Mastering User Experience with Jason Broughton from Zappos

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User experience. This phrase has been tossed around a lot in the last few years, but few have actually mastered applying it in all aspects of their business. Most businesses focus on the wire-framing and usability testing, but there are some even easier ways to reel in customers and keep them coming back.

Jason Broughton, head of UX for Zappos, weighs in on how to make your website useful, usable, and an experience that will ensure customers will keep coming back for more.


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(With your host Andrew Youderian of and Jason Broughton of

Andrew: Welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast, the show dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow eCommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey, you guys, it’s Andrew here, and welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Today on the show, talking about UX, otherwise known as user experience, and joined by Jason Broughton, who’s the head of UX at Zappos. Zappos, of course, is the very well-known shoe and apparel retailer. Jason’s got an incredible depth of experience doing this both at Zappos and a number of other companies. And we dive into what UX is.

UX is one of those issues that is a little bit ambiguous, sometimes. What it is, the process at Zappos for improving UX, how data-driven they are, some of his favorite tools. We talk about the future of site usability and what’s coming down the pipe in terms of changes, things that are coming down the road, a lot of different ground. So I came away with a pretty substantial to-do list for my own site, and I hope it’s something that you find applicable as well. We’ll go ahead and dive right in.

Jason, UX is a term that gets thrown around a lot online, and I think people are very familiar with what paid advertising is, what web design is, what programming is. But UX is a little fuzzier for a lot of people in terms of what it actually means. Can you give us a sense of what it means to you and what it encompasses?

What Exactly Is UX?

Jason: Yeah, it’s a good question. To me, UX is a lot of the things that you just mentioned, plus it has a lot to do with the usability of your site, the accessibility of the site, and the overall pleasure a customer has interacting with your site. It needs to be both useful, usable, and delightful, and not necessarily in that order, but we try to encapsulate all three of those. If your site isn’t useful, no one is going to come to it. If it’s not usable, people have a hard time interacting with it. And lastly, if it’s not delightful, the loyalty of your product is not going to be what it could be.

Andrew: That puts a lot of weight on your shoulders, it sounds like.

Jason: It can. Yeah, it does. But we have a great team. And it is a lot of stress at some times.

The Most Important Thing to the Zappos Customer

Andrew: What is most important to the Zappos customer in terms of user experience? Obviously, Zappos is a brand, is immensely focused on customer service, that’s what you guys have built your brand on. But how does that translate into the actual user experience of the web experience, of the website?

Jason: Yeah. I think that customer experiences encapsulates all of your customers’ touch-points, whether it’s over the phone or on the website, or when they un-box to package. User experience is more about the interaction touch-point on the website. So it’s when someone’s interacting with the website, specifically. And so a lot of the things that we have to worry about, and our users care a lot about, is accurate information from pricing, to being sure that there’s trust when they’re going through the checkout process, so the usefulness, the usability is quick. And then also, they care about the emotional connection that we’re making with them, so the language that we’re presenting them through the product, how we’re communicating back and forth via e-mail.

It’s just all the touch-points that we think about on a website, are we communicating accurately? Are we getting them through as quick as possible? And then, the tone of voice through this process of making sure that we’re keeping it light and fun.

The Language of UX

Andrew: You mentioned the language as being a component. And traditionally, I guess I would have thought of that more in the realm of copywriting. But it makes sense, of course, that it’s part of the whole process to, you mentioned before, to delight people. How do you approach that? Because that seems like…again, when I think of UX, probably unfairly, I think more of wire-framing and usability testing. How do you take that approach into the actual language and copywriting to help make sure the experience is fantastic?

Jason: Yeah. Quite frankly, we approach copy the same way that we approach screen design. So we start with getting a great understanding of who we’re designing for. We build archetypes that we call “personas” or “characters.” And we are referencing those archetypes during our design process. So if we were designing a piece…and I think of copywriting as another form of design. So if we’re designing copy or we’re designing a widget, it’s sort of the same thing.

