Monthly Archives: December 2008

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According to a recent article by InternetRetailer.com, a survey of online retailers indicates most are redesigning their websites with an eye toward improving the bottom line.

I find this article and survey very interesting, for two key reasons. First, among the surveyed internet retailers there’s a clear and growing recognition of the value of usability testing, and second, the article itself touts usability testing as one of the best ways of getting better results from a web redesign project.

The article goes on to mention some surprising survey results, including:

“Improved site optimization is the top priority for 72.9% of merchants, followed by clearly organized home, category and product pages at 62.4%, better navigation at 49.4%, improved site search at 47.1% and faster checkout at 40%.”

Don’t you think it’s interesting that among the surveyed retailers, half listed optimization, organization of pages and better navigation as top priorities with their web redesign projects? I do! All of these benefit directly from usability testing and usability enhancements.

The Internet Retailer Survey:

The survey was e-mailed in October to subscribers of IRNewsLink, the Internet Retailer magazine’s e-newsletter, and all responses were collected and analyzed by Knowledge Marketing, which has partnered with Internet Retailer in a series of surveys of the e-retailing industry. A total of 95 responses were received, including 45 web-only retailers, 25 chain store retailers, 14 consumer brand manufacturers and 11 catalog companies.

Usability Mentioned by 1/3 of Testers:

What fascinated me are the numbers associated with usability testing: 78% of retailers reported they test their website. Of those that test their website, 36.7% conduct one-on-one testing (presumably usability testing). Other testing choices were A/B testing at 40%, Focus groups at 20% and Multivariate testing at 3.3%.

What’s also interesting is the internet retailer’s attitudes about customer feedback. According to the survey, 91.2% consider gathering feedback on their next redesign from customers as being either somewhat or very important. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want to shop at an online store where the internet retailer considers gathering customer feedback unimportant! Whatever happened to the customer is always right! Again, usability testing would clearly benefit those retailers looking for actionable feedback from their customers.

Internet Retailer survey feedback

There are other important clues into the minds of internet retailers in this study, including the fact that even though the number one item they want to add to their sites this year is video or streaming media (43.3%), a whopping 54% of those that report already using video on their websites indicate that video makes no difference in increasing the average ticket for shoppers! Worse, another 25% of retailers report the average ticket only increased by 10% or less! Clearly, adding video to an internet retail site without considering the usability of the shopping experience adds little to no value.

internet retailer survey video effectiveness

In terms of what’s keeping the surveyed internet retailers up at night worrying, they report that their current designs biggest drawbacks are; Limited personalization (61.2%), outdated design and graphics on home, category and product pages (49.4%), no interactive applications (45.9%) and no or limited advanced features or functions (41.2%). A whopping 34.1% listed poor navigation as the biggest drawback to their current design! All of these drawbacks are directly improved with usability testing and usability optimizations.

Usability Testing, the Best Way to Get Better Results:

I find this quote interesting, in which usability testing is featured:

“”One of the best ways retailers can get better results from their next redesign is by building in some form of usability testing,” Kurani says. “By conducting frequent tests, retailers will get a clear sense of how their customers are reacting to new design elements. They can then implement the treatments that delivered the best results.”

Usability testing can also help retailers do a better job of deploying video, rich media and customer reviews.”

Did you notice the last sentence? If you are a usability practitioner, then you better be able to know how to test and optimize rich media, including video, customer review applications and online community tools.

If you’re interested in learning more about the survey results read the full InternetRetailer.com web redesign article, I think you’ll find it full of interesting information, whether you’re an internet retailer or usability practitioner.

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Christmas, a Time for Thinking about Toys, Presents and Bad Shopping Cart Usability

It’s the day before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for Craig as he thought about usability issues of shopping baskets.

According to a November 2008 article by Joanna Bawa, entitled “Poor Shopping Basket Usability will hinder Christmas Rush,” I’m not the only one who should be up nights worrying about bad user experiences.

According to the article:

“The latest e-retail benchmarking study from eDigitalResearch has identified customer service and online shopping basket usability as the two key areas where online retailers need to improve in order to capitalise on customer loyalty and online transactions.”

For those of you in the good ‘ol USA, shopping basket = shopping cart, and the same issues apparently dogging UK websites can and do happen across the Pond as they say, right over here.

