Benefits of personas in multichannel commerce

September 3rd, 2015 by Azur Digital

United Arab Emirates retailers deal with more than a hundred nationalities. This means different cultures and various shopping habits, sensitivities and aesthetics preferences. When designing an e-commerce website, an app or even an email blast, it is essential to know and understand your target user. Unfortunately, there is no “common user” and different customer groups must be addressed differently. It is even truer in the UAE, where it is unlikely the designer shares the same cultural background as his/her target audience.

This is where personas come into play: personas are fictional characters representing typical users or customers; they help shape profiles based on needs, motivations and desires. As we wrote in a previous blog on User Experience, creating personas can greatly facilitate decision-making, and also reduce errors and rework hours traditionally associated with design concept misinterpretations as part of multichannel projects.

In this article, we will not delve into what personas are, as there is plenty of literature on this topic, but focus more on their benefits for a multichannel business, in particular in the UAE.

Why use personas?

During a design presentation, it is not uncommon to hear stakeholders say “I don’t think users will like this feature”. Everyone has a different opinion on what they like or don’t like, and by extension, on what their customers would like or dislike. As designers then try to interpret these opinions and translate them into concepts, the project plan is inevitably put at risk. Designing and delivering a successful digital experience requires going beyond stakeholders sensitivity and focusing on your target audience. This is the purpose of personas.

Customers present a wide array of purchase behaviors, which are driven by their circumstances. Take for example the multichannel shopping experience of a customer browsing a product on a mobile phone and ending-up buying it on a desktop. In the middle of the journey, she may visit a store. In this example, each touchpoint should be designed to cater for the needs of this specific customer (assuming she belongs to the targeted audience), but also be aware of her stage in the customer journey.

When looking at these portraits of various persons from various backgrounds, who do you resonate with? Who would you like to know more about their motivations, cultural habits and shopping behaviors? Can you satisfy their expectations and needs?

UAE’s demographic profile shows an exceptional diversity. There is no widespread literature to fully grasp the sociologic and psychologic behavioral dynamics of this unique environment, where about 85% of the population are expatriates. This makes the personas even more useful, not to say necessary.

An investment that pays off during project execution

When starting a digital project, it can be tempting to rebrand a template or reconfigure an existing tool that has the required functionality to shorten time-to-market. In practice, this rarely yields the expected returns.

There is unfortunately no shortcut when it comes to designing multichannel experiences. Such projects require making many key decisions that will impact customer satisfaction, brand image and financial returns. Customer-centricity therefore is key, as it will enable decision-making based on the expected satisfaction of customers.

“Our model shows that while there are benefits to a redesign without personas, a redesign with personas can provide a return of up to four times more.”

Personas creation usually requires a few weeks of work, but this investment pays off during project execution by greatly facilitating decision-making and alignment among stakeholders. As a result, design processes are more efficient and stakeholders can more adequately choose which features would require personalization or additional development, thus maximizing their impact within a set budget. As all dialogues now become driven by empathy for the customer, the overall project execution significantly gains in confidence and effectiveness.

Personas are unique to an organization and more importantly, to a project. Some companies may consider creating different persona sets for different projects, as their user base, motivations and goals might not be the same (for instance in the case of a loyalty program revamp versus a marketplace project).

Benefits of personas beyond design

Organizations not familiar with personas often mistaken them with customer segments. Both are actually complementary, but their nature profoundly differs. Conceptually, customer segments are based on quantitative analysis and are primarily intended to make marketing decisions. Conversely, personas are based on qualitative information and are intended to make design decisions.

Personas can also be used to perform a cross-referencing with your segmentation in order to provide you with the highest level of customer behavior understanding.

Personas can also be used as part of Digital CRM, to create specific campaigns aimed at different target groups (from both a message and an offer perspective). Similarly, they can be used to design ads so that they particularly appeal to specific populations. For an online store as an example, such ad would aim at fostering the adoption of a feature designed to increase traffic and/or customer satisfaction.

Personas are also valuable to understand purchase behaviors within customer segments. Marketing segmentation is increasingly based on behavioral pattern analysis, thanks to what is commonly referred to as Big Data, rather than on more classic demographic attributes. Lifestyle, aspirations and social behavior are now some of the many aspects brands need to take into considerations when engaging with their customers.

Last but not least, personas help instill a customer-centric culture in the organization. It generates empathy for customers, by giving them a human face to relate to. It provides all departments with a common and unbiased view of the target audience, which enables teams to deliver customers a more satisfying service. In the UAE, this is even more valuable as cultural sensitivities and educational backgrounds are so diverse.


A closer look at personas – part I –
Reconciling market segments and personas –
About Face – Alan Cooper
United Arab Emirates –