When we create something we develop a deep love and feeling of responsibility for that creation. Think about a child’s drawing. At that moment, that child loves the artwork so deeply and is so proud of what they’ve done. They run up to their parent, older sibling, maybe teacher, and proudly present their creation as it is welcomed with oohs and ahhs. Growing up doesn’t eliminate our desire to create, nor does it diminish the pride we have for our creations, however, we come to the realization that not everything we create is “great”.
In eCommerce, creating a design that hinders rather than helps can affect your site, customers, and business as a whole. But it is difficult to admit when something that we care about so deeply is not the best and might be a hindrance more than a help—especially if it is a project we have invested our time into. Sometimes sites, just like our childhood art projects, aren’t that great.
Thankfully many websites are improving. Between 2000 and 2011 (the latest range for which data is available), The Nielson Norman Group reported an increase in usability success from 56% in 2000, to 72% in 2011—meaning that users were able to accomplish what they needed to an average of 3 out of 4 times. Within this time period, average eCommerce conversion rates doubled from 1% to 2%, which are great numbers to see. Clearly website usability and conversions are on the rise, however, user experience issues plague the core of eCommerce site functionality. The result of such issues directly impacts customer retention, product selection, and checkout completion. Merchants are still leaving large sums of money on the table and it is hurting their bottom line.
The challenge is identifying where that money is and where you need to improve? Major issues can be easy to spot. If a page is taking a long time to load, it’s pretty safe to say that conversion is going to drop off. If the buttons match the background color, we can assume that users can’t find how to add something to their cart. But what about subtler things, or better yet, something brand new? How do we know if a design is going to work before we’ve had a chance to put it out there?
User testing, or usability testing, when done well, is a glimpse inside the mind of your user. It allows you to see not just what they’re doing, but to understand why they’re doing it. User testing gives us the quantifiable and qualifiable data that informs design decisions in regard to a website’s structure, page design, and flows.
At its core, user testing prepares a user with a specific set of tasks and the mockups or live website to accomplish those tasks. Sometimes the tasks are specific: Add a product to cart. Sometimes they are general: Browse this site and tell us what you think you can do. From there, observations are made in person or using an automated system. This documentation allows you to view user actions, clicks, and responses taken on your site. Once you’ve done this, you can gather all the data together to find trends, issues, and successes to make informed decisions about what to change, what to tackle next, or what to do more of. Remember, user testing isn’t just for figuring out what doesn’t work, it’s also for confirming what does work and how it is helping.
Users are your test subjects and they are essential to creating great websites.
One of the core complaints we hear is that running user testing is expensive and time-consuming. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. User testing can be done with volunteers who receive a discount code via conference call or in person. Similarly, user testing can be quite quick. Sessions usually last about an hour and, when set up properly, usually only require five testers to figure out about 80% of the problems. Five hours of time and a 20% off coupon code for five customers is hardly time consuming or expensive. Additionally, user testing ensures that you build the right things the right way the first time, saving countless hours of rework and allowing you to focus on making the product truly awesome.
By running user testing consistently during the design phase of a project, you set yourself up to understand users at a much deeper level. You understand their wants, needs, and ambitions. You get to see exactly how they operate and tailor your functions to their specific desires. Most importantly, you understand why they use your product and what is helpful and hindering in getting them more products.
The insights developed from this practice impact factors beyond your website itself, influencing future product launches, marketing tactics, and business planning. User testing brings you closer to your customers and allows you to create better digital experiences for them, all while ensuring the growth of your business into the future.