"The Internet might be virtual, but customers live in physical space and often need to visit companies in the material world. Given this, geography determines business success in a very simple way: Customers can either find your locations or they cannot.
Websites play a major role in helping customers find their way to company locations, including branches, stores, offices, dealers, and other outlets such as ATMs, package drop-off points, or facilities that accept return goods for e-commerce sites. Whenever customers need to transact business at a physical location, a company's website should help them find the most convenient location that offers the services they need.
A website's most fundamental purpose is to serve as a company's business card in cyberspace and say, "Here we are." Of course, a good website goes far beyond this simple function and supports customers in many other tasks. Nonetheless, it is important to retain this fundamental feature and help customers easily determine your real-world locations.
Two Research Studies
To assess the usability of store finders and locators on the Web, we conducted two rounds of usability studies, where a total of 25 users tested the location finders on 20 websites.
For both rounds of testing, we chose companies that represent a range of industries, from traditional retailers, financial institutions, and high-tech companies to restaurants and the post office:
... Each website represented a number of locations, ranging from the Dow Chemical Company's 141 manufacturing sites (at the time of Study 1) to the U.S. Postal Service's 37,000 post offices (at the time of Study 2). Most companies had about 1,000-2,000 locations.
In both rounds of testing, we asked users to find the company location closest to them (or closest to a specified address) and to get directions to that location. Sometimes, we also asked users to find a location that met certain special requirements, such as being open on a Sunday or carrying a certain product line.
Trends in Locator Usability
We conducted Study 1 seven years ago, so comparing the two rounds of testing allows us to assess long-term trends in locator usability. And wow, have there been changes.
Most strikingly, user success rates in finding and using the locators increased from 63% seven years ago to 96% now.
Given that the average success rate in our recent website testing was only 70%, 96% is an astoundingly high success rate. Of course, finding an appropriate location address is a very simple task compared to using other website services. Consider, for example, the much higher complexity of tasks such as managing your investments, researching automobile purchases and financing, deciding which hydraulic excavator best suits your copper mine, or even buying a birthday present for your nephew.
Still, it's great to see locator usability increase this much in only 7 years." (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox) [Usability Resources]