August 15, 2003

The online retail experience will get better
(and why you should be worried about that)

According to research by ForeSee Results, an online customer satisfaction firm, online retailers are not very happy with their own shopping experiences.

Satisfaction Survey
According to the survey report (available on the ForeSee Results web site):
"The results in the study were collected using an online survey co-sponsored by ForeSee Results and Internet Retailer. This survey used the methodology of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to measure the satisfaction of e-retail industry insiders’ shopping experience with other e-retailing sites. A total of 368 e-retail industry insiders participated in the study and were asked to evaluate their experience with online retailers, other than their own company’s."

"The good news is e-retail insiders are more satisfied with the state of their e-retail experiences than last year, with their overall satisfaction surging ahead 8.6%, improving from a 58 last year to a 63 this year, on a 100-point scale. Yet as they are the most demanding of online customers, they still significantly trail overall consumers’ very strong Online Retail Satisfaction score of 83, as measured by the ACSI.

It's interesting that the general Online Retail Satisfaction score (83) is higher than the Offline Retail Industry satisfaction score of 75. has the highest satisfaction score of anyone online (measured in this way): 88.

What it means
The report "suggests that e-retailing will continue to get more competitive because the insiders want the online shopping experience to get better. "Investors and customers should be happy that these insiders are so hard on themselves," ForeSee Results CEO Larry Freed in a statement. "It means they're not taking their success for granted and aren't just sitting back and enjoying their accomplishments."

Okay, the words "success" and "accomplishments" should be taken with a grain of salt, since not many online retailers can tell big success stories yet.

"Internet history and ACSI experience suggest that online customers’ expectations will continue to rise and preferences will change rapidly. To keep the pulse on these expectations and preferences, e-retailers should constantly measure and work to improve customer satisfaction at their sites. The first step in continuous improvement is to be able to identify weaknesses and opportunities."

Thoughts & Predictions
This is a good indicator that online retailers (and others who place a high value on their online channel) will be looking for more ways to improve their sites. Currently is the benchmark for retail sites, and as leaders like Amazon keep raising the bar, consumer expectations will rise as well. Sites that can't keep up will see lower customer satisfaction. Sites that provide the best experiences will see higher customer satisfaction, higher revenue and higher customer retention. The best big sites will get bigger, the bad sites will get fewer, and like most other industries, you'll see consolidation over the long term.

Online businesses looking to stay around will need to lean on good experience design and utilize usability (user-centered design), information architecture, branding, and channel integration. Offline businesses who want to take advantage of the online channel will need to meet customer expectations of a good online experience. Those expectations will be set by online leaders. Metrics will be key to constant improvement and benchmarking.

If you don't have a team constantly measuring and improving your customers' online experience, your online days will be painful and numbered until you change your approach.

The days of playing around in the web channel have ended for most serious businesses. Small start-ups will continue to innovate and bring breakthrough ideas to market; challenging the leaders and stirring the proverbial pot. (See Google for a recent example.)

Is there a Google comin' to get you?
Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, and Google all have sizable User Experience or Usability teams. Those teams play a major role in their companies' success. Their company cultures are also very centered on the quality of their products - their web sites, applications, and services. For example, Google's Enterprise Search Appliance is sold as "plug and play" -- they sell you a piece of equipment that you plug into the power and network in your data center, and it's a simple configuration process to set it up to provide search results on your intranet. No messing around with multiple hardware and software vendors, no worrying about who supports the hardware the software runs on - Google supports the whole solution. (Yes, I said that buzzword "solution" -- in this case it's actually warranted.) There's no chance of vendors pointing fingers at each other. Have technolgy vendors like IBM, Oracle and HP noticed this model? Are they worried it'll take off? Or are they considering how to use this model to get a leg up on the competition?

IBM likely doesn't see Google as a "competitor" -- but it's the Googles of the world that should keep them awake at night. It's those wickedly smart companies that are 100% committed to selling more intuitive solutions, more usable products, and better experiences that can quickly redefine an industry just as Google has done with search. Amazon's done it with books and online retail.

Are you worried about where your next competition will come from? You should be. (Regular readers may wonder:) What does this have to do with user experience? Everything.


Initial ComputerWorld article fournd via Webword
Study finds Internet retailers unhappy with own online shopping experiences

Related Posts:
- Practicing Usability in the future
- User centered design sells products

August 12, 2003

Breadcrumbs Affect User's Mental Model of Web Sites

Wichita State University's Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) has released findings of a study of web breadcrumbs. The results, published in Breadcrumb Navigation: Further Investigation of Usage are pretty interesting. Here are a few key points:

"Breadcrumb users were found to use the Back button less often than users who did not use the breadcrumb; however, no differences were found in the efficiency measures of total pages visited, navigation bar clicks, embedded link clicks, or time to complete the search tasks. It is not known if all participants understood the function of the breadcrumb as a navigational tool. Future studies should investigate whether a simple understanding of the purpose of the breadcrumb trail or minimal training impacts usage and/or efficiency.