We use that same mental model of who we’re designing for, and we think of, for instance, the voice and tone in the interactions the same way that we would think of the voice and tone in the copy. So if someone is, for instance, hovering on a button, the interactions that would happen once that button is clicked, the animations, that all needs to flow and feel the same as the tone in the copy. So yeah, we think of it quite the same way.

Andrew: Are copywriters at Zappos, people who write the product descriptions, are they under the umbrella of the UX team?

Jason: Yeah, that’s a little different. We have yes and no. We have folks that are churning out a lot of copy product descriptions, and that’s their primary focus because of the amount of products that we have on the site. We do have copywriters that are specifically writing UI copy. And then we have copywriters that are focused more on marketing copy. But yes, we all are working with the same set of personas under the same voice and tone, rough guidelines, and working to the same end goal.

From Start to Finish: The Life of a Zappos UX Project

Andrew: So this next question might not be very fair, especially to try to give it a short, concise, packaged answer to. And going into that with eyes wide open, what’s the process like at Zappos to improve UX? How do you guys…and again, I know it’s fairly involved, but at a high level, how do you guys go through that to try to make your user experience better for customers?

Jason: Absolutely. It absolutely depends on the phase of a project. So if it’s a blue sky, we want to add a new feature, or we’re approaching a market differently, we would handle that in a separate way than if it’s we’re optimizing or we’re pushing a smaller feature forward.

So I’ll take, for instance, if we’re moving something forward on our website, it’s more of an optimization feature. The great thing about Zappos…and I would recommend this to any company, is that we listen to our customers intensely. We’re known for customer service. And so, we have a direct channel to call in, and there’s a constant feedback loop from our customers, to our customer service reps, then back to the design team.

There’s an email feed that they’re just constantly updating us with customer feedback. And we’ll pull that feedback together, and we’ll start to see patterns in the feedback. And we know that’s a particular feature that we had to address. Just the other day, it’s a minor thing, but we had misspelled a term on the site. So we wouldn’t have caught that unless our customers would have called in to let us know that.

It’s from small things like that to bigger things like one of our sister sites, 6pm, doesn’t have a favorites feature, and we get requests for a favorite feature all the time. And so now, we’re investigating a favorites feature. But it’s critically important to have that open communication channel from the folks on the front line to the folks doing the design work. I know in smaller companies, that can sometimes be the same people. But as you grow, oftentimes, you’ll lose that connection. And so it’s critically important to keep that connection.

The Best Place for Customer Feedback

Andrew: Is there a best place that you have for getting customer feedback? And obviously, I’m guessing an organization like Zappos, you probably have ways for whoever it is, customer service, someone on the e-mail desk to be able to route those to you. But if you had to pick one place to try to get the best feedback, is it a post-purchase survey? Is it a popup? Is it really just trying to make sure that you’re efficiently and easily able to aggregate feedback from all your channels into one database that the UX team can look at, or whoever’s doing the UX can look at?

Jason: Yeah, I think the aggregation is the end goal, if you can be that sophisticated. But it’s simple as starting with a link on your site. You mentioned post-purchase. And it’s interesting, where you collect the feedback. Typically, the feedback that we see post-purchase is pretty gleaming, because you just bought something, you’re happy about that purchase. Typically, the feedback is, “Hey, it’s great.” And we look at our NPS scores, post-purchase, through the roof.

If you put a link, say, in the footer of the site, typically, that’s someone that has a problem, and then they go to the footer specifically to give you feedback. So you have to be very conscious about where you’re collecting feedback, so it’s not biased. There are tons of services out there that allow for a feedback collection pretty cheaply. And so I would just recommend being careful about where you put the feedback button, but surfacing it as much as possible so you can get that channel, that feedback going. So yeah.

