Recommended Reading for Ecommerce Sites – Checkout Design Usability Data

IF you own or are working on an ecommerce website and have questions about user interface that converts, you may like

The State Of E-Commerce Checkout Design 2012

Here’s a walkthrough of just a handful of the interesting stats we’ve found when benchmarking the top 100 grossing e-commerce websites’ checkout processes:

The average checkout process consist of 5.08 steps.
24% require account registration.
81% think their newsletter is a must have (opt-out or worse).
41% use address validators.
50% asks for the same information twice.
The average top 100 checkouts violate 33% of the checkout usability guidelines.

Does Your Web Site Content Influence Action?

The science of usability goes far beyond navigation logic and decorated links. User experience includes making a lasting impression, which helps with word-of-mouth marketing. Is the site clear about its objectives? Does each page motivate you to read more? Does the site content influence action?

As in dating, we think that to make a good first impression, we should keep the conversation focused on our positive traits. Especially in the vital first few minutes, we avoid launching into what we don’t want others to know.

Some interesting human factors studies prove that when it comes to online selling and influencing decisions, site visitors respond well to both the pros and cons of a product and remember both positive and negative details. If they previously knew about a topic, they were confident in their knowledge, not easily swayed, and resistant to change tactics. When presented alongside positive attributes, negative messages didn’t adversely affect whether or not someone bought an item. The ability to weigh pros and cons to come to a decision worked best.

Does your search-engine-optimized website instill confidence among your visitors? Have you done the homework for them by posting price comparison information or publishing user feedback? Amazon, for example, not only allows customers to send in book and product reviews, but encourages readers to rate the feedback’s helpfulness.

Read the entire article here – Usability and SEO: Speed Dating Nirvana?

Quick Second Credibility Usability Test

In a Lance Loveday’s article called Designing For The Subconscious Mind, he described his experiences when showing two different web site pages to an audience a half second apart. He then asked the participants which web site they’d prefer to do business with. The “professional” and “credible” page won over the “small time” and “cheap.”

As Lance pointed out, nobody said, “I don’t have enough information to make that judgment.” I’m willing to bet in that particular setting, those who wanted more information felt too intimidated to ask, but his quick test is still fun to try and think about.

Is your web site credible?Like Lance and my usability consultant peers, we’re presented with hundreds and hundreds of web sites. We’re asked, “What do you think?” Thinking has nothing to do with usability. In fact, if we have to think, that’s often a problem. The better question might be, “Are you compelled to do something on this site?” Or, “Do you trust the claims?” Or, assign users a task to see if you successfully planned and designed the site so they could easily complete it.

We bring our judgments with us

Truth resonates and we’re impatient

It’s fascinating to think about Lance’s audience responses because they had no time to evaluate authenticity, truth, genuineness, credibility or great customer service in half a second. They did what we all do when we enter a room filled with strangers. We look for the best dressed. The pretty women. The handsome men. The story teller. The joker. The flirt. The rich guy. The sexy older woman who loves quantum physics and tests web sites for a living.

It isn’t until we use a web site or interact with a person that we begin to understand on a deeper level what, if anything, we can do with it, or with them.

With web sites, we need a few things immediately. Right away, we must know we arrived at a page that will meet a need or want. Therefore, the information hierarchy must state a page’s purpose right away, rather than tease someone or waste their time waiting for flash animations to load. There is a time and place for flash, just like there’s a time to ask where the beer is or asking the host to introduce you to the hot woman in the corner petting the Shitzu.

We sense authenticity, but can be fooled. So, presenting something like testimonials is a weak attempt at credibility, unless they can be followed up on by contacting the person. Health product sites that claim a secret ingredient with a fancy name but offer no data, research, FDA approval or valid way to prove you won’t lose your eyebrows if you try it are suspect. Sure, someone will be desperate enough to try it, but the moment the lawsuit comes out, the brand is finished.

Interestingly, user engagement does not always equate to conversion or even desired results. At any moment during a task, web designers sabotage the process with unnecessary navigation, off-site ads or new topics that lead their visitor on a new adventure. Sometimes the experience of a site is just that. An experience. For some people, even after experiencing the experience and even liking it, they return to their most trusted brand because that one has already earned their trust.

Aesthetics

We judge aesthetic value by our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. We arrive at sites with our personal set of economic, political or moral values, as well as our technology, skills and credit card. What are the connections between the mind, emotions and beauty? Can we expect a web page to transport us to our happy place? Sure. Some of the newer site designs are like polished gems that you want to stare at and hold in the palm of your hand.

