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No matter how many times I am involved in user testing sessions, I never stop learning about people's browsing habits and the different aspects of a company’s proposition that affect how people respond to a given website.

Recently we have carried out two days of user testing for a high street retailer, and although these aren’t groundbreaking, what follows are nine key online shopping insights that all nine women (there should have been 10 but we had a late no-show) who took part provided during the test sessions.

The women

It’s worth taking into consideration two aspects of the women's profile in order to demonstrate that the views they shared are based on experiences of a variety of household brand names.

  • Their age: 30-50
  • Where they shop online: John Lewis, Next, M&S, Ikea, Debenhams, ASOS, Argos.

Nine lessons

So here, in no particular order, are nine lessons (or more accurately customer insights) that were observed consistently during each of the test sessions.

1. Cost of delivery is a key factor that can make or break a sale

The women all had their own ideas of how much delivery should cost, what they would he happy to pay for delivery, and what standard of delivery service they would expect to receive for the price.

The test sessions demonstrated the key requirement for retailers to make their delivery costs transparent throughout the customer journey, so that visitors aren’t left frustrated by having a delivery cost suddenly applied in their shopping basket (or worse still during the checkout process).

An additional insight regarding delivery is the value in retailers providing free delivery when a customer spends over a certain amount. All women remarked that providing the threshold wasn’t unrealistic this would certainly encourage them to spend a bit more just to get free delivery. 

2. Online shoppers love big flyout navigation menus

When they first started being used by retailers, I recall some industry commentators remarked that the big flyout navigation menus were distracting, overwhelming and counter-intuitive to the browsing experience.

Personally I have seen occasions where the visual design of large flyout navigations menus can look too much. On saying this, when designed well, with good use of white space, clearly labeling category and sub-category headings, and not using underlines for all the links, big flyout menus are loved by shoppers.

Navigation menu 1

During the test sessions our clients flyout navigation menus were an integral part of the browsing experience and all women talked very positively about how useful they were, and I’m sure this will be the case with many of the other retailers who provide them.

3. A clear link back to the homepage is required

Although on almost all websites you can click the logo on any internal page to go back to the homepage, only two of the nine women who took part were actually aware of this (and one of these women works for one of the UK’s biggest home shopping businesses so she had experience of this on the e-commerce sites she is involved in).

This means that all retailers should provide a clear link to go back to their homepage. I usually recommend retailers use both a home symbol and the words ‘Home’ at the start of their site wide breadcrumb (providing the retailer provides this of course!).

A key factor in the importance of this is that for retailers who are personalising their homepages based on behavioral targeting from visitor’s past activity, they will increase the chances that visitors arriving on the homepage may well see many products that they are interested in.

As soon as they move away from the homepage to explore some of the products, without a clear way back to the homepage the much loved back button will see plenty of action during a browsing session!

4. Online shoppers love breadcrumb trails

Although breadcrumbs weren’t used as part of every browsing and shopping journey, especially on sites that have a large number of products with more than three levels of categorisation, a clearly defined breadcrumb trail is very well liked by shoppers.

Our client's breadcrumb trail served two clear purposes:

  1. making it clear which area of the site the user was in.
  2. providing a simple way to revisit a set of related products after determining that the product they are looking at isn’t suitable.

5. The ability to filter product ranges is expected

Only a few years ago attribute filtering (or multi-faceted navigation) wasn’t available on many of the big retail websites.

Fast forward to 2011 and shoppers simply expect filters which allow them to find products that match their requirements.

Filters 1

Whether this be by price range, product type or product feature, retailers who have extensive product ranges that don’t provide product filtering are most certainly missing a trick in providing their visitors with an intuitive and user-friendly browsing experience.

6. Big photos and clean page designs are well loved

Personally I have always been a fan of clean page designs where visual clutter and distractions are removed, and in all nine test sessions the women absolutely loved both the large images (while browsing and on the product page) as well as page designs that were clean, simple and well structured.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, some of these insights aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but as with all these nine insights there are still quite a few retailers who could provide their visitors with an improved customer experience by considering some of these.

7. Short video demonstrations for certain products are very valuable

As a generalisation, fashion retailers such as Topshop and ASOS were some of the first big retailers to introduce product videos on to their product pages, as a way of providing visitors with both greater levels of engagement as well as helping to sell products more affectively.

Of course video demonstrations aren’t suitable for all retailers, but in the case of one high street retailer, providing short videos of certain types of product was a key factor in helping users decide whether to make a purchase.

asos vid 2

From personal experience, product videos have been instrumental in helping my wife and I decide which washing machine and which pram to purchase over the last few months. A quick mention to retailers Kiddicare and Appliances Online on this, who both provide excellent product demonstrations through the use of video. 

8. Postcode look-up in checkout is now expected

As with filtered navigation, only a few years ago hardly any e-commerce sites I visited or was involved in provided a postcode look-up facility within the checkout process.

More and more retailers are now providing this facility for visitors, and the women taking part were each asked their opinions on this type of facility. Not only did they all feel it was a great time saver, all women now expected to see a postcode look-up facility.