Easy UX Fixes You Can Make

Andrew: Obviously, you’re at Zappos, so you’ve got a great team and a company with some pretty substantial resources to invest in UX. And as we were talking about before, a lot of the listeners of this podcast are business owners, maybe high six, seven-figure business owners. Meaningful businesses, but a business that size, you have to wear a lot of hats. It’s hard to be able to do everything.

And of course, you, like anyone else, I’m guessing, shops online, shops with independent retailers sometimes. What things online do you see from merchants? It could be eCommerce store owners, particularly, but really, anything online? The biggest, most egregious UX things that just make the little vein on your neck just start to pop out? What are those things that drive you the craziest, and especially, with a particular focus on ones that are the most easy to fix?

Jason: Yeah. It might be an overly simplistic answer, but it goes back to form fields. And most of my online today is in mobile. I think like most people, a lot of online is mobile. Filling out forms on mobile that have been designed for desktop, it drives me crazy. I was getting insurance the other day, and just the form fields that I was filling out, it was insane.

You can think that the friction that’s added to a customer’s journey through your product, the primary friction point is at the form field, it’s not the selling. And so I think it’s really looking at how do you optimize that flow through the form fields? And it’s like, “Do we really need to collect this much information about a customer? How do we optimize the form fields for touch? How do we optimize the input so you can change the keyboards that pop up when you click on a specific form field?”

For instance, not showing the numeric keyboard when you’re entering in your phone number. It’s just small things like that that drives me crazy that I know that aren’t terribly hard to fix, but I encounter on a daily basis. And then all the popups on mobile, too, drives me crazy. Please stop doing that.

Bettering the Mobile Experience

Andrew: I actually had that, too. We had a little live chat thing that came up on our site, and I’d made the mistake of not really testing it robustly on mobile. A couple months later, I went and used my site for a while and drove myself crazy with my own implemented chat box. Yeah, I hear you.

Jason, you touched on a couple of things like the form fields that drive you crazy on mobile. I think most people would agree, especially on the eCommerce side, the biggest thing that probably prevents people from purchasing is the UX nightmare of having to type in a 16-digit credit card number via their mobile phone. Not only just type it in, but find the card, dig it out, look at it. It’s a pain point, along with filling out all of the personal details. So how are you guys at Zappos trying to get around that, reduce that friction to make it easier for people to purchase on mobile?

Jason: Yeah, that’s a good question, absolutely. So one easy thing to do…I suppose it’s easy. It might not be easy to sign the contracts and integrate with the partners, but it’s to use a service like Apple Pay or Android Wallet. And that allows your customers to simply go and swipe their fingerprint on the home button, and Apple takes care of that. I think that it’s also important to think through the entire customer journey so your customers are not interacting only on mobile or desktop, they’re interacting on both. And so, it’s important to facilitate those types of interactions.

And one thing that I’ve started to become more aware of is how do you not necessarily have to have someone go through the entire purchase process on their phone? Can they save that for later? Thinking through the context of phone usage, I think about my own personal usage in this as well. It’s a lot of browsing, but not necessarily purchasing. So giving the user the ability to favorite things, to save things for later, to e-mail their cart. So when they have more time to sit down and to fill out either a new account form or to input all of their credit card information, billing information, how can you make that as frictionless as possible? And also, how do you make that connection between mobile and desktop?

The other thing to think about is just getting rid of as many form fields as possible. The credit card one is a hard one. And I think people are willing to input their credit card number, as long as they’re not having to fill out an address three or four times, or some of these other obnoxious fields that you see like favorite color…you’ve just got to limit the amount. You’ve got to limit the amount of things that you’re collecting to make sure you absolutely need it. I know some people can get away with just inputting a ZIP code, for instance, when you’re collecting credit card information, not full address. It’s just really thinking through that.

Andrew: Quick sidebar here, Apple Pay currently is available only if you create your own custom app for shoppers. But by the end of the year, Apple is supposed to be rolling it out with native support for just regular web browsers like Safari on iPhone. So you should be able to, hopefully, again, by the end of the year, take advantage of it for your store, even if you don’t create a custom app. We’ll link up to an article talking about this in the show notes. Okay, back to the discussion.