Sadly, these visual beauties are using their looks to make a sale, rather than the quality of their product or service. It’s in the area of customer service that a less attractive web site beats out the high class model it competes against. And it’s here that an audience making a decision on whom to do business with in under a second may make the wrong choice. They need more than a peek. They need to hear a site’s heartbeat.

The web site that succeeds is the one that can prove it’s alive.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, May 22, 2009

No Guidance, No Interaction, No Sale: Improving Internet Shopping Usability

A good friend recently told me a story about how a company built a web site that needed user instructions to use it. The only page that was allowed to put a link to those instructions was the homepage. Therefore, should a visitor arrive via a search engine to a landing page within the web site, they were out of luck. No guidance, no interaction, no sale.

Missing user instructions

Does your user interface lead nowhere?

I went Christmas shopping online for a computer armoire. I knew exactly what I wanted because I had done previous research on the manufacturer and pricing. The specific piece I wanted was sold out on every top brand department store that had advertised a low price for the item.

Next, I searched in Google for the item by brand name and product description. My expectation was that the company that makes the computer armoire would come up and Google would show me the actual product pages itself so I could get right to it. I was wrong. The manufacturer’s website not only didn’t appear in the natural search results, it also didn’t show up in any paid placement areas of the search results page. How odd for a name brand company not to have their own website rank well, I thought.

Google presented me with all the major department stores that sold the computer armoire that I had already spent an hour checking that were all dead ends. So, thinking this was strange, I searched directly by the name of the company who makes the furniture item I wanted to buy. Perhaps they still had some in stock.

No such luck! They don’t sell their own products! All their web site does is let you search for stores that do. I entered my zip code and their search results brought back no results. However, I already own this piece of furniture. I bought it down the road. I would have done so again, but they were sold out. Not only does this furniture company not sell their own merchandise, they don’t do any promotion of their resellers. There is no time savings device to take potential customers to any reseller who may still have the item in stock. This was a complete dead end. In the days of personalization and communication, this is unacceptable.

Rather than give up, I searched Google with the exact product number and manufacturer as my search phrase. My expectation was that someone, somewhere on the planet, must have this piece of furniture for sale. I was even willing to pay a higher price if someone could prove they had one in stock. I would even DRIVE to pick it up if it was at a store nearby.

Google brought up many excellent search results for me. It didn’t take me long to realize they were all distributors of this particular piece of furniture. I was delighted to discover the first site I visited had what I wanted. Or did they?

They couldn’t tell me whether or not it was in stock. Taking a chance, I began to go down the purchase path to order it. It allowed me to proceed as a “guest”. I was able to add the product to a shopping cart. However, it never told me if they had it. Since everyone else was sold out, I didn’t feel confident they had the item in stock either. I got as far as the address and billing phase, but stopped because not only did I not know if they had the item, they weren’t about to inform me if it would arrive before Christmas or could be expedited to do so. When I looked around for other clues, I realized there was no log in area for customers, no way to track orders and no payment method offered ahead of time. There was no indication whatsoever they even knew I was there trying to place an order. This is because there were no user instructions, no welcoming content, no confirmation of data received and no online presence that anyone was behind the curtain.

I left that site and tried 4 others. In each case, it was a distributor. In every single case, they used the same third party shopping cart process, suggesting to me that the manufacturer supplies it to their resellers. Not a single one of these resellers could tell me if the product would or could be delivered by Christmas, was in stock or could be tracked. I never bought the item. For the major department stores that did sell the item, they never established whether or not they would re-stock the item. There was no way for me to be notified if they did. So here I am. A customer shopping online, prepared with money and the exact item I want, and I’m unable to buy it from the manufacturer themselves or any of their resellers.

What Are Some Lessons Here?

  1. Searchers are smart. They do their research before searching and will search by exact product descriptions, model numbers, manufacturer, brand name, and even down to exact measurements and other specifications. Make sure your web site is optimized accordingly.
  2. If you offer any third party application, be it a shopping cart or travel reservations, you MUST test it to be sure it works functionally and is designed to sell. Just because a manufacturer gives you a free cart in no way means they gave you one that will earn you revenue.
  3. If your order process shows an “Out of Stock” message, and you want the customer to return again or have any faith in your business whatsoever, show them how to find out when it will be re-stocked. If any of these stores would have re-stocked in a week, I still could have ordered and picked it up at a nearby physical store in time for Christmas.
  4. No guidance, no interaction, no sale.
  5. Remember your target market and especially the “Last minute holiday shopper” user persona.
  6. Don’t rely on resellers to sell for you if you don’t support them with usable applications and a well ranked web site of your own.

