user’s tastes and preferences with regards to clothing. Once the user is onboarded based on these preliminary preferences, our algorithms personalize the product feed for them, which keeps on improving as the user engages with the app.

Another design challenge with online shopping is more at an industry level. All the major e-retail platforms have a significant overlap in their product portfolios, which results in the user going through multiple apps to find the desired product at the best price. We know how you like your Shoppers Stop, Pantaloons and Marks & Spencers to be in one mall, so that you can hop from place to place. We are trying to do the same with online platforms, by bringing them all in one application.

We, at Parati, are trying to solve these two major challenges using intuitive product design. We are leveraging data to enable our users to shop from a highly personalized selection of clothes, curated just for them, while our proprietary algorithms help them compare prices across platforms. Download the app and tell us what you think about it.

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