Jason: Pay with Amazon is already live. Most people have an Amazon account, so it’s pretty simple to integrate with Amazon and just…yeah.

Andrew: We use Pay with Amazon right now. One thing we found is…because we use PayPal and Pay with Amazon, and disclosure, I think most people know Amazon owns Zappos. But it was interesting, because I thought, potentially, using Pay with Amazon would really increase or at least make some kind of dent in increasing conversion on mobile. But what I found was the Pay with Amazon function just completely cannibalized people using PayPal to check out. Instead, they all just drove over to Amazon, which is interesting.

Jason: Yeah. I think you would probably see the biggest drop-off if you were to get rid of both PayPal and Amazon. We used to use PayPal at Zappos before the Amazon acquisition. And wow, when we got rid of PayPal, we certainly got a lot of customer complaints.

Big Wins for Zappos

Andrew: Yeah, it’s crazy. I think myself, and I know other merchants a lot of times, so it’s not uncommon to see a third of your transactions processed with PayPal. What’s one of the biggest wins on the Zappos site that you guys have seen in terms of either A, just dramatically bringing a better experience to customers? Or B, making Zappos more money?

Jason: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think our mobile growth over the past two years has been significant. I’m not sure we’re alone in that. But I think our focus on mobile and facilitating some of those friction points that we mentioned earlier in the conversation has definitely been our biggest win and our biggest increase in growth. So year over year, it’s amazing to see how mobile has taken off.

Just focusing on mobile. Obviously, if you are a small shop and you’re dipping your toes in the water, table stakes is getting a mobile website up. And then, mobile apps can be tricky. But I would really encourage mobile web. And so, from a Zappos perspective, we’ve seen tremendous growth in mobile web and native applications. Native applications typically are used by your more loyal customers. So you’ll see significant increases in order size on your native apps. But mobile, yeah, it’s growing. I’m sure everyone is familiar.

Andrew: What percent of sales from Zappos comes from mobile versus desktop, do you know?

Jason: Yeah, I hesitate to throw out exact numbers, but it’s large. I think if you look at the industry, we’re nearing the tipping point, 50/50. But it’s definitely up there.

Andrew: I’m sure you’ve got a huge number of tools in your tool belt in terms of testing and optimizing the entire UX experience. But are there a couple tools, maybe, that you can mention that you use, you couldn’t live without, and that also maybe are within reach of smaller businesses? So i.e., not necessarily enterprise-level tools that you have a five-figure license fee. But a couple tools that are your favorites that people listening could go out and pick up that could really be beneficial?

Inside the UX Toolbox

Jason: Yeah, so from a tools perspective, I think that there are a lot of data tools out there that I first recommend using. Obviously, they’re the Google Analytics of the world. And those tools will get you 90% there from a data perspective.

Our biggest tool, from a UX perspective, is something that everyone can do easily. It’s just talking to customers and getting customer feedback. And so we still do a lot of fancy-term customer intercept studies, which is basically going to a coffee shop and asking people what they think about our new feature. And it takes very little money; buying someone a cup of coffee. You can sit down and have a good conversation.

I think that tools are a great way to speed up efficiency. But oftentimes, people will use tools as a mechanism or a shortcut for doing things. And I think that for us, it’s just good, old-fashioned talking to customers. Hearing what their pain points are and trying to address them real time are the most powerful tools that are at your disposal, and it’s pretty much free. So talk to people today.

Data, Data, Everywhere

Andrew: Can you give me a sense of how data-driven your team is? Again, this is maybe unfairly going back to my experience, but doing website redesign, especially as a small team, there’s so many things to consider. So many different things that you’re changing that if you were going to base everything on data, especially as a small company, you’d be testing for the next five years. But at the same time, so many times when you make decisions based on your gut, sometimes you’re right. Very often, you’re completely, absolutely wrong.

