SciVisum Study Reveals Regional Shopping Habits Chasm, with North the most prone to ‘web rage’

Thursday 10 July, 2006 – Three quarters of Brits now shop online, but “web rage” is threatening the UK’s online economy. 78 per cent of online shoppers complained that frustration with website performance has led them to turn off their computer. One in three online shoppers refuse to give even their favourite website more than a second chance, before trying out the competition or turning back to the high street.

A striking chasm has been revealed in online shopping habits between consumers living in different regions, but surprisingly, it is not an archetypal North-South divide. Northerners were found to be most prone to “web rage” – but are also the biggest online splurgers, buy the most extraordinary items, and are the most willing to buy cars and houses online.

Conversely, while the most forgiving consumers live in the South, they also spent the least online, and were the most conservative shoppers and cautious spenders.

These are the key findings of the Regional eCommerce study undertaken across the UK by web testing specialist SciVisum. The study confirmed the ubiquity of eCommerce in the mass market, but warned eTailers to move quickly to improve the shopping experience for online customers - or risk alienating them irrevocably.

Web rage
The study revealed a high proportion of “web rage” among online shoppers. UK shoppers are increasingly intolerant of poor performance, with 78 per cent of online shoppers complaining that frustration with website performance has led them to turn off the computer. Just over half (57 per cent) said that their main reason for shopping online was the speed of shopping on the Internet. Less than half would forgive their favourite site more than twice, before trying out the competition or turning back to the high street.

The most common factor cited as causing web rage among more than half of online shoppers (54 per cent) is the inability to ask questions by telephone. Other irritations include the technical performance of specific user journeys, with just under half saying website crashes during a transaction are one of their biggest gripes (47 per cent). Usability issues also rank among the top contenders for causing web rage with complicated registration processes (47 per cent) the inability to find information (46 per cent) and amend orders (45 per cent) all being named as major annoyances.

Northerners were found to be most prone to “web rage”. Online shoppers living in the North-East and Scotland are the least tolerant of poor performance. Almost a quarter declared they would never return to their favourite site again if performance was bad, versus an average of 6 per cent elsewhere.

Despite two thirds of Southerners citing speed of Internet purchases as their main reason for shopping online, they were also the most tolerant of poor performance. The most forgiving consumers live in the South East, where 59 per cent would forgive their favourite site more than five times, compared with an average of 34 per cent nationwide.

“Web rage is a burgeoning online phenomenon,” said Deri Jones, CEO, SciVisum. “With less than half of online shoppers prepared to give their favourite website more than two chances to get it right, the message to eTailers is very clear. Online shoppers are showing zero tolerance to poor performance – and eTailers must follow this lead if they’re to avoid losing their customers to competitors or the high street.”

Who’s spending the most?
Nearly three quarters of UK shoppers are now shopping online, with an average spend of £89 per month. One in ten UK consumers confessed they would splurge £5,000 or more on a single purchase. One in twenty are purchasing their cars or houses online.

Overall, Northerners were the biggest online spenders. Consumers living in the North-East had the highest majority spend each month. Meanwhile the biggest spenders were found to be those in the North West. Almost one in five North Westerners admitted they would splash out £5,000 or more on a single purchase, closely followed by Scots and Londoners. However, their counterparts in the South West and South East said they absolutely never would.

Unexpectedly, central London had the fewest online shoppers, with almost half an never shopping online (49.5 per cent) – versus only a quarter (26 per cent) across the rest of the UK.

What are they buying?
Only those in the North West, Scotland and London were willing to buy houses online, with people living in the North West region twice as likely to buy houses online than anywhere else in the UK: one in ten North Westerners claimed to buy houses online. The Scots are most likely to buy cars, with 14 per cent buying them online.

The North East was the only region where books and CDs were not the most popular items bought: instead it’s clothes (63 per cent) that are most likely to get shoppers entering their credit card details. Midlanders, North Easterners, and Londoners were most likely to buy their groceries online, with a third buying them online. The Midlands showed the highest uptake of financial services, with over a quarter (28 per cent) buying them online.

