Sunday, July 27, 2008

Economic Downturn Puts Website Usability into Focus

Website usability helps keep cashflow positive ...

"With the headlines dominated by the ‘Credit Crunch’, combined with the rising cost of fuel and food, the accepted wisdom is that people are sacrificing any non-essential spending. However, research by Capgemini indicates that consumers aren’t necessarily shopping less but instead they are shopping smarter – by going online rather than to the high street. Those who shop online can compare the prices of products across many shops at the click of a mouse rather than driving around shops for hours in traffic. Customers are choosing the internet because they feel they have more control over their spending, with less chance of impulse purchases. But what constitutes a good online shopping experience?

GOOD USABILITY PRACTICES
- Trust: Reassure customers that your site is secure and that they can trust you. This is particularly important when customers decide to part with their money. As internet crime is more prevalent, customers are increasingly suspicious of sites that do not clearly show text or images indicating that the site is secure. The rewards for doing this are often an increased conversion rate than those sites without security badges.

- Search and find: Make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for. While some customers like to browse, others will have an idea of what they are looking for. They might have seen a specific product advertised or may just be browsing more broadly. In both situations, a good categorisation system for your products as well as an effective search tool will help both types of customers find what they are looking for easily.

- Information: Provide enough information to allow customers to make an informed choice. More and more websites are providing additional ways of viewing products to reproduce the same experience of a store. This is particularly important when selling clothes or shoes. Being able to zoom in on a pair of shoes, rotate a dress and change its colour and style are all effective. As Seen on Screen (ASOS.com) go a step further by providing a video clip of a model wearing the item down a catwalk. This is a good example where the website provides an abundance of information for their customers which can help to persuade them to buy without trying on.

- Easy to Buy: Ensure that the purchasing process is quick and straightforward. Good practices suggest that asking for detailed personal information that is not required to complete a purchase should be avoided because it is off-putting. Similarly customers often avoid registration forms, and will even leave a website, if they deem the registration to be unnecessary or unwieldy. Those sites that have listened to customer complaints have made registration optional, providing customers with the choice to proceed without registering.

- Show the next step: Provide clear calls to action when items have been added to the shopping cart. There are many different methods currently used by websites, but in all cases, it should be clear that the item has been successfully added; and what customers can do next; whether that is to continue shopping or proceed to check-out. Once the purchase is completed, clear feedback should also be provided on the receipt page to indicate that the purchase has been successful. Information such as a reference number and a confirmation email both help to reassure customers. Additionally, avoid dead-end receipt pages by providing links to continue shopping will encourage customers to spend more.

WITH CHOICE COMES RESPONSIBILITY
Those ecommerce sites that strive to improve their emphasis on the user experience will inevitably gain financially. As the online market continues to grow in the current climate, there is a danger that complacency from a false sense of security could creep in. As with any growing market, more and more new sites will emerge looking to obtain a slice of the profits. While the internet already provides great choice for customers, this choice will only continue to grow. Consequently, it is the responsibility of retailers to ensure that their site provides a good user experience; otherwise customers will simply choose to visit a more customer-friendly competitor."    (Continued via Usability News, Lorraine Paterson)    [Usability Resources]

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