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.
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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