The article continues,

“Managing the increasing levels of customer service contact (both telephone and email) is creating a challenge for many e-retailers. Although the majority of those surveyed by eDigitalResearch said that they expect a response within 24 hours of sending an email, many businesses are leaving customers frustrated by being unable to provide such a service. It is clearly imperative that this is improved upon; otherwise brand loyalty will be at risk.

The other aspect of e-commerce that the survey identified as cause for customer complaint was poor functionality of the shopping basket process and delivery options. The eRetail study identified Figleaves.com as the overall leader with top league table performance in a number of key performance areas including search functionality, product descriptions shopping basket usability and purchase and delivery fulfilment.”

It’s probably a bit late now, after all there’s only about a half-day to Christmas (depending on what time zone you live in), but it’s never too late to think about shopping basket usability, and how to improve it. So with the whole “spirit of giving” thing going on, I’ll share with you three ideas to quickly and simply identify where usability issues may be causing problems with your shopping basket or cart. Feel free to use these ideas during your family’s Christmas celebration, or if that feels a bit too work-related and not in the spirit of the season, just hold off on these until you get back to work:

Three Quick Tips to Improving Shopping Basket Usability

  1. Do a Quick & Dirty Usability Test:
    Ask you neighbor, a friend or relative to give you a gift, a free gift of usability testing. Ask them to try to order something on your website, using your shopping basket. No, they don’t have to complete the process, but ask them to go as far as they can without actually ordering the product. Observe (force yourself to remain calm and quiet) as they go through the process. Ask them their opinions of whether the experience met their expectations, or not. And if not, ask them where they think the problems were. Do three of these quick and dirty usability tests, using people who would typically shop your site, and you’ll be armed with more than enough usability information to follow-up with after you get back to work.

  2. Read your customer service emails or listen to calls:
    If you have access to customer service emails or recorded phone calls, this is a treasure-trove of usability presents for you. At TouchCommerce, I have access to hundreds of thousands of chat transcripts (we’re in the live sales chat business, it’s not a creepy spy thing or anything). Read what your actual customers have to say, you’ll find it easy to find lots of comments about all kinds of usability issues. However, remember that your customers don’t know exactly what went wrong, so sometimes it’s necessary to take educated guesses as to where the problems are. Recorded calls with customers seeking customer service help while trying to order will be another goldmine of usability presents for you.
  3. Analyze Top Exit Pages by Percentage, not Number of Exits:
    If you have access to your web statistics data, from Hitbox or Webtrends or Omniture or whatever, prioritize where your problems lurk by looking at the numbers. The key thing to consider is on which page or step in your ordering process is the Percentage of loss the greatest. Why percentage? Because almost all order flows have much greater loss at the beginning of the process vs near the end of the process. Thus, if your percentage of loss is highest right near the final steps in the ordering process, you may wish to focus there first, to try to have the biggest impact on conversion.

Conclusion: Give Yourself a Usability Gift

So, celebrate Christmas (if you’re of the Christmas celebrating persuasion) by giving your shopping basket the gift of usability. You’ll feel better, your customers will feel better and you’ll have that warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing you’re doing something to make a difference.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

For more information:
Read the Usability News Article about Poor Shopping Basket Usability
Read the eDigitalResearch News Release

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Interaction Elasticity and the Impact on Usability

Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox on Interaction Elasticity is a very interesting read. If you’ve not read it yet I urge you to read it.

If you’re responsible for an eCommerce website then pay close attention, my post impacts you even more (see below)!

According to Nielsen, we always want to use numeric rules for usability questions, questions such as:

  • How many clicks is the right number to a product page?
  • How many links is the right amount in a navigation menu?
  • How many seconds will someone wait before a slow download makes them exit?

I know I’ve asked those exact questions before. Maybe you have too. According to Nielsen, there is no single number that answers those questions, or questions like them.

Elasticity – Demand Drops as Cost Increases

Nielsen introduces the concept of Elasticity, which in Economics is usually attached to demand and price. The idea is there is no single price at which people will suddenly decide to buy, or not buy a product. This is because demand (or motivation) impacts the elasticity or willingness of a person’s decision to buy.

According to Nielsen, this same concept can be applied to usability. The motivation of the person using a website and the cost they have to pay in interacting with the site will impact how elastic that person is to usability issues on the site.