So you’ve got a bigger team and probably the ability to be more data-driven. How much of the changes that you make are based on hard A/B tests or very conclusive evidence from user testing? And how much are just gut-driven decisions that you say, “You know, we think this is probably going to just be better. I need to move forward with it to expedite the process”?

Jason: Yeah, so drowning in data. I think that’s where a lot of folks are. So everything that’s changed on our site is run through an A/B test, which, at times, can feel slow. But it’s amazing, the amount and type of feedback that you can get back from an A/B test.

So everything that we put live on the site is done through an A/B test. The caveat to that is some branding changes, some visual design tweaks, we hesitate to spend a lot of cycles running through an A/B test. But everything from…it’s just amazing the things that you will find. And also, if you’re a designer out there, and you’re having a hard time with leverage maybe on a particular issue, just testing things is an easy way to get that leverage. And it creates a culture where people aren’t afraid to try things. I think if you’re making a gut decision, you’re putting a lot on the line.

And so, for us, it’s easy to put something out there, crank it up to 10% so you know how people are using it. If it goes well, cranking it up more. But yeah, everything that we do is thoroughly tested, A/B tested, and we have an amazing analytics team here that helps us out with that.

The Future of VR

Andrew: Last question for you, I want to touch on VR. I had the chance the last couple weeks to really have my first ever VR experience in kind of a modeled retail environment, and was just blown away by…yeah, it was just really impressive, much more impressive than I thought. Is that something you guys were working in and investing in at Zappos? And do you see that being a core element of the way web is done and the way that a fantastic user experience is delivered online in the future?

Jason: Yeah, VR is interesting. It’s something we are investing in. We have a partnership right now with Intel where we’re doing body scans. So we’re using one of their new chips that’s coming out in a lot of the more modern tablets and phones, and we’re scanning people and importing their body scans online so they can virtually try on our clothing.

The biggest thing for soft lines is fit, right? That’s a big deal. So if you can have more assurance that your clothes are going to fit, then you’re more likely to buy and less likely to return. And so we definitely have dipped our toes into the water of VR. I think that as you look into the future, there are a lot of hurdles that VR has to overcome. I think much like the Google Glass, a lot of people are hesitant to put something that sophisticated onto their face from a pure 360 VR immersive experience. But there are things that bridge the digital and physical world, like body scans, that are relevant in the next three our four years.

I think the interesting thing, when most people hear VR, they’re like, “Well, that will never take shape.” I was just reading an article yesterday by Bezos, where he’s talking about time arbitrage. And that’s where some things that seem silly today might not be silly in the future. And if you look at most of our competition, it’s happening between now and two years, and we’re spending a lot of money in that competition. If you can find something that’s going to leapfrog, it’s more of a time investment, you’re going to be so far ahead of the game.

And so I think that some people think VR might be a silly investment. But it’s definitely worth investing in some long-term technology, whether it’s VR or mobile, as more of a short-term play. But yeah, personalization in some of those things as well.

Andrew: I’ll go ahead, and we’ll link up to that article by Jeff Bezos about time arbitrage in the show notes, if you’re interested in reading it. Jason, this has been fascinating. It’s so cool to hear your thoughts on this, having done it at Zappos. I’ve certainly added a bunch of stuff to my to-do list. So thanks so much for taking the time and coming on.

Jason: Absolutely. Thanks, Andrew. I appreciate it.

Andrew: Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at

Thanks so much to our podcast producer, Laura Serino, for all of her hard work in making this show possible, and to you for tuning in. Thank you for listening. That’ll do it for this week, but looking forward to seeing you again next Friday.


What Was Mentioned

Photo: Lars Plougman/Flickr

Posted on: May 27th, 2016

Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000 vetted 6 and 7-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

Double Your eCommerce Business in the Next Year requesting the most effective growth and profitability strategies we've unearthed from 5+ years of studying successful stores.

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