What constitutes usability best practice for e-commerce? In fact, what makes something/anything ‘best practice’?

I’m the first one to say that I regularly refer to ‘usability best practice’ and best practice is certainly a phrase used often enough by Econsultancy. I thought it would be worth starting a discussion on what you think when they hear this term, and what you feel justifies having the label ‘best practice’.

Or perhaps you feel it should just be banished from our industry!

How I have formed opinions on ‘usability best practice’

In the world of usability and user experience, particularly within the e-commerce sector, my opinions and recommendations on best practice have been formed through a variety of ways:

  • By working within the e-commerce usability field for over 12 years.
  • By facilitating a range of user testing sessions, particularly on retail websites.
  • By evaluating the user experience of both market leading and up and coming e-commerce websites.
  • By benchmarking retailers.
  • By planning and observing split and multi-variate e-commerce testing projects.
  • By observing what segmented web analytics data is saying about a sites performance.
  • By learning from my industry peers.

Of course all of this doesn’t mean that what I use as best practice will be the same as others who have similar or different experiences to myself, and I’m interested to find out how you form opinions on ‘what is best practice?’.

A few examples of e-commerce best practice

To get the ball rolling I thought I would provide a few examples of what I use as best practice tips and recommendations for retailers, along with providing a few links to relevant articles.

Navigation best practice

For retailers, particularly those that have large product sets, below are a few key best practice tips when it comes to product navigation:

  • Provide attribute filtering, or faceted navigation as we like to call it.
  • Provide a breadcrumb to clearer show where you are within a product catalogue.
  • Provide a prominent link back to the homepage.
  • Provide flyout navigation menus.

If you’re interested there is more information on attribute filtering for e-commerce, as well as insights from e-commerce user testing on what real users feel about large flyout navigation menus (see point two).

Shopping basket best practice

I have talked about this in quite a bit of detail on my post ‘Shopping basket best practice from ASOS’ and if you haven’t seen it I recommend you take a look. The comments provide additional insights, particularly from James Hart, e-commerce Director at ASOS.

Below is quick summary of some shopping basket best practice elements:

  • Only one prominent call to action, the proceed to checkout button.
  • Visibility and transparency of delivery options and standard costs.
  • Individual stock availability made clear.
  • Secure shopping emphasised.
  • Payment options available made clear.

Checkout best practice

The first time I wrote on here about checkout best practice was just over two years ago on a post titled ‘Are retailers following best practice to improve conversions?’ Over the last two years much more has been written and discussed when it comes to checkout best practice, not least with Econsultancy’s comprehensive ‘Checkout optimization guide’.

You might also be interested in reading my post on best practice tips for handling new customer checkout.

I’ll save my keyboard by not repeating lots of what has been written already on this subject, but one thing remains true at the time of writing – there are many retailers, big and small, who would benefit from adopting more of what I and others recommend as checkout best practice.

When insights from lab based user testing support best practice usability tips

There are two recent articles for homeware retailer Lakeland which provide an example of how insights from user testing supports what is put forward as usability best practice. The user testing article ‘9 women x 9 hours = 9 usability insights‘ was followed soon after with this article: ‘10 best practices from the new Lakeland website‘.

So what does ‘best practice’ mean to you?

The purpose of this post (which is pretty short compared to my usual efforts such as this one!) is to hopefully generate some debate & comments on the following questions:

  • What does usability best practice, in particular for retailers, means to you?
  • How do you form opinions on what constitutes best practice?
  • Do you agree or disagree with some of the best practice points I’ve put forward here?
  • How important is best practice in your particular field, irrespective of what this is?
  • Have I overdone the use of the phrase best practice in this post…?!