eCommerce is a wonderful proving ground for web usability. Not unlike the brutal and unforgiving environment in which most of the earth’s creatures struggle for existence—and only the strong survive—eCommerce is a highly competitive landscape where hard-to-use websites must evolve quickly or die.
While a primary goal of many eCommerce websites is to nurture a loyal base of repeat customers, the reality is that most customers will visit an eCommerce website only once. If a customer doesn’t make a purchase on their first visit, odds are that they never will. A user experience that is in any way confusing or frustrating—if only for an instant—can drive customers back to the search results and on to greener pastures.
What’s worse is that the customer you just lost may end up purchasing from a competitor. What’s worse is that the customer you just lost may end up purchasing from a competitor. This competitor now has more profits, allowing them to undercut your prices, lower shipping costs, and outbid you in their Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.
Only the strong survive.
Due to the extremely competitive environment that most eCommerce websites face, usability requirements are often heavily shifted toward success for first-time users, low error rates, and high trust. As with any application design, developing an ongoing User Centered Design (UCD) program that looks to continually improve the shopping experience is critical. Your UCD program should engage real users before, during, and after website functionality is released to the public website. Paying close attention to website traffic analytics can also pay dividends. But be careful not to over-focus on short-term conversion goals like monthly sales figures or conversion rate at the expense of hard-to-measure factors such as trust, brand, and beauty.
In eCommerce, customer feedback methods like surveys and focus groups are not enough. Well-designed usability studies that measure what customers do (not what they say) are crucial. Incremental improvements in conversion rate can be the difference between success and failure in eCommerce.