IRCE Digital Design Conference – it’s always been one of my favorite shows – full of great sessions conducted by experts in the field, a good set of exhibitors offering all sorts of solutions, and consultations – all geared towards design and usability. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that they always manage to pick a sunny location each year – does wonders for a northeasterner like me!
Our FitForCommerce team was staying busy; talking to retailers at our booth and participating in design consultations. I was happy to represent FitForCommerce once again for the Design Consultations offered to attendees at the show. Two packed days with all sorts of retailers of different backgrounds, different verticals, and sizes, looking for ways to improve the customer experience. Reviewing over fifteen sites in two days is enough to make your head spin by the end, but I love it. Where else can you connect with so many different people and companies, review their website, and offer suggestions in such a short span?
While most retailers were doing a lot of great things online, such as personalization (register for our webinar), great merchandising of products throughout the experience and well thought-out cart and checkout pages, it was surprising to see how many didn’t have user testing baked into their strategy. I had a good mix of retailers either ready to launch a redesign, just recently launched a new design, or conducted a refresh of critical pages on their site – and only one conducted or planned on conducting user testing. One of my consultations had recently (a few months back) redesigned a product page for an important category of theirs and conversion dropped by half for that product type – and they were completely unsure what was going on. I tried to point out potential usability issues, but there is no substitute for comprehensive user testing. If only they had conducted usability testing, it would’ve paid for itself tenfold by now. Steve Krug, an expert in usability testing, put it best: “sitting someone down and having them use what you’re building while you watch is the best way to ensure that it will actually be usable.” I couldn’t stress this enough in all my consultations – launching a new design without conducting even a basic user test is just plain risky!
I get it, timelines are always tight and budgets even tighter but I guarantee you, it’s much cheaper to conduct usability tests and fix issues before your site goes live. Not only will you and your team look bad if you launch a new site that performs poorly, but your bottom line suffers as well. Oh, and if the design agency or ecommerce platform provider that is re-launching your site hasn’t even thought to bake in some user tests before launch, then I suggest you run the other way (and fast). Now that I got the whole “user testing is a must before launching a new design” out of the way, I think it’s only right to discuss the importance of how user testing should be part of your culture. The whole “one and done” when it comes to conducting usability tests is silly. Your site changes all the time, and as you add new page types, content, and new features, it only makes sense to test those changes as much as possible.
The perception many have is that it takes a lot of time, resources, money, and planning to conduct user testing. Yes, that can be the case for certain user testing (eye tracking, for example), but many usability tests are simple in nature and don’t require a lot to complete. Take, for example, my favorite type of test, the 1-on-1 walkthrough using the think-aloud protocol. This test is great as you only need a handful of users, basic equipment, and a day to complete testing. I bet the findings from this test will surprise everyone on your team (there has yet to be a usability test that I have conducted that has not surprised me, one way or another). Card sorting is another useful method that doesn’t need a large budget to complete, while producing valuable results on how to help structure your product taxonomy. Some of these could even be conducted virtually, although face-to-face does have many advantages. If you don’t have the resources to do it in-house, which I know many don’t, hire outside help and have them come in and advise you on what to test, how to test, and even come up with a multi-plan testing strategy for the year.
The point I am trying to make here is that conducting usability tests doesn’t have to be hard or extremely expensive, and it should always be part of you businesses culture. Like most things in life, the more you conduct these studies, the easier they become, and the more you learn what not to do for future designs. Don’t let it become an afterthought because the customer experience and your bottom line will pay the price.
Written by: Sevag Parsehian, Program Manager & Sr. Consultant
3 Hot Tips:
Keep User Fatigue in Mind: Try to keep your test plan short – don’t stuff all potential use cases, as user fatigue can set in and diminish the quality of your results.
Stay Fluid: Be ready to change your test plan as you see how users react to the tasks given them. It’s normal to update your test plan multiple times if you see certain parts confusing or not resulting in useful information.
Don’t Forget Mobile: It only makes sense to test your smartphone and tablet sites as much as your desktop sites. Chances are your mobile sites will have more issues than your desktop site. Provide the user with a phone and tablet during the test.