"Location of the breadcrumb trail did have an effect on usage. Breadcrumb trails positioned under the page title (at eye level and closer to other links on the page) were used more than breadcrumb trails positioned at the top of the page. It is recommended, therefore, that breadcrumb trails be positioned in this location rather than at the top of the page. The results also suggest that exposure to a breadcrumb trail in a site may contribute to the type of site model formed by the user. Participants that used a site with a breadcrumb trail were more likely to choose a hierarchical model than those that used the non-breadcrumb site. This assessment of the user’s mental model requires further study."

I've always thought the value of breadcrumbs was in exposing site structure and helping form a mental model of the site. It'll be interesting to see what additional research the team at SURL conduct in the future.

- Breadcrumbs > Breadcrumbs > Breadcrumbs
- Research Project: Methods and Models of Navigation in Hypertextual Space
- SURL: Breadcrumb Navigation: An Exploratory Study of Usage
Outlook 2003 More Usable?

I use Outlook for most of my email needs. It generally sucks, but is still the best email alternative I've found. According to James Governor of RedMonk, both Outlook and Exchange are supposed to get better from a usability and performance standpoint.

"People question whether software upgrades are really necessary. In this case the usability and performance tweaks alone could justify an upgrade."

"Focus on usability and real customer working patterns and the rest can fall into place. Microsoft and the industry at large should take note."

Related posts:
- Outlook, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
- Rising Costs of Free Web E-Mail
- User centered design sells products

August 11, 2003

Monkey See, Monkey Do Development

"Humans and higher primates share approximately 97% of their DNA in common. Recent research in primate programming suggests computing is a task that most higher primates can easily perform.

"Great apes (hominids) do not have tails, while monkeys do. Research indicates that great apes are very productive in the areas of software maintenance and report writing, while most monkeys will struggle. Monkeys however are great at software testing. So the rule of thumb is, if you don’t have a tail, you can probably program."

"Baboons handle software testing at PPI. Baboons work in colonies and can get very rowdy at work when things are going well."

Get a load of Cathleen. What beauty, and value priced too!

- Jakob Nielsen: Are developers people?
(How could Jakob be so wrong?)

August 10, 2003

New UPA Site Launched

New, updated site for the Usability Professionals Association.

Some notable sections:
- Projects (including certification and a "body of knowledge")
- Job Bank
- User Experience Magazine (great publication!)
- Consultants and Members Directories
Hero Joy Nightingale
Matt May (of bestkungfu blog) brought an amazing story to my attention: the story of Hero Joy Nightingale, a 16-year-old girl with locked-in syndrome. She has been accepted to study fine art at Oxford. She is "the most severely handicapped student ever to be granted a place at Oxford. She suffers from 'locked-in syndrome', a profound apraxia caused by brain damage that renders her body useless and her voice mute."

She's obviously a tremendously brilliant and beautiful young lady who in a profound way wants people to understand her. On her personal web site's photo page, she says:

"I fear imagination conjuring my features into a fictitious freakish shape, readers manipulating words such as "locked-in" and "profound disability" and "neuro-developmental disorder" with ignorance & naivity until I am not a normal being of flesh and feeling but a pitiable alien thing. The photos depict a fragment of a busy life."

She has also edited her own online magazine, which is fascinating. At the end of the first issue (of nine), she wrote the following:

"This is the pain of Frustration as I at least experience it, and it relates more to hands than voice - I'll explain about being mute in a mo. My hands are the object of my hatred and scorn because they fretfully and reflexboundly fiddle and in so doing agitate my aspirations. I long to sculpt. I long to chip marble into poetic form hue imagination into a sturdy outer reality that bellows of the music fed to me by the wind. I long to forge hot iron to twisted forms that lurk huge and somatically within plastered brain eggs of my mind. I long to weave yarns into rugs that enthrall and warm with their homespun tones and I long to reap from travel the elements of my yarns."

Looks like she'll get an opportunity to sculpt and create art at Oxford. Amazing!

She has a great story on her site about her struggles to communicate with people called "How I communicate."

"Hero" is a very appropriate name. She is definitely someone many young girls should look up to. You go girl!

- bestkungfu: The myth of Accessible
- bestkungfu: Accessibility