Speaker Spotlight: ‘Navigating The Messy Middle of E-Commerce with Behavioural Science’ with Alec Barr

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The world of e-commerce is enormous and nebulous, accelerating at lightspeed following the global pandemic. But as the marketplace has grown, so too has our confusion about the people that operate within it.

This is the central paradox of UX & marketing science: as our ability to measure interactions online has gone up, our ability to comprehend what we’re looking at has gone down.

The decision-making faculties of consumers are now so complex and spread thinly across so many touchpoints, they have become almost inscrutable to UX and data practitioners. How do we operate in – and design for – a space where there is this much uncertainty?

With reference to both theory and real-world examples, at the latest Product Unleashed meetup, Alec Barr examined the psychological principles behind e-commerce’s success, and assesed how behavioural economics can be leveraged to both enhance the user experience and nudge them towards conversion.

We caught up with Alec following his talk to learn more!

Hey Alec, can you tell us a bit about you and the work that you do…

I am UX Director, Research Consultant and Head of Agency Growth at Askable UK. I help connect agencies and consultancies to research solutions that make better products for humanity.

What was the inspiration for your recent talk?

I believe behavioural science is a much maligned and abused discipline. It is simultaneously undervalued by good actors, and over-used by bad actors to manipulate people into doing things they don’t want to do. I want to correct that. I want to educate people on the inner workings of behavioural science – especially in an e-commerce context – so they can capitalise on behavioural economics principles to encourage positive behaviour change. The ideal is that this also helps a product/company’s bottom line.

Any key highlights / takeaways for anyone who missed it?

In the 21st century, we have a metric tonne of data at our disposal. As our ability to measure things have gone up, our comprehension has gone down. We know in ever-increasing granularity WHAT we’re looking at, but not WHY it’s happened. But this is okay. You don’t need to diagnose the problem to be able to treat it. You can borrow from the canon of behavioural science to leverage well understood principles and create meaningful change, all the while remaining user centric. Behavioural economics will never be a substitute for primary qualitative research, but it’ll give you a substantial edge when nudging people from point A to point B.

Did you come up through a “traditional” techie route or has your career taken twists and turns along the way?

Not at all! I’m a English Literature and Philosophy student. I trained in the Humanities and am interested in the soft sciences. I learned UX through having a fantastic mentor who took no shit from me, forced me to learn the academic theory properly and apply the practical skills to real-life problems. Their ethos was, “Agencies will always bastardise the HCD process. You need to understand the gold standard so you know how to deviate from it without undermining the integrity of yourself (as a Designer) or the product.” We also attended psychology lectures, tech events and design meetups together. I owe my entire career to their stewardship.

Is there a moment that helped define your career?

The first time I put pen to paper to draw a wireframe or sketch a concept. I am not an artist, and was terrified of the pen. Now I cannot think straight without one.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

If you read something, teach it to someone else. Otherwise you can’t guarantee you have learned it properly.

What’s your big tech prediction for 2023?

The government will introduce an ethics counsel to manage the proliferation of AI.

Silicon Brighton wouldn’t be here without people like you giving back to the community so… what does the word community mean to you?

A network of reciprocity, given away for free.

Anything else you would like to share?

If you’re looking to conduct any kind of customer research, come speak to me at Askable!


Missed Alec’s talk or want to watch it again? Check it out here…

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