In the beginning of May, Walmart will begin rolling out an updated website, describing it as a "cleaner and more modern digital shopping experience."

Don't get it twisted, this is a clear attempt to fight off online-shopping rivals such as  Amazon. And while Walmart hasn't yet revealed the design of its new site, if it really wants to make a leap forward, it might need to do better than just a cleaner and  more modern look and feel.

Otherwise the redesign could end up a giant waste of time. 

Build on the Most Human Element of the Shopping Experience: Choice and Control

Retail therapy--shopping motivated by distress--is a real thing. And for the most part we refer to it, and general consumerism, as a dark and dismal part of society.

But a study led by Scott Rick of the University of Michigan paints a different picture. 

Sadness, more than any other emotion, is associated with helplessness--when we feel like we don't have any control over a situation. According to the research, making shopping choices restores a sense of personal control and thus helps alleviate sadness.

So what does this have to do with Walmart's redesign?

Retail therapy, driven by a desire and need for enhancing your sense of control, is the single most important guiding factor for e-commerce innovation. It should be held front and center in the redesign process of any innovative e-commerce experience, not just Walmart's.

And yet, as Walmart has demonstrated in its announcement, online retailers are still focused on things like personalization and "specialty shopping experiences," whatever that means.

Here's the thing: According to WWD, Amazon owns 39.4 percent of the $201 billion e-commerce market, and Walmart--second on the list of top e-commerce retailers, after Amazon--owns a 6.7 percent market share of e-commerce.

The margin between the two companies is laughable.

If Walmart really wants to make a play for online retail, it needs to create a digital experience that's drastically unique. Granted, we're yet to see what the new experience looks like. But right now it looks like Walmart's trying to beat Amazon at Amazon's game.

And it doesn't stand a chance.

Rather, instead of focusing on personalization, what if Walmart completely rethought the website around an experience that did the exact opposite?

Magnifying Choice and Control in the Shopping Experience

Are choice and control and personalization mutually exclusive? 

When you arrive on Amazon's home page, you're bombarded with recommendations from a variety of categories. For me, it's recommendations for deals, Kindle books, and health and home items. I didn't choose any of those categories, nor do I have any control over what types of recommendations I see.

And that's not to say it's an ineffective design--like most people, I've regularly purchased items that I didn't even know I wanted based on recommendations.

But Walmart needs to win at their own game. Creating an experience distinct from Amazon would be both bold and wise. By focusing on choice and control, rather than trying to beat Amazon at personalization, it can create the potential to not just sell valuable goods, but do so in a way that makes you feel good. 

Imagine being able to walk into a physical Walmart store and bend the layout of the entire store to your liking, and every time you returned to the store, it was exactly as you left it.

What if the digital store behaved this way? Granted, a well-designed interface gives you control, freedom and flexibility while also maintaining thoughtful limitations to prevent you from making mistakes or creating an unpleasant experience for yourself.

There are many possible innovations in e-commerce around choice and control. And while we won't know exactly what innovations will come along with the redesign, we can only wait until the official launch to see how exactly they intend to "bring a human element to the site."

Published on: Apr 24, 2018