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.


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.