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How well are the UK’s retail sites performing for smartphone users? 

In this post we examine five key insights from a report that was produced by usability testing 15 leading UK retail sites with real smartphone users. 

Optimising or delivering mobile UX?

As I was choosing which usability test clips (we ran 120 usability testing sessions) to share in this post I was reminded of a video that Google posted a few years ago that drew a parallel between the online and offline checkout experience.

Its purpose, I think, was to help retailers 'humanise' some of the problems that Google Analytics was reporting.

The video, in case you skipped it, shows a customer at a supermarket checkout struggling with the assistant who characterises a slow online checkout with a bad UX.

The video conveys, in a compelling and funny way a simple truth: people will leave a website if it’s too difficult to buy.

But, isn’t that obvious? Surely nobody would purposefully design a slow/poor checkout experience (unless RyanAir could make a swift pound from upgrading you to the fast/good one)?

Why, as digital professionals, do we need a video to show us this? 

I started asking myself similar questions as I was choosing which video clips to include in this post:   

  • Why can’t smartphone users zoom in to see what they’re buying?
  • How come search is so difficult?
  • Has anyone actually tried to get to, let alone click on, a link in the footer?
  • Don’t these leading UK retailers know of these problems?

Perhaps they do. And perhaps as they incrementally improve their sites these issues will be addressed (since websites are, of course, never finished),

Or are we too early in the lifecycle of mobile commerce for retailers to concern themselves with optimising UX?

It may be, as was recently explained to me by an ecommerce manager, enough that there is sales growth: “we’ll worry about optimising as the growth plateaus”.

As you consider the five key insights I’m sharing from the report, please think about your own organisation’s attitude to mobile UX. Where are you on the continuum of merely delivering (at one end) to optimising (at the other) mobile UX. 

How we did it

The research was conducted in January 2014 using the WhatUsersDo platform and jointly published with Practicology.

Smartphone users were set common shopping tasks (such as find a product, add to bag, checkout, look for returns information) across 15 high profile UK retailer sites.

These sites included Amazon, Argos, ASOS, Currys, Debenhams, House of Fraser, Fat Face, Goldsmiths, Ikea, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, New Look, Ted Baker, TopShop and Very.

Insight one: search usability

We found that many smartphone users shared the same expectations of site search, and that for some retailer sites (particularly Fat Face and TopShop) their experience of search was particularly poor.

We found:

  • Users expect type-ahead functionality on search fields.
  • Users expect to use search for both finding products and other on-site information e.g. returns, contact us.
  • Almost no users changed the way that the results of their search were displayed (such as switching from product image to product detail views). 

In this clip you can see one user struggling to even find the search box on TopMan. He eventually gets there after two minutes. 

 

Insight two: product image zooming

All users expected to zoom in on product images and we observed some particularly easy to use interactions (most notably on the Very site).

However, three sites were severely lacking and either did not support pinch and zoom or only provided a single product image. For fashion sites in particular surely this is a dead-cert conversion killer?

Who would buy a pair of shoes if you can’t really see them up close (see clip below)? 

Insight three: adding to basket

 There was a lot of user confusion when it came to adding an item to a basket (or shopping bag) with many users adding the same item more than once because they did not receive interaction feedback in a timely manner.

In the example below we can see one user becoming increasingly frustrated with the Fat Face add to bag (as they are forced to choose a colour swatch even when there is only one colour):

  

Insight four: omnichannel strategy vs real life contact us experience

When you work in usability there are times when it is best to shut up and listen to the users.

The following clip (where a user is working out how to phone John Lewis) is one of those times. 

 

Insight five: finding returns information 

We set users a task of locating the Returns Policy on each of the sites, since insight from other tests indicates that this is important for conversions.

As well as using the on-site search, users looked in both the main menu and then the footer for the Returns Policy.

We found that most sites did not provide a direct link and that returns was 'hidden away' in Help or Customer Services with some providing desktop only versions.

In the clip below we can see just how hard it is for this user to find returns information on the ASOS site.

 

What it all means

The table below outlines how well the 15 sites performed against the 11 different categories of interaction that users tested.

Mobile Usability Report

Nearly all of the sites have some way to go to optimise the smartphone experience for their users. Even Amazon performed poorly when it came to navigation and add to bag interaction.

However, there were many examples of emerging best practice, in particular the Argos and Currys’ sites performed particularly well (until Currys presented shoppers with a desktop checkout version).

If you'd like to see more from the report, which contains 12 recommendations to improve smartphone UX, it is is free to download here

Lee Duddell

Published 24 April, 2014 by Lee Duddell

Lee Duddell is Founder at WhatUsersDo and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook Airlines

Thanks Luke - Really Interesting.

Still find it quite baffling that such large, online orientated companies like Amazon still haven't got things like this nailed but then I look around our own industry and see how much of a mess most of the mobile sites on offer are and you get reminded that for some reason, it just doesn't seem to end up being a high enough priority!

about 2 years ago

Lee Duddell

Lee Duddell, Founder at WhatUsersDo

@Matt it's the killer question.

I wonder if the equivalent happened in-store (e.g. if for some reason you could only see the shoes on the shelf in front of you from a distance) if it would be tolerated then?

about 2 years ago

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Jack Josephy

Great article and thanks for sharing. Some great insights and similar to findings I have found whilst user testing TK Maxx.

One reason client's won't invest in mobile UX optimisation is that it is usually considerably lower traffic share. Also even with a well optimised mobile retail site you will see much lower conversion rates because most consumers would rather actually pay on a desktop. It's just a pattern behaviour alot of users have preference to. What is still important for mobile is a channel for customers to research products, so UX is still very important even if it can't be attributed directly to conversion.

almost 2 years ago

Lee Duddell

Lee Duddell, Founder at WhatUsersDo

@Jack good point that payment may well happen on a desktop.

Surely retailers "get" that even though users may not actually pay on a smartphone, it's as important to the shopping experience and final conversion as anything on their desktop sites?

In fact, you could argue that users do convert on smartphones. It's just that conversion is switching to another device to pay. Therefore benchmarking the same conversion metrics for smartphone and desktop is not useful. More work is needed to apportion attribution throughout the journey.

almost 2 years ago

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