UX Spotlight: Custom product creators – New Balance gives customers the sneakers of their dream

In the UX Spotlight series, I post weekly on UX features that impressed me online, and are great examples and inspiration for anyone looking to enhance their digital user experience.

When it comes to sportswear, customers can be very picky. And so they should be – they’re depending on their gear to keep them safe, comfortable, and performing at their best ability. For these reasons, people tend to stick with an athletic brand once they’ve found one that suits them. Which means that customers are hard won, but worth the battle.

With similar brands competing fiercely for customer conversion and loyalty, it’s imperative that sportswear retailers use every tool in their arsenal to set themselves apart. User Experience is one major way that brands can differentiate themselves from competing brands.


This week I highlight New Balance’s product customization feature. In this section of the NB website, shoppers can design their own sneakers from scratch, choosing everything from the shape of the shoe to decorative detailing. This feature gives customers a sense of pride and ownership regarding the product they designed. When customers take part in building something, and invest time and effort, they feel more connected to the product. They feel that it has more value and is more desirable than anything out there that’s pre-made.


The UX Element: On the New Balance homepage, selecting NB1 Customize from the top menu gives a preview of the different kinds of shoes that can be designed. Once the desired cut is selected, the customer is directed to a full suite of customization tools right in the website interface, with minimal load times and an impressive range of choices to create a unique pair of running shoes that exactly fit the shopper’s preferences and that no one else out there owns.

Customers can change almost every aspect of the shoe, from the laces to the color of the mesh to the lining. Each change is reflected in the price in the upper left, so shoppers can balance their budget with the features they desire. There was even an option to add a signature or personal slogan to the back of the shoes.

When a customer has optimized their design, they can select their size and check out immediately – their customized shoes will be shipped right to their door.


The Impact: When it comes to practical items like sportswear, customers generally fit into two groups: Those who know exactly what they want, and those who are overwhelmed by choice. Group A enters their shopping experience with a clear idea in their head of what they want, and spend their time online looking for the product that most matches their vision in terms of functionality and design. Group B has no idea what they want, and the number of options and their specificity intimidates and discourages them.

A customization tool like this one suits both groups. For Group A, it eliminates the need to comparison shop, because the exact design a customer wants can be achieved and ordered with just a few clicks. For group B, customizing frees them from having to choose from existing items and gives them the power to be creative. Through the customization process, these shoppers can discover new features they love and get attached to. In both cases, such a tool increases time on site and user engagement with the site, encouraging extended shopping even in those customers who came to the site out of curiosity without a clear goal.


Furthermore, this tool plays into the Ikea effect, a social phenomenon which describes the way that customers place high value on products that they made themselves. The same color combination will feel more exciting in a custom-designed sneaker than one found existing on the shelf. The ability to design something one-of-a-kind also promotes sharing – both of designs via e-mail or social media, which NB has made easy in their interface, and outside on the track. “Look at my new running shoes – I designed them myself!”

The Takeaway: As generations become more demanding, brands will need to offer highly customized products and personalized user experiences. Generation Z, for example, particularly craves creative, unique interactions in their shopping experiences, which a custom product creator provides in spades. This incoming shopping generation visits 62% more pages than their predecessors per shopping session and bounce 51% less, which demonstrates how they are eager to interact with e-retailers in more depth.


When implementing such a tool, it’s important to track track the customer journey and steps they find fun and engaging vs. frustrating. It would also be useful to track checkout ratios with different features that customers interact with, and to see if the Ikea effect proves true for your brand. Experience tells us your customers will be willing to pay a much higher price for a customized product than they would for one off the shelf.

I am always on the lookout for UX innovation. If you come across a digital experience that stands out, please send it over to [email protected]

UX Spotlight: Hotels.com creates a sense of urgency by heightening friendly customer competition

In the UX Spotlight series, I post weekly on UX features that impressed me online, and are great examples and inspiration for anyone looking to enhance their digital user experience.

For booking/travel sites like car rentals or flights, it can be difficult to set your brand apart from the others. Many offer the exact same services at similar or identical price points, and do not own the products or properties themselves, so the only way to set their site apart is through a superior and unique user experience.

This week I highlight the way hotels.com creates a strong sense of urgency by pitting customers against one another in competition for a limited supply of rooms. This friendly race to the finish line (or booking confirmation) creates a powerful fear of loss and coinciding conversion lift.

The UX Element: Once a date and location are input, the category page has multiple pieces of messaging that subtly (and not-so-subtly) create a sense of urgency. First, there’s a banner at the top of the page that informs shopper that 30% of the city’s (in this case, Paris) hotels are booked for the chosen dates. Next, a popup in the lower right tells the customer that there are 347 other people browsing Paris hotels at that very same moment, which leverages both natural envy for what others have and fear-of-loss to light a fire under shoppers. Finally, individual property listings boldly display the limited number of rooms left.


The Impact: The evolution of internet shopping has hurt sense of urgency overall, because shoppers can’t physically see that inventory is running low, nor can they see other customers in the store walking around with an item that suddenly seems desirable due to its popularity. Thus shoppers often dawdle, comparison-shopping or delaying booking for extended periods because they feel they have all the time in the world. Hotels.com creates urgency online by pulling back the curtain and showing who else is in the store. The race begins in the first phase of a search, and increases in intensity as shoppers get closer to product pages. This both makes products more compelling because others are interested in them, and gives customers a reason to book quickly and with their service: if they don’t, the deal could be gone. 88 prospective buyers with only 1 room at the lowest price is a stressful situation for a shopper, but an advantageous one for a seller. It creates an intense sense that if the customer doesn’t book at that moment, 88 other people are ready and willing to do so, and that if they wait and return later, the room they wanted will no longer be available.


There could even be a multiplier effect when it comes to customers looking to book high-end properties. A ContentSquare focus group of luxury brand shoppers found that 13% of luxury customers had in-depth shopping experiences on their first visit, visiting 6 or more product pages, compared to only 5% of non-luxury shoppers. Furthermore, high-end shoppers are more likely to convert on their first visit then conventional customers. Tapping into this “compulsive” tendency of luxury shoppers by fanning their sense of urgency to book an exclusive and sought-after property could have explosive sales results.


The Takeaway: UX opens many doors to differentiating your brand. Where you might not be able to change a product or price, you can always optimize the way you present the transaction to achieve a powerful effect. By carefully tracking your customer journey, you can see exactly which types of messaging shorten the time between entering a site and check-out or increase conversion overall. You can also see if showing a lower number of other shoppers for a less popular destination has an effect opposite of the one desired. It could be that selective and personalized application of tools like these is a superior strategy.

I am always on the lookout for UX innovation. If you come across a digital experience that stands out, please send it over to [email protected]