How User Friendly is Your Website?

Monday, July 27, 2009 | 4:25 PM


Usability is now recognised as a vital element of eCommerce retailers’ online strategy. Today, even the most ardent sceptic would agree that when users arrive at your website they have to be able to easily use and understand its content. Otherwise, they’re likely to regard your site as a waste of their time and you could feel that the effort you spent promoting it via search engine optimisation, AdWords or other is a waste of yours.

What’s surprising perhaps is the number of websites that still suffer from the all too routine problems of inefficient site structure, poor functionality and general navigational faults. User expectation is typically high whereas their tolerance is extremely low. Its worth weighing up not just what these problems might cost in terms of lost conversions but the detrimental brand impact disgruntled customers’ negative word of mouth can have via chat rooms or social networks.

Fine tuning your site should be a priority and currently there are more than enough companies who claim authority when it comes to delivering these services. Arguably, any starting point should be to consider website loading time. When it comes to retaining user interest and engagement from the outset speed is of the essence. Site Navigation is another key lever, with the abiding three principles being to keep it simple, intuitive and relevant.

During an IMRG Usability Workshop earlier this month they focused on some of the most effective rich media elements eCommerce sites can feature to increase usability and boost conversion. These included perhaps more obvious techniques like lifestyle imagery and providing a zoom on images, along with alternative product images and incorporating social shopping and user ratings.

A website that was identified for special honours in interactivity was Philips for its simplicity and ease of use when making multiple product comparisons across their range of lines and models.

One rich media element that’s of rising interest and importance is video and interactive video. Apparel retailers such as ASOS already include a video catwalk to give a more realistic portrayal of customers’ potential fashion purchases. Certainly one of the newest and best examples of interactive video comes from across the pond courtesy of department store JCPenny. The launch of their interactive, fully-integrated, virtual runway show allows full 360 degree views of models in "head-to-toe" looks.

For eCommerce retailers starting to consider their site’s usability and how it might relate to their web analytics reports for bounce rate and shopping cart abandonment, Google Website optimizer offers free website and optimization tools replete with a/b and multivariate testing. More details can be found by visiting the official Website Optimiser site or see last month's post on retailer Shuh to read about it in action.

Overall, website usability still might be one of the last things to get embedded in the processes and working culture of some eCommerce retailers. More than ever though, appreciating your website from the end user's point of view is essential for delivering conversion, customer loyalty and satisfaction. It also embraces innovation with usability now driving some of the latest and best ideas and developments to be found on the net.