Read Time - 7 Minutes
For e-commerce brands digital experience has become a vital differentiator and a key driver for competitive advantage.
A new competitive battlefield
As global research firm Gartner observes:
“Hyper-competition has eroded traditional product and service advantages, making customer experience the new competitive battlefield”
Digital customers are fickle and competition is fierce. It’s a fact that companies are continually being displaced and disrupted by others who are more relentlessly focused on the usability of their websites and apps.
“Websites should deliver what your customers want or need in an engaging way that easily allows them to take action. A website that isn’t easy to use or understand… can result in lost sales, squandered internal resources and damaged brand reputation — costs that are too high for companies to absorb.”
Jane-Anne Mennella, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner
User experience is the differentiator that drives e-commerce growth
With so much competition online, a constant downward pressure on price and the next disruptive take on your business model just around the corner, no one can take their sales conversion rates or the loyalty of their customers for granted.
User experience is where customer's needs can be met in ways that reflect your deep understanding of what makes them tick. It’s where reputations for digital quality and customer service can be made or lost. It’s where true value can be added.
But as web and app features become more personalised and complex in what they can do, exploiting the amazing possibilities of contemporary digital tech, the challenge is ensuring those experiences remain accessible and navigable for all of your audience.
Usability is one of the main reasons why 25% of all apps that are downloaded are used only once. Over complicated check out design is responsible for 12% of abandoned purchases. In fact, experts estimate that a third of all shifts in customer loyalty are a result of usability issues.
At the same time, according to Forrester, improving digital experience through better UX can increase overall e-commerce conversion rates by 400%.
Research shows it’s usability bugs that stand continually in danger of increasing cart abandonment in the short term, and driving your customers permanently away in the long term.
Usability testing: a key part of your website testing strategy
Systematic website usability testing focuses not on functional issues, but on ease of use and navigation, as well as blocks to customer satisfaction. Both pre and post launch of new web applications and their features, a smart usability testing regime can help businesses understand the following:
- How easy it is for real customers to learn or understand to navigate a site on a variety of devices and browsers typically used by your audience
- The speed and efficiency with which a customer can perform desired actions
- The amount of user errors the customer makes in pursuing those actions
- The level of satisfaction a site delivers to customers
- The ‘memorability’ of that experience for a customer
These qualitative tests results can verify your site or apps have met the user requirements gathered at the start of the project, and then feedback into your plans for fixes, updates and future releases to the customer experience:
- Discover whether your product meets user expectations and documented user requirements
- Detect those UX bugs that are at risk of preventing purchase, repeat visits, or other actions from being taken
- Gathering unbiased feedback on the quality of the digital experience
- Inform the development teams of more empathetic design fixes
- Post release - Showing the ‘why’ behind statistical anomalies on certain handsets or in certain demographics (drop off in average spend, basket abandons etc)
- Provide evidence for buy-in from stakeholders for necessary changes
- Provide evidence for prioritisation of fixes
The results of usability testing can be a powerful tool in the push to achieve better and more competitive digital experiences. It can deliver the kind of insight that solves deep and seemingly impenetrable problems around levels of customer engagement and retention.
But who is best placed to deliver it?
Who should do usability testing?
Usability testing is not best undertaken by QA professionals, which is why they often recruit user groups from within a business (but outside the development and testing function) to perform these tasks.
This practice known as ‘Dogfooding’ encourages employees to test a web or app as if they were the customers themselves (to ‘eat their own product’) and report back on how they found the experience. This approach has its limitations, including:
- Potential mismatch with a target demographic
- Lack of engagement with the task (your workers could be ‘reluctant conscripts’)
- Potential lack of rigor and consistency in the way results are reported
- Lack of the full range of hardware and browser types that reflect the composition of the wider digital landscape
Community sourced testers
Because of this usability testing is often given to ‘community sourced’ providers, businesses who are able to mobilise thousands of testers on a range of real world devices who properly match the demographics of your audience.
This kind of testing is able to deliver rapid and targeted insight around usability at a scale that can give you confidence that results are truly representative.
When specificity trumps scale
But sometimes the success of usability testing is about specificity rather than scale. In these circumstances you need even more specialist support. For example, businesses who want to test their website experience with real world ‘customers’ who possess particular accessibility requirements, potentially using usability testing questions.
New customer journeys require highly specialised testing
And how about arranging tests that reflect products where multiple users are part of the same transaction or customer journey? Children who play with or make selections from a website or app, but then have to pass a device on to an adult to complete a purchase. A deep understanding of the way products are used ‘in the wild’, often needs a specialist testing resource to examine and optimise the way they can work best.
And what about the tools that testing partners give you to analyse the results from these tests? They need to present their results and findings in an easily digestible way, such that the whole business can prioritise the fixes that will optimise their site. Ideally, they will allow you to see these results side by side with the same tests conducted on competitors’ site, too - so you can properly benchmark the experience you offer.
Customers are using sites and apps in ever more complex ways to meet a range of needs in a range of ever-changing circumstances. And new e-commerce challenges and opportunities are continually arising from these use-cases.
Done right, usability testing can help businesses understand and respond to these opportunities, developing better customer experiences that exponentially grow reputation and revenue.