If motivation to use the website is high, then you can say that person has lower elasticity and therefore will probably be more likely to put up with an annoying experience. If the motivation to use the website is low, then you can say that person has higher elasticity and will be much more likely to abandon the site if any problems, even minor ones, are encountered. By the way, this is NOT to imply that low elasticity means you don’t have to make your site as usable as possible. Maximizing the usability adds value by generating incremental action on your site.

eCommerce Ramifications of Interaction Elasticity

Although everyone must consider the ramifications of interaction elasticity, eCommerce sites have extra issues to deal with. Why? Because interaction elasticity will vary depending on where in the process of purchasing your customer is.

If your customer is just researching, and is visiting your high level marketing pages, then you can assume that customer’s elasticity is higher, and it’s more likely for your customer to abandon your website if presented with annoyances or problems.

Likewise, if your customer is now going through the order process and is investing time and energy on it then elasticity is probably much lower, meaning it’s more likely your customer will put up with a little more annoyances or problems before leaving. This does NOT mean you can ignore or marginalize issues in your order flow! Rather, the implication is you must also focus with the same concern on your higher level marketing pages as you show with your order flow pages.

If ever you were looking for a reason to increase usability testing of the higher level marketing pages in your website, this is it. The error many eCommerce website owners make is treating their higher level marketing pages like static pages, or just content dumps, and only changing content without examining and optimizing function.

Need a leg-up on your competition? Carefully examine the usability and functionality of your high level marketing pages with a detailed usability test, knowing that finding and fixing minor annoyances or functional issues could have beneficial impact on your conversion.

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The Term Customer Experience Humanizes Usability

I don’t like the term “user experience.” In my opinion it de-humanizes people, the very people we are trying to help. I think we should banish the term “user experience” and refer instead to “customer experience.” I hope you’ll agree.

I’d like to share a story with you about humanizing people. Please bear with me, it’s a good story, and I hope it will remind you, as it reminds me, that we are dealing with people, and therefore you and I are in the customer experience business, not the user experience business:

The story was about a very old man who had been checked into the hospital by his grown-up daughter. He was in bad shape, his memory was gone, and he was unable to speak with, understand or even recognize anyone around him. He couldn’t take care of himself at all.

His grown-up daughter was worried about how the nurses would treat him. She wanted the nurses to know him, and so treat him as the loving and caring father she had known, not as the lifeless body they saw in the hospital bed. She brought pictures of her dad and her family in to the hospital and placed them on his bedside table. Pictures of her dad when he was younger and she was a child; family pictures of him with his grandkids at Christmas, making snowmen together, teaching her to fish, dressing silly with the kids for Halloween, and his wedding picture with his beautiful young wife.

His daughter wrote a note to the nurses, in which she asked them to not think of her dad as the lifeless body in the bed, but as that younger man who cared so much for his family and his friends, giving of himself with unconditional love. She asked the nurses to please treat him with the same respect and kindness they would show to that younger man.

As you might expect, the nurses did indeed treat her dad with that same kindness and care that she had hoped they would. The nurses were reminded that even though this shell of an old man could not communicate with them, he was still a human. He was a person that cared and loved and gave of himself so that others could experience warmth and joy. He deserved their best care, and they gave it to him.

So what, you may be asking, does that story have to do with Customer Experience?

They’re Not Users, They’re Customers

As a customer experience director and usability practitioner I care about people. I bet you do too. You and I do our jobs because you and I want to make a difference by helping people. We are NOT helping users, we are helping people.

And who are these people? They just might be your friends or neighbors. They may be your aunt, your uncle, or your cousins. They may even be your mom and dad. Just like the nurses in the hospital, let’s humanize the people we are trying to help, so that we remember to treat them with the warmth and consideration they deserve while we are helping improve their customer experience.

In my current job at TouchCommerce, my title is Director of Customer Experience. I like that title. I like it a lot. It exactly explains what I do to make a difference for people. Now don’t get me wrong, I clearly understand and have explained in prior posts that at the end of the day you and I receive paychecks because we help our company be profitable, otherwise there would be no reason to pay us. But you and I could, if we wished, help companies be profitable in any number of ways. I think we choose usability because it helps people while helping a company. Do you feel the same way?