When asked about their most bizarre purchase, Scots were found to buy the most extraordinary items online, admitting to purchasing an absinthe-making kit, a fat suit and an ant farm. Those in the South West made pragmatic purchases such as hub caps, boxing gloves, and a children’s swing; whereas those in the South East confessed to a penchant for luxury items such as silk pyjamas, opera tickets and vintage champagne.

Based on the findings, SciVisum made a number of broad recommendations for e-tailers to improve their performance:

1. Simple uptime/downtime monitoring of your home page and/or a few main pages simply won't reveal how the shopping transactions are behaving - 24/7 functional monitoring, running multi-page User Journeys that mimic real users' product finding and purchasing transactions on-line is what is required. Ensure that these KPI metrics are measured throughout.

For the eCommerce engineers:
2. Review key transactions such as the 'add to cart' function of your website - to ensure that the server and database load is kept to a minimum. Firstly watch out for HTTP 'POST' data bloat, so that only essential variables are passed within it, such as the product part number; and secondly avoid adding or changing cookies and sessionIDs during the crucial later stages of the purchase process.

3. Analyse web systems for 'database locking' type flaws, (e.g. is there is a limit on how many users can concurrently add a database line representing their purchases) which can confusingly produce errors at load levels well below the capacity of the server hardware, which makes it hard for the IT team to identify the problem.

4. Be aware that although 'add to cart' functions may perform well in 'once off' or 'normal use' testing, only simulated-user load/stress testing of the functionality will expose underlying problems that cause more sporadic failures; even 1% failure during busy periods is 10 times higher than 99.9% Service Level Agreement requires.

5. Whether managed in-house or out-sourced, your web site is likely evolving and changing all the time, to respond to marketing demands, and to add to capacity and performance. These changes often cause inadvertent decline in user experience and transactional effectiveness. Thus the IT and marketing team managers should agree an ongoing program of testing and monitoring, to allow evidence-based decision making on future upgrades; the test regime should include 24/7 functional monitoring, regular stress tests, perhaps twice-yearly, and ad hoc trouble-shooting audits say yearly to ensure the overall design and infrastructure is not losing its edge.

SciVisum surveyed 1000 people between the ages of 18 and 60 at mainland stations across the UK in April 2006. Questions examined buying and spending habits; frequency of online shopping; attitudes to online shopping; and attitudes to online delivery and customer service.

The SciVisum eCommerce Regional Rift 2006 management report with full details of the findings, issues raised and recommendations for retail companies can be requested from:

About SciVisum
SciVisum is a UK based web site testing specialist, helping clients to reduce lost sales online by identifying where and when user experience suffers.

The services provide vital data not available by web-analytics or other web monitoring:

* when invisible errors impact users but are invisible to the in-house teams
* when wrong or missing page content forces users to abandon their purchase journeys
* what % of marketing campaign traffic is lost due to under-capacity in one or more vital steps such as 'add to basket' or 'checkout' pages.

The company's services measure the performance and functionality of client's business-critical on-line systems. Using the multi-page User Journeys approach to measurement, SciVisum's metrics provide real time KPIs and act as a common language between the business and marketing teams who work daily with journey concepts of Add-to-Basket, Checkout, Register, pay-online, login and etc; and the web technical teams who need precise input as to which step of which journey is under-performing, when and how, in order for them to most effectively apply technical resources to close the problem gaps.

Through SciVisum's testing and recommendations, clients are able to substantially increase visitor rates and customer satisfaction levels by achieving gains in key journey delivery times, increasing ability to handle peak load levels, and reducing sporadic but user-numbing error rates of 1 to 5% that most sites un-wittingly force on their users.

Clients come from a wide range of sectors and include Cameron McKenna, Boden, T-Mobile, Shell, British Library, Hertfordshire Council, Scottish & Southern Energy, The Stationery Office, National Savings and Investment Bank and uSwitch.

Test deliverables include: Load testing /Stress testing: SV-Load; 24/7 functional monitoring of complex multi-page User Journeys: SV-Monitor; Accessibility testing to the WAI guidelines: SV-Access; Functionality & troubleshooting audits and consultancy: SV-Function.

Media contact:
Emma Ballard/Sarra Mander
Rainier PR
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7494 6570

Published on: 12:00AM on 10th July 2006