A site that is easy for shoppers to use is essential in online retail, but for some smaller businesses, user experience can be relatively low on the list of priorities, especially if budgets are limited.
However, understanding how people use your site and improving the user experience for them can be one of the best investments a retailer can make. It also doesn’t have to cost the earth.
In this article, I’ll look at the case for user experience, the basics of good UX, and how to test and improve your website on a limited budget.
The business case for user experience
First, the case for UX. Fundamentally, it’s about removing any hassle or friction for visitors to your site and making it as easy as possible for them to find and buy the items they want.
User experience is a big factor in creating an excellent overall customer experience (which also includes elements such as customer service, speed of delivery etc). With plenty of competition online, users who find a website frustrating to use can easily find a better experience elsewhere.
If you remain unconvinced about the business case, here are some stats to underline my points:
- Poor customer experience costs UK brands an estimated £234bn a year, while 92% of consumers have had a poor customer experience. One-third of those customers will abandon a purchase if they couldn’t find the information they need. (Magnetic North)
- 39% of people will abandon a website if images are slow to load, or don’t load at all. (Adobe)
- 55% of people are less likely to return to a brand because of a bad mobile experience, while 52% say a poor experience harms their opinion of a brand.
- If the customers are not satisfied with the experience on a site, 13% of them will tell to 15 or even more people that they are unhappy. On the flipside, 72% of customers will share a positive experience with six or more people.(Esteban Kolsky)
- Remote UX testing helped ClickMechanic to increase conversion rates by 50%.
For small businesses which are not necessarily well-known, a good user experience is one way to build trust with potential new customers. If they arrive on a site that looks good, loads quickly and is smooth and intuitive to use, this gives them confidence that they can shop without concerns.
The flipside, as some of the stats above underline, is that poor UX can have negative impacts. The most obvious is that people will abandon a website, meaning that time and money spent on marketing to bring them to the website is wasted.
So how can sites deliver the best possible user experience?
Design with the user in mind
It’s important to design websites with the user in mind so that the ways people will use a site is the driving factor, rather than what you think will work.
By moving away from opinion, and putting the user at the centre of the design process, companies can take the first step toward providing excellent customer experience.
There are processes in place for user centred design, and the key benefit is that, by considering the user at the beginning and during the design process, less redevelopment work is required further down the line.
This user-centric approach goes well beyond the design process though, as learning about the way people use a site throughout its lifetime helps brands to identify areas of friction and maintain and make improvements to the user experience.
Fundamentally, it’s a way of thinking that will help website owners to maintain a focus on what the user expects from their site.
Get the basics right
There is no right or wrong answer when looking to provide the best user experience. Website visitors have varied tastes and preferences, and it’s impossible to please everyone.
It’s about finding the best possible blend, the one which performs best in terms of higher conversions and lower abandonments.
This can be arrived at through testing and optimisation, of which more later, but there are basic principles to follow, which are common to any usable website, and mistakes which could lead to customers abandoning the site.
- Clear navigation. A user should be able to find their way around the site without too much effort. to This end, navigational links should be clear and prominent on the page, and taxonomy should make sense.
- Around one in five people in the UK are affected by some sort of disability. While not all of these may affect someone’s ability to use the internet, failure to make a website accessible means potential customers may be unable to buy from you. Many sites, even the big names, have work to do in this area.
- Page speed. According to Google, 40% of users will leave a web page that takes longer than three seconds to load, so speed matters. Google’s Page Speed Tool can analyse your site and suggest ways to reduce load time.
- Avoid the obvious UX mistakes. There are some mistakes which have been proved again and again. One such example is making users register before checkout, which is a barrier to conversion. It’s also totally unnecessary, as sites can provide a guest checkout and an option to sign up later in the process.
Learn from the best
While any retailer should test and find the best blend for their own site, it doesn’t hurt to look at what some of the best sites (and your competitors) are doing, and use this for inspiration.
In this way, you can spot user experience and design trends, and adapt and test them for your own site.
For example, e-commerce navigation options change over time. One recent trend has been for sites to reduce primary navigation options to reduce choice paralysis for visitors and get them to start shopping more quickly.
Amazon is another example. You can be sure that, if it adds new features or changes design, these changes will have been tested thoroughly. This doesn’t necessarily mean the same changes will work on your site, but it’s great for generating ideas for you to try.
There’s another point here. People’s experience of the web, and their expectations around UX are shaped by sites they use regularly, and of course, sites like Amazon and the big players in e-commerce are shaping this.
This means that people will often expect your site to work in a similar way, so it’s not always a good idea to go against convention. For example, people expect to see the basket/checkout link at the top right of the web page, and changing this could confuse users.
Use analytics to identify areas for improvement
Analytics can help you to see where visitors are dropping out from your site, or to identify changes in site performance which may indicate areas for improvement.
For example, by keeping an eye on checkout abandonment rates, you may discover that a certain segment is dropping out at a higher than average rate; perhaps people are using a certain browser or mobile device?
Session replay and heatmap tools can also help you to better understand how people use your website. There are a wide range of tools, and many offer free or cheaper price options for a range of business.
Heatmaps can tell you where people are clicking on your pages, the elements that catch their attention (as well as those that go unnoticed) and how far they scroll down a page.
Session replay tools capture people using your site, so you can follow their journey, see where they click and view any problems they may encounter. For example, you may discover that a particular form field is causing problems for some users, or people are failing to see certain calls to action.
These are useful, and provide some useful insights, although they can’t tell you why visitors are doing what they do, which is where customer feedback can help.
Surveys and customer feedback
By asking users of your site directly, you can gather some valuable insights into how they use your site, any areas they found annoying, and why they may have decided not to buy.
Direct insight like this can often pinpoint problems more precisely, allowing you to improve the user experience.
There are a number of ways to conduct surveys, from online surveys that pop up while a user is browsing (though they shouldn’t be intrusive) to email surveys sent after a customer has made a purchase, or even abandoned the site.
Customer service teams and contact methods like live chat can also be a great source of feedback.
Testing on a budget
Observing people using your website and being able to ask them about their experience is a great way to gain insights and improve the user experience.
It doesn’t have to mean expensive user testing labs or paying big fees to agencies to conduct user testing. There are cost effective, and even free ways to test with real users.
1 Remote user testing
Companies such as UserZoom and usertestign.com can carry out remote user tests on your site, using their panels of real web users.
You can simply set a test, such as asking people to select an item and go through checkout, then view users as they use your site, giving their impressions as they browse. This shows you both how they use the site and their feedback as they do so, combining the best elements of surveys and session replay tools.
It doesn’t have to be expensive either. There are free trials available, while some charge as little as £50 per video, so for a few hundred pounds you can gain some valuable insight.
2 Guerilla testing
Guerilla testing means using real people, in real life situations, to test your site. This may mean approaching people in a cafe and asking them to use your site in return for a cup of coffee.
This can deliver some useful insights, and it helps that you can get their feedback directly, and ask them questions as they use the website.
The combination of tools and techniques here can be used by any site, and suit a range of budgets. The best approach is to use these various techniques together to find the best blend.
For example, after using analytics to identify a page where customers are dropping out, you can test live with users to see what problems they may be having on that page.
It’s also important to remember that providing good user experience is a continuous process. Customer behaviour and expectations change, as does technology, so user experience evolves. You can keep on top of this through regular testing, use of analytics and gathering customer feedback.