Don’t Settle for “User Experience”

Whether your title or the terms you use have the term “user experience” in it or not, I urge and implore you to not settle or be comfortable with that term. Stop using the term “user” and “user experience.” Instead, refer to “customers,” whether your are involved in customer-facing applications or not. Urge your fellow usability practitioners to also refer to “customers” and “customer experience.” Let’s try to humanize the people we are trying to help.

After all, isn’t that why you and I are in usability?

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Are Your Usability Participants Becoming Just Data in Cells?

Have you read the article from Dana Chisnell about usability Participants and why we as usability practitioners need to respect them? It’s a great reminder that we’re dealing with people, and as with anything when dealing with people they deserve our respect and kindness.

As Dana points out in her article, our usability participants are taking time out of their lives to do a usability session. As she says:

“Don’t forget that you couldn’t do what you do without interacting with the people who use (or might use) your organization’s products and services. When you meet with them in a field study or bring them into a usability lab, they are doing you a massive favor.

Although you conduct the session, the participant is your partner in exploration, discovery, and validation. That is why we call them “participants” and not “test subjects.” There’s a reason it’s called “usability testing” and not “user testing.” As we so often say in the introductions to our sessions, “We’re not testing you. You’re helping us evaluate the .””

Put Yourself in Your Usability Participant’s Shoes:

Imagine you are a usability participant. You are put into what is most likely a completely new and foreign situation, in which you are being observed and recorded trying to do something you may not be familiar with. You know your mistakes and flubs will be documented and probably described in great detail. You are being asked to be vocal about your thoughts, which in and of itself is a rather odd thing for you to do. After all, how many of us vocalize as we surf the web? Probably very few! And finally, you may have to sign a release form that says your recordings can be used in whatever manner or purpose the researchers wish. Pictures of your goofs being shown to the World on Youtube flash through your head.

Treat Your Usability Participants as Humans:

As I mentioned in my post, synchronizing with usability participants, you must establish a rapport with your participants to ensure your usability testing will be successful. There are several reasons why you must do this:

First, understanding the communication style of your participant will help you understand their observations about positives and negatives of their experience, allowing you to have a richer understanding of their issues.

Second, by establishing a rapport with your usability participant you enable them to feel less threatened by the foreign situation, which allows them to focus on the tasks in an open and more natural manner. This provides a better, more organic, test.

Third, treating usability participants as the humans they are is important because they either are, or could be, customers of the product or service your are testing. Treating customers (or potential customers) well is not just good for business, it’s the right thing to do.

Treat Usability Participants with Respect

Remember, a big reason you and I care about usability is because we want to provide a better, more user-friendly experience for our fellow humans. It’s proper therefore for all of us to treat with courtesy and respect the people who are trying to help us with our testing.

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Proper Use of Language is Critical, It Impacts Trust and Usability

Did you catch usability guru and world traveler Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox, “American English vs. British English for Web Content?” It’s a good reminder that language and the use of language to communicate is not always as easy as we may think, especially if we are writing (or conducting usability evaluations) for clients in other countries.

In his article, Jakob Nielsen discusses the differences between American English and British English terms, such as colour vs. color, lorry vs truck, boot vs trunk, football vs soccer, etc. It’s a good reminder that users are keenly aware of “odd” uses of language, and will instantly be aware, and thus less trustful, if they come across terms that are in their eyes abnormal. This makes building trust very difficult, and can hurt the efforts of the company that is trying to use the website (or newsletter or blog, etc.) to communicate with and/or influence its target audience to take action.

Localization of Language is Critical

Jakob Nielsen goes on to remind us that localization is a critical consideration when determining who you are trying to communicate with, and how you need to present content. Usability is impacted by the use of language and dialect in several ways, beyond just the trust factor. For example, language that does not fit the language of target users may force those users to work harder to decipher the content, causing usability issues. In addition, for websites, if the language does not meet expectations it’s less likely that users will refer others to the site. For internal applications it’s less likely that users will want to use the application or advise others to use the application.

As Nielsen points out:

“Language matters.
Users notice when a website uses a different version of English than the one they’re used to. Some users will simply assume that the site is littered with typos, poor spelling, and weird words, all of which reduce credibility a good chunk. Other users will recognize that the site is using a different variant of English. These users won’t think the site is poorly produced; they’ll simply assume it’s foreign and doesn’t apply to them.

Be consistent.
Pick one language variant and stick to it. Varying the style confuses everyone and signals poor attention to detail.”

