3 Usability Issues With Our Online Store Website That Were Uncovered By A Clueless Customer

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Even though we’ve been running our online store with the same basic layout for a few years now, I’m continually amazed by how often I find problems with our website and how often I have to make subtle tweaks to improve conversions.

I’ve also come to the realization that I’m pretty lousy at predicting human behavior and anticipating how customers will interact with our user interface.

Photo By javYliz

In any case, the issues that I’m about to describe aren’t necessarily “bugs” per se but website usability issues that we discovered from talking to our customers directly.

9 times out of 10, a customer gets confused navigating through our online store because I’ve made certain assumptions about the way a user should interact with our site.

I’ve made certain assumptions about how clear the instructions are written and how tech savvy the internet user is.

And you know what? I’ve found that whenever I “assume”, it makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me” (One of my professors used to say this to me all the time).

Now I’ll be the first one to admit that I have blinders are on when it comes to critiquing my own online store. The problem when you design your own website is that you often overlook obvious mistakes because you are too familiar with your own design.

Of course you can ask your friends to provide their opinion as well, but most likely your friends won’t be an exact representation of your customer base either.

For example, all of my friends are pretty web savvy so they can usually navigate through any decently implemented website. The other problem is that your friends might be too polite to tell you how they truly feel.

In all cases, the best way to get the proper feedback is straight from the customer’s mouth which is why I take all customer feedback extremely seriously.

Whenever a customer even hints at a usability issue with our site, I take a very close look and make changes where appropriate. Here are a few tweaks that I made because of a single customer call we received last week.

You can be the judge about whether these problems were worth fixing.

Default Radio Button Selection During Payment

This particular customer called us because she could not figure out how to get past the payment screen during checkout. Here’s a snapshot of our website for the purposes of illustration. Can you tell what’s wrong with this picture?

What happened was that this customer entered in all of her credit card information, but then forgot to hit the radio button to indicate that she was paying by credit card.

As a result, she kept getting the message “Please select from one of the following payment options” but couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong.

Now most users who are even remotely web savvy would figure this out eventually and click on the “Pay By Credit Card” radio button. But the problem is that you have to design your website for the lowest common denominator.

And more often than not, this includes people who don’t think like you, people who may be used to doing things in a different way, and people who are just plain clueless. In any case, as soon as she told me her problem, I was able to help her make it past the payment page.

Now I’m a firm believer that if a single customer reports a usability problem with my website, then chances are there are many others out there who are experiencing the same problem without you even knowing.

So, I placed a piece of Google Analytics code on my store to track how many times people got the “Please select from one of the following payment options” error message for a period of 3 days. Turns out that over 40% of customers received this error message!!

The results indicated that my payment radio buttons were a clear usability problem with my website. So ultimately, I made a change to have the “Pay By Credit Card” radio button selected by default because paying by credit card is the most common payment method for our store.

Confirm Button Not Obvious Enough

Unfortunately, the troubles with this particular customer were not over. After making it past the payment page to the “confirmation” page, she simply abandoned her shopping cart and didn’t complete her purchase.

After having just spoken to this customer on the phone, I knew that she wanted to buy so I was puzzled as to why she left without finishing the transaction.

So, I gave her a phone call to find out why. Turns out that she thought that she had already completed her order after entering in her credit card information.

Now if you do a fair amount of shopping online, the way most shopping carts work is that after entering in your payment information, you are directed to a confirmation screen where you can verify your shipping address, your billing address and your shopping cart contents before you actually put the transaction through and pay.

This lady wasn’t aware that she actually had to click another button to complete her order so she simply left! After walking her through the ordering process over the phone, I decided to revisit my checkout process entirely and here’s what I changed.

First off, I duplicated the “checkout timeline” graphic so that it was present at the top and bottom of the page. This timeline informs customers exactly where they are in the checkout process.

In addition, I decided to make the “confirm” button a little more prominent so it would be less likely to be missed. Hopefully, these 2 changes will prevent other customers from having the same problems.

