Interface: when things go wrong

From the marketing blog One Degree, a great example of performance problems in action.

Carolyn Gardner asks Why Do 9 Out of 10 Consumers Abandon Transactions? To help answer, she reports that 90% of people responding to a survey reported some issue that caused them to abandon an online transaction.

frustration.jpgRecognize any of these?

  • 37% reported difficult navigation
  • 29% reported insufficient, incorrect or confusing information
  • 22% reported endless loops blocking transactions
  • 21% reported the search function not working properly
  • 20% were automatically kicked off the page

Here’s Gardner explaining the problem to her readers:

Let’s consider the keyword arrival of a consumer visiting an online store I’ll call Bikinis-R-Us. Now let’s pretend it’s someone searching for a red polka dot bikini.

Great–now apply this intent to find a red polka dot bikini to the walk-in arrival of a consumer visiting one of the Bikinis-R-Us brick and mortar locations.

In this scenario, it’s kind of like imagining someone walking in to a store with a post-it on their forehead reading “I want a red polka dot bikini.”

You can’t train your customers in the “right way” to use your site. You can, however, take a cue from people like Thomas Gilbert and consider the online transaction as a performance system.

You ask things like: do customers have the information they need when they need it?

Or, does the site provide the tools and incorporate the processes they need to find the product or service, learn the price or procedure, compare options?

One tool for getting there: develop some likely scenarios (“I want to buy a gift card.” “How much is shipping?” “I need a table for the landing, but it can’t be more than 16 inches wide.”) and have people who weren’t involved with the system try and work through them.

Doesn’t have to be full-blown usability testing. But it’s astounding what developers and managers can learn when they have to watch people grappling with some digital reality. As Maurice Hamoy of Inset Systems said,

It’s like watching a horror movie you’ve seen before….You know they’re heading for big trouble. You want to be able to yell at them, “No! No! Don’t go in there! You’ll never get out!”

Hamoy’s “big trouble” is actually an opportunity — but it doesn’t show up at the door saying that’s what it is.

Frustration screen image by Nick Bonadies.

2 thoughts on “Interface: when things go wrong

  1. We’ve been doing some small-scale usability testing to compare LMSs recently, and it has been very eye-opening. Even just watching one person go through the system can be helpful; it doesn’t have to be large scale testing. It’s definitely valuable information for us on which system we will use. It also lets us know about areas we’d like to change or customize and what aspects of the system will require training.

    I’ve watched people look at the calendar in Moodle when asked to find the due date for an assignment, and everyone clicks on the “Course Events” link in the legend. Makes sense, right? Except that actually hides the Course Events in the calendar widget, rather than opening a full calendar that shows them. There’s definitely an opportunity for improving the UI in that widget!

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