I did have good experiences with NetShops and Amazon. I’ll return to them again because they made purchasing online a pleasure and hassle free. And, they were prepared for last minute holiday shoppers like me with ship date deadlines, last minute crunch time specials and alternatives to out of stock items.

In other words, they knew I was coming and they were ready for me. That’s the best usability lesson of all.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, January 2, 2009

Simple Tips for Selling Womens Gifts Online

With Mother’s Day coming, as well as the April hot weather wake-up call for summer here in the East coast of the USA, where we hit over 90 degree weather, I thought I’d address web sites that sell beauty products and/or target women.

Women are big gift givers.  Case in point is myself and my recent attempts to surprise a generous friend with a gift for her birthday.  She’s inspired me over the years with her energy, humor, ability to pull me out of my shell, and most recently, her dramatic weight loss.  She deserved nothing less than something from my heart. And, something she’d use and perhaps never buy for herself. She works hard like me and women like us don’t know how to be nice to ourselves (although she’s more loyal to her fingernails than I am.)

What I would not settle for were gift certificates or gift cards.  We live about 45 minutes from each other, but we’re so busy, casual get-togethers only happen if business related.  I wanted something I could have delivered to her house, that wasn’t flowers.  Or cake. I know of some amazing desert sites that deliver, but she’s not about to wreck her hard work on a big ‘ole triple-decker chocolate cake.

So, I went in search of some cool luxury beauty items for her. Massage oil for her muscles after a good workout was one idea. I needed to be inspired too.  I was willing to let any beauty product web site persuade me. Entice me.  Help me find something affordable, unusual, and luxurious.

Women typically have negative 5 minutes to spend browsing, so I was lucky to be working from home and sneaking some time in to shop around. No brands really jumped into my mind, but I accept that because I’m working all the time and rarely get to stores or read women’s magazines. I have no idea what’s really cool, unless my daughter fills me in.

User Experience Details

One of the odd things I ran into was the definition of the word “Gift”.  It no longer means a way to pick out products and ship them to someone else. It also means “gift card” and “gift certificate”. This made browsing take longer because web sites used the generic word “gifts” in their link labels, when they really meant “gift cards”.

Another thing I noticed are gift products that do the right thing by showing before and after pricing for specials, but don’t help you understand how fast they can ship or that they will gift wrap.  Before I click to buy, I need just a little more incentive to do so.  Incentives come in the form of answering questions customers have.

One site said, “Free samples with each order”.  Cool!  But did that include gifts too?  And, silly me, would it be possible for me to get a sample of the gift I’m sending to my friend?  Women LOVE to share and talk about the products they.  What is better than an “I have that too!” or “I tried it too and loved it”.  Our lipstick is like a man’s beer.

Sephora had a nifty thing where you could sort by the type of mom. What if you’re a combination mom?  They missed something small however, for the Natural Mom category.  As one of them, ingredients are vital selling points. Even a brief hint that no whales died for a product, or the oils are all oil and no chemicals, and there’s no bear urine in natural products is a nice thing to know in advance of clicking for more information.

Bath and Body works keeps giving away things like free totes with products, which has lured me a few times. But, nowhere does it remind anyone to buy gifts for a friend and that friend will get that free tote or makeup bag. It’s the extra subtle “I splurged for you” message there that would attract a generous giving customer.  Yes, you have to kinda read their minds.

Bath and Body Works is one of my favorite stores. But have they forgotten dial-up connections? Women are less inclined to be using high-speed Internet connections (I hope that statistic is changing.) They also may be in a pickle when sneaking a peek at the office if they have to wait for 10 gigantic boxes with products inside to load before The Boss comes stalking around. They may have to jump off very fast.

I thought it was funny as heck when I found their “Gifts” link in their navigation and arrived to see the words, “1001 Gifts for Mom”. Fortunately they break it down with some classification boxes for easy sorting by type and price, but still….

And finally, something to remember about marketing to women is that they trust each other before they’ll trust you. Allowing user feedback on products shows your company understands women. In addition to being generous gift givers, they love to talk about the products they buy.

So, what did I end up getting for my friend?  Nothing yet.  There’s so much to look at, I can’t decide.

For a woman shopper like me, a BUY NOW AND SAVE 50% AND WE’LL PLANT A TREE AND HIRE A HUNKY MASSAGE THERAPIST FOR YOU would just about do the trick.