The Drama Wasn’t Over Yet

After finally processing her order, I thought that the worst was over. In fact, we shipped out her order immediately and 3 weeks passed so I thought everything was all good. But then she called to complain that she never received her order. Once again, I was puzzled.

And it was only after confirming her address over the phone did I notice a major flaw in our shopping cart. It turns out that the address field in our checkout form was not long enough to hold her entire address correctly because her address was abnormally long.

In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen someone try to cram so much information into the address field ever! The upshot was that there wasn’t enough room to include the suite number for her building so a few digits got cut off at the end of her address.

Once that issue was resolved, I made a change to the shopping cart to allow unlimited characters in the address!

The Bugs Never End

We’ve been using the same shopping cart design for a few years now and we still find small issues all the time. It just goes to show that you need to be constantly aware of usability issues with your shopping cart and nip them in the bud as soon as they are discovered.

Make sure you listen to your customers because they are ones paying the bills.

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18 thoughts on “3 Usability Issues With Our Online Store Website That Were Uncovered By A Clueless Customer”

  1. Lynn says:

    Good suggestions! May I also add that, in your first example, moving the radio buttons to the immediate LEFT of the options will make them much more noticeable. ALSO, the wording on the form uses both “checknumber” and “verification number”. Assuming these are one and the same, it would be best to stick with one term to avoid further confusion.

    1. @Lynn

      Those are both excellent suggestions. I think I will rewrite the verbiage for the CVV number to make it more clear but I haven’t had any issues with that particular field of the form. As for the radio buttons, my last change seems to have fixed the problem. Thanks for the help!

  2. Thanks for the post and the candid insight on negotiating this “issue” – I’ve already begun to think of assumptions I’ve made with my ideal clients.

    I absolutely agree that we should, as you’ve put it, continuously “listen” to our customers. With this particular incident, what will you change in your measurement and/or testing processes to insure that you’ve “heard” critical issues?

    1. @Marbey
      Actually, one of my readers pointed me to http://www.clicktale.com which is a service that allows you to record the actions of your customers. It’s a bit pricey but I’m probably going to give it a trial run. Check it out.

  3. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for sharing this personal experience! So many businesses underestimate the difficulties their customers can have online. You’re right that we’re often too engrained in our systems to be able to objectively “see” where things might go wrong. Your post shows the importance of digging into your site, scouring your data and taking customer complaints seriously. This is crucial in e-commerce, but also applies in general to any experience customers may be having on your website. I’ll never forget teaching my Mom to use Facebook. It was absolutely fascinating to see where she struggled and what she couldn’t figure out.

  4. Dr. Q says:

    «I made a change to the shopping cart to allow unlimited characters in the address!»

    So, in theory, someone could encode a Blu-Ray of some movie and paste it on that “infinite size” addres field.

    I don’t think your database would like that very much.

    1. @Dr.Q
      Good point. I dialed it down to 256 bytes…

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  6. You’re lucky that you managed to get her on the phone and she was patient enough to go through all her issues with you. Sometimes it takes such a customer for you to be able to see where the problems lie with your usability. Like you said, asking people for feedback may not sometimes unearth any issues due to either politeness or them being web-savvy enough.

  7. Jonny says:

    Should try using http://www.clicktale.com – to record visitor sessions and analyze customer behavior. A simple search of visitors abandoning on the payment page would show you everything you need to know much faster than waiting for one of them to call in. You’re probably still missing loads of other usability problems.

  8. Al says:

    That the change you made to the first example seems to be working functionally, my recommendation is more stylistic. In addition to what Lynn offered about the first example, consider grammatical style. Parallel structure adds credibility and clarity to your writing. For example, ‘Al likes hiking, attending the mini-course, and taking naps.’ is much clearer than ‘Al likes hiking, the mini-course, and to take naps.’ I see the same structure can be applied to your site. If you include the details of credit card info under that radio button, to have parallel structure would entail including the details for your other payment options as well. Or, more simply, what I’d recommend is simply hiding the credit card payment details from being displayed until the customer selects the credit card radio button. This way, the page would have three option lines and three radio buttons, multiple-choice-like and parallel-structured in style.

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