Audi City is not what it seems. The "digital car dealership," based in Beijing, allows you to test any Audi model without actually driving a vehicle. Designed to tackle the challenge of growing real estate costs in China’s cities, it is the work of a roster of agencies, including Razorfish, and demonstrates how the "science bit" behind user experience (UX) is yielding results.
Two years ago, UX labs were new to Asia, and general understanding of consumer behavior trailed behind Europe and the United States. But development is catching up. Spurred by the rise of e-commerce and ever-faster testing targets, agencies are adopting real-time user research and ongoing optimization to drive profits for clients.
Audi hopes the showroom in Beijing will mirror the success of its London shop, where 50 percent of its customers in the first half of 2013 ordered a car without taking an actual test drive.
"The Audi City project is a great example of setting up physical spaces to emulate specific environments. In this case, customers can use a physical ‘lab’ space to electronically test drive new cars," says James Chiu, executive creative director at Razorfish China. "This allows for agile, real-time prototyping."
For other clients, the experiences are accessed through personal devices via apps, sales channels or websites.
Razorfish’s Pampers "Easy up" campaign in Hong Kong, for example, used motion detection technology to create an interactive, 360-degree panoramic view that gave mothers a first-person view from a crawling baby’s eyes. In 14 days, more than 150,000 moms had engaged with the technology, increasing Pampers conversion rates tenfold from the same period in 2013.
According to Chiu, there is special interest in China as a user-testing ground. "The combination of available space, technological maturity and, most importantly, the relative speed at which consumer behavior changes, make it the perfect testing ground for a global omni-channel blueprint," he says.
An agency with a different model is Digital Arts Network (DAN), set up by TBWA in 2012 to unify its digital specialists. It now has 23 hubs, 11 labs and more than 1,000 specialists working globally. One of those nerve centers is in Auckland, New Zealand, charged with broadening the group’s UX capabilities globally.
In Singapore, DAN recently launched projects with Yale-NUS College to redesign its website, and in Auckland, for ANZ Bank to drive loan calculations. According to Tuomas Peltoniemi, head of digital at DAN Singapore, demand is coming from two key sectors: travel and financial services, where ecommerce is playing a much greater role.
The reason, Peltoniemi says, is that testing plays a critical part in driving online conversions.
"You can spend more money driving people to your services, or you can convert those who are there already," he says. "Ongoing UX testing plays a huge role in converting more people from your present traffic. It’s simply more efficient."
Testing different methodologies is all part of the game, and two are already showing promise. One such methodology is ongoing testing — to start testing immediately on an existing website rather than wait and test the finished design. The second is contextual analysis, an ethnographic research method that involves observing users interacting in their natural environment.
Most importantly, tools are also becoming simpler to use.
"For creative agencies, the more hard-core UX practices — for example eye-tracking — are less feasible," Peltoniemi says. "We are trying to find more nimble ways of testing that fit the day-to-day realities of our client."
This story first appeared on campaignasia.com.