Creating Unique, Customer-Driven Shopping Tools

At ZaneRay, we are regularly tasked with challenges that are out of the ordinary. "Custom" is a realm we live and breathe in where we constantly need to think and operate outside of the box. Our work in designing and developing various product configurators is a perfect example of how we roll up our sleeves with clients, really dig in, and come up with something special, creative and incredibly useful.

The Patagonia Kit Builder

While each of these projects is unique and particular to its market, a handful of points ring out consistently among all of them.

1. The configurator solves a problem or challenge that a 'normal' product interface cannot handle.

In all cases, these custom tools push well beyond a "select + add to cart" paradigm. And with some, the actual product is literally being pieced together by the end-user in real time. In other cases, a tool might leverage existing products, yet provide new ways to discover, browse or merchandise them (see Patagonia's Kit Builder, shown above; learn more here). What configurators address is really a more personal and customized experience to the shopper – something hard to achieve in a typical ecommerce platform.

2. Create an experience to engage the audience and stimulate action.

One of the primary goals of a custom configurator is simple: get people to use it! To that end, we scrutinize and test the UI, making sure it is:

  • intuitively easy to use, addressing a wide audience (of varying web experience)
  • compelling enough to hold their interest; make it fun and interesting!
  • Effective enough to empower users to reach a desired level of action

We've had the good fortune of working with Uncommon, a progressive company, pushing the envelope with their protective cases for Apple products. The Configurator ZaneRay created for Uncommon enables a user to easily upload and manipulate their own images, add text and create a truly one of a kind and personal product. A perfect example of an engaging do-it-yourself tool, explore Uncommon's custom case builder here (screen shown below).

The Uncommon Case Configurator

3. Create an experience that increases conversion and drives sales.

Ultimately tools like these are created to generate sales. For manufactures, this is an opportunity to provide custom services that their dealers cannot. For others, it may be a tool for pairing products or creating a full kit of items for a particular purpose, with a goal of increasing the average order value. Some companies go to great lengths to create systems of products that are designed to go together but a standard product page doesn’t really do a good job of telling those stories. Bottom line, custom configuration tools can create revenue opportunities that may not be found elsewhere.

Competitive Cyclist Fit Calculator (see below)
One of the first customer configuration tools we created was a “Fit Calculator” that allowed cycling enthusiasts to properly measure and save their body measurements. Drawing from the rich experience of the Competitive Cyclist staff, using an intuitive interface (by Hinshaw Design) and finely tuned data, the tool effectively handled the laborious, scientific and personal task typically handled in person by bike shop experts. The end results would provide the recommended frame size for their measurements, among other recommendations for other bike components. Might seem pretty simple but this calculator alone made the Competitive Cyclist site the go-to authority for sizing, resulting in driving traffic to the site and ultimately generating great sales.

Competitive Cyclist's Fit and Kit Calculators

Competitive Cyclist Kit Builder (see above)
Capitalizing on the Fit Calculator, ZaneRay worked with Competitive Cyclist to create a custom bike or kit builder to enable their customers to mix and match components to build a custom bike. Feedback on the kit builder gave users the weight of the bike down to the gram, providing the ultimate engagement and allowing the user to drop the entire configuration into the cart. Now CCY was the “go-to” site for building your dream bike! Nice!

4. Build a tool that supports backend processes and efficiencies.

Perhaps the unsung hero of any configurator is what happens behind the scenes. The need to choreograph the images and product data along with complex business rules and internal processes in a way that will increase efficiencies for staff is key to building a useful tool. Our intention is to find ways to leverage these tools to handle the grunt work behind every order. Collaborating with our clients, we learn as much as we can about their workflow to identify and address the opportunities to reduce costs and effort.

Custom metal ordering on

As markets become increasingly competitive, and the lines that define brands threaten to blur, having a stand-out tool is a smart approach. In some cases, it can be the most effective component of an ecommerce effort. At ZaneRay, we really enjoy both the challenge inherent in creating these tools, and the ensuing success we experience moving the needle with our clients. Perhaps we can help find ways to creative something special for your brand, too.

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