A couple of quick points on this. If retailers don’t provide this facility this won’t mean visitors won’t complete your checkout, although in comparison to other e-commerce sites that the visitor may shop at your checkout may feel slightly more time consuming.

Finally retailers shouldn’t overlook the fact that many visitors may need to manually enter their address for a number of reasons, so this facility should be easy to locate and not require the visitor to first try entering a postcode.

9. First time shoppers are happy to create an account, but…

One key aspect of the customer experience that was covered during the test sessions was making a purchase as a first time customer. This included one of the crucial areas of new customer checkout – registration/account creation.

As with the likes of Speedo (read details of how Speedo handle new customer checkout), at the start of the checkout process this retailer doesn’t force new customers to register in order to make their purchase. Instead they simply ask visitors whether they would like to choose a password at the end (or on the order summary page) in order to create their account.

Below is a quick summary of insights gained from the women regarding registration/account creation during checkout:

  • The word registration conjures up expectations that they need to fill in lots of additional information.
  • Some shoppers like to know that they can create an account as part of their checkout (especially for retailers which have a wide range of products available).
  • Shoppers don’t like to be forced to register in order to checkout.
  • Simply asking shoppers to choose a password to set-up their account towards the end of checkout is a simple and well liked feature.
  • Wording such as ‘create an account to checkout faster next time’ isn’t enough to encourage shoppers to do this. Being able to track your order is another key benefit that is well liked.
  • Don’t place too many rules on the format of password that is required.

Summary

So these are nine of the general online shopping insights that I gained whilst facilitating the test sessions.

Going forward I will be interested to observe new browsing behaviour patterns and consumer insights, but this list certainly provides pretty band up-to-date insights which I hope have been of use to you.

Paul Rouke

Published 23 February, 2011 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

37 more posts from this author

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Paul Wright

A really interesting post. As you mentioned a lot of it is well known but this test just backs up those ideas. It was interesting to hear that only 2 out of the 9 women knew the logo was the home button.

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for your comment Paul. Like you I'm surprised about how many general consumers don't use the logo to go back to the homepage, but I suppose at the same time it's a good example of the saying 'you are not your user' which I use in usability & user experience training courses!

almost 6 years ago

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Alison

I published a short piece on this today, and you put this up about a minute later! Marketing and internet people find it really hard to believe that many people don't know about the logo-doubling-as-homepage rule - every time I do testing, I find exactly what you do.

almost 6 years ago

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Hassan Schroeder

Can you expand on point #8? For one thing, I've no idea what a "postcode look-up" is or why a user would need one.

And your comment that "many visitors may need to manually enter their address" -- *may* need to? How else is the user going to get something delivered, if not by providing their address? (Assuming a physical object is being purchased, of course.)

Other than that, a very interesting read that I'll be sharing with my clients!

almost 6 years ago

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Alison

Hassan, postcode lookup is where you can enter your postcode in a field and the site will complete most of your address details automatically without you needing to type it all in. You just have to select the correct house number.

Not all addresses will be found this way and the article is basically suggesting that best practice is to provide automatic lookup as an option. Some sites make you go through 'failure' before they let you input your address, which is pretty annoying.

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Alison, thanks for your comments. Perception of what general web users do and don't do on websites is a really fascinating area, and its why we always encourage our clients to observe test sessions live, or if this isn't feasible then certainly make time to watch the video recordings of them.

We also recommend the recordings are made available to employees throughout the business, not just those involved in online marketing. Enlightenment is the name of the game with this!

Oh and thanks for your feedback to Hassan, you beat me to it :-)

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Hassan, thanks for your comments and questions. On reflection I could easily have provided a screenshot for all 9 of the insights which would have certainly made point 8 a bit clearer!

Following on from Alison providing a very conscise summary of the postcode look-up feature, let us know if you have any further questions or comments.

almost 6 years ago

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Niina Talikka

This is a useful overview of research findings in to online shopping behaviour and it's great that you've included the womens profiles at the start of the article to show the scope of the research.

Based on the shops mentioned in the womens profiles, I'm assuming that the research was carried out in the UK which may help to clarify the question around point 8's postcode look-up insight. In the UK, postcodes are structured to contain a lot of information - often indicating a geographical location, district and street. Postcode look-ups can therefore pre-fill the city and street and give options for the house numbers that are within that postcode.

A postcode look-up in other countries may not be as helpful. For example in Australia a postcode look-up may only be able to provide a matching state and options for the suburb (town) because the 4-digit postcodes can be shared between multiple suburbs in a state.

almost 6 years ago

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David Bourke

Using a phrase like "clean page designs are well loved" or "visual clutter and distractions are removed" isn't particularly helpful to anyone I don't think. I know exactly what you mean and I agree with what you're saying but this is the sort of vocabulary non-designers use to describe visual design and its meaningless. 99 out of 100 people will choose "clean" over "dirty", "uncluttered" over "cluttered" but unless you're discussing extreme cases, no two will agree on whether a particular design fits their idea of "clean".

As a designer, I see this everyday. Those unfamiliar with design principles describing a design in terms of its "cleaness".