Grammar, Spelling and Usability

Interestingly, at almost the same time as Jakob Nielsen was warning us about using the correct version of English for our audience, a recent post by SEO-evangelist Lisa Barone, “A Rant On Grammar, Spelling and SEO,” well, ranted about using proper English and writing techniques. Lisa’s message? The abbreviated, poorly-spelled and slang-ridden content that is crossing over to other web communications from Instant Messaging does NOT communicate well, and done poorly will drive users away.

As The Lisa puts it:

I genuinely do feel that grammar and spelling are important. In fact, I think they’re vital.

And it’s not vital because you need to abide by archaic laws laid out by others. It’s not important to write clearly because it shows how smart you are. It’s important because people need to understand you. That’s what it’s about for me. It’s about creating content that is readable, whatever that content is.

Consider this:

* I’ve unsubscribed to blogs where the writing made my eyes bleed.
* I’ve unfollow’d people on Twitter because I wasn’t able to understand what the heck they were saying.
* I’ve abandoned Web sites because the product details didn’t make sense or didn’t answer my question.

And I guarantee you I’m not the only one. Who else are you driving away?”

The Real Secret to Website Success is Language & Content

I think both of these articles are a great reminder that it’s the language and content we use on our websites that are most critical to user (and thus the website’s) success. So it turns out that the real secret to website success (especially eCommerce websites) is to use language in your content that builds trust and causes action. True, without a user-friendly task flow for the order process, conversion will be compromised, but my point is the ordering task-flow is the RESULT of the language and content doing its job.

Craig says:

“If the language and content of the website does not elicit trust and action, then task-flow is irrelevant.”

Do You Usability Test Your Website’s Language & Content?

Consider this, when you test a website or application for usability, do you test the language and content, or are you assuming the language will work, and thus are only testing the functions and task flow?

As a usability practitioner, you should be conducting tests of the language and content on the site, as well as the performance of the task flow. Language and content must be usability tested to ensure it is not causing issues, and is maximized for trust and action. And if the language and content is causing issues, testing should identify alternative language or content to improve the communication, thus building greater user trust and more action.

Unfortunately, I doubt usability testing of language and content happens as often as task-flow (function) is tested. I myself am guilty of assuming that the language of higher level marketing pages has worked, and have asked users to “assume you wish to buy this widget on this website, please show me how would you do it.” Why should I assume that the website language and content has built user trust, and thus a desire for action, on the website? Have I tested the language used to do that? No!

Website Language & Content Is Seldom Updated

Let’s examine a typical corporate website, to see why the language and content is so often overlooked, and rarely tested.

A website starts its life with content and language that is often copied directly from existing printed media like brochures or product descriptions. It’s the lucky (and smart) company that has a trained web-writer who massages that content, and language, for internet purposes. Typically Marketing, Sales, Branding and Legal departments then work-over the content and language, each modifying it to suit their unique needs. Finally, in what is usually a fairly massive effort, the content is loaded onto the site, and there it sits, sometimes for months, often for years, with few changes.

Post launch, the more advanced companies may test their content (although not usually the language used for the content) using A/B tests. For those firms that can afford multi-variate testing, often pieces of content are tested, but rarely is the content reviewed in total.

For larger sites, where there are multiple business-owners and legal restrictions or requirements to consider, testing and changing the language can be a daunting task, this is why A/B testing is often only conducted on Landing Pages or specialized order-flow pages, where the assumption is the marketing language has already garnered trust and a desire for action by the user.

However, although helpful, this A/B or multi-variate testing is metrics focused, and does not analyze the reasons for the behavior associated with the user who is either interacting, or not interacting with the language on the website. Behavioral-based testing comes from usability testing.

Test Website Language & Content

Do you usability test your website’s language and content? If so, how do you do it? In a future post, I’ll share some thoughts on how I test a website’s language and content. Unlike typical performance-based testing, language and content testing can be done, but requires more planning and effort, and is even more susceptible to errors in assumptions or testing methodology.

Conclusion: Language & Content Are Critical to Website Success

In conclusion, effective language and content is the foundation of a website. It’s the language and content that influence users to trust the website and its products or services, and thus take action. Without that trust and desire for action, the resulting task-flow is irrelevant. Therefore, testing and improving that foundation of language and content is critical to website success.

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