If you intend to critique design, how about some new words? Words like order, clarity, or uniformity, might help describe more specifically the aspects I think you're talking about.

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Niina, yes you're right to presume this was UK based user testing. Thanks for your additional insights which are extremely valid!

David, thanks for your comments. I'll deal with you once I've managed to get back from you putting me firmly in my place.. :-)

almost 6 years ago

Corrie Davidson

Corrie Davidson, Social Media Manager at Sisarina, Inc

Wow - loved this. Great insights - thanks so much! Nothing better than a practical user case study...

almost 6 years ago

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Hassan Schroeder

Thanks to all for the postcode-lookup clarification.

Here in the US everyone knows their 5-digit ZIP code -- which provides nothing like that level of granularity. There's a 9-digit version which does, but I doubt 1 in 100 people know what theirs is.

Maybe time for an education campaign! :-)

almost 6 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Great insights Paul. Interestingly I was talking to (well, interviewing...) a 21yr old girl just recently and the *only reason* she used, and was loyal to, ASOS, was nothing to do with all the funky stuff we hear about them (social media, community, magazines, video etc...), but simply because she found their filtering options the best/easiest.

For example, look at http://www.asos.com/Women/Dresses/Cat/pgecategory.aspx?cid=8799 - not only can you filter by the usual stuff (size, brand, price, colour) but there is a celebrity search filter and, just above the dresses themselves, a browse option to view by "occasion / scenario / type" (evening, party, work, petite). It was this filter in particular that my sample of one singled out as the reason she was loyal to ASOS.

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ashley, thanks for your comments. Yep ASOS are sure doing plenty right when it comes to customer experience! In case you missed it my last article was Shopping Basket best practice from ASOS (http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7106-asos-shopping-basket-best-practice) and last night I presented at the 1st Conversion Thursday Manchester with a presentation titled 'Increasing basket to checkout conversions: the ASOS way' (http://bit.ly/ASOSbsb).

And to think they've not even started their user-centred redesign on their actual checkout process yet! 2011 looks like they'll be going from strength to strength across the board..

almost 6 years ago

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Neale Gilhooley

Good article for all; as a male web user I agree with most of these comments too.

The sample size of 9 is a bit small but good for us to get remined or what real people think & feel as I would have guessed that 7 out of 9 would know to click the logo to go home, not the opther way around.

almost 6 years ago

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Scott

Great insights. Thanks for sharing. I agree about asos's great filter options - of course they have so many thousands of products that they really need this - so much better than sub, sub categories.
I also like the way they have a second set of breadcrumbs underneath the photos.
Interesting about the delivery costs / transparency. Would like to know if returns / returns policy came up in the discussion?

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Neale, thanks for your comments. As you have highlighted user testing can certainly help to dispel myths and mis-conceptions when it comes to understanding the behaviour of your average online browser/shopper.

Scott, thanks too for your comments. With regards returns, the importance of this and whether this was brought up by the users as part of their decision making process, on the site they were using returns information wasn't given much prominence at all on either the product page or basket.

This isn't to say that this is the right approach, and I would recommend retailers observe how ASOS make their returns policy (and the fact that returns are free which in itself is a strong part of their proposition) very much apart of both their product page and shopping basket design.

To summarise the more transparent retailers are when it comes to providing information on delivery options/costs, returns, security, stock availability and payment options, the greater chance they will have of encouraging a larger number of visitors to move through their product pages and basket and in to the checkout process.

Has this been of any use for you?

almost 6 years ago

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Scott

Hi Paul,
Thanks for coming back and replying. This was all very interesting. More and more I learn about fashion e-commerce it all seems to come back to "do what asos / amazon are doing"

almost 6 years ago

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James Chudley

Hi Paul,

Great article, I really enjoyed it.

I've been doing lots of usability testing with mums recently and the issue of reviews came up a lot. Mums wanted reviews from other mums and didn't pay much attention to the reviews provided by 'the website'.

This may not be gender specific but did you find anything interesting around reviews and use of social commerce in your research that was specific to women?

almost 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Hi James, thanks for your comments and question.

From our experience during user testing, whether it be males or females, when it comes to on-site reviews the expectation is very much that when rating and reviews are provided for products (be that physical or hotels/holidays etc) the users expect that these are from other customers rather than the actual retailer.

Interestingly there is still some sceptism that we see from a small % of users who don't tend to trust reviews, as they expect that the retailer will only choose to show the best ones, or even worse write them themselves!

As I say this is very much a small minority, with the majority of users finding reviews extremely useful and insightful in helping to inform their purchase decision.

Where retailers look to take rating and reviews further and allow the visitor to only show reviews from customers in a certain age range, gender or other relevant characteristic, this type of filtering can prove to be even more beneficial too.

On a final note, where retailers provide both customer reviews and faceted navigation, providing the ability for customers to filter products by star rating and other characterstics of the reviewer adds an even greater amount of relevancy to shoppers too.

Finally (!) retailers who also provide video demonstrations of some but not all of their products are encouraged by us to allow visitors to also filter out products which don't have product videos, particularly where videos prove to be a key feature which helps to sell the product.

Hopefully that has been of some use?

almost 6 years ago

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