Useful Lessons in Website Usability

Feb 10, 2009 9:20 PM  By

It’s no secret that the 2008 holiday shopping season wasn’t great for online retailers. Traffic, conversions and sales were down across the board. But what may be surprising to some is that the economy may not be the only factor to blame.

A recent survey conducted by Guidance and Synovate found that 36% of online shoppers ran into roadblocks while buying gifts. The roadblocks included factors such as slow load times, problems with or inability to check out, system crashes and more. Things a Website usability check-up could have solved before they ever became a problem.

But even after the dismal holiday sales season, are some retailers still neglecting to improve their Website’s usability?

Let’s take a look at three popular online shopping sites: Amazon.com, Overstock.com and Shopping.Yahoo.com.

Amazon: Navigating to success
When consumers visit Amazon.com, they are greeted by an intuitive navigation that helps them quickly and easily search for products. The design presents color, type, imagery and layout consistently in an easy-to-read, engaging format.

A quick registration with the site leads to short forms for shipping and payment information. The forms do not ask for an excessive amount of information, and the entire checkout procedure appears customer friendly, quick and easy.

Overstock.com: Communication made easy
On the Overstock.com home page, visitors’ eyes are attracted to the prominently displayed search bar, offering an easy-to-use navigation tool. And every page on the Overstock Website prominently displays the search bar along with the Overstock logo, maintaining consistency while presenting content in an appealing format.

A click-to-chat button provides shoppers with a quick and easy way to communicate with Overstock.com about a single item. While the shopping cart section appears a bit crowded with additional products, credit card offers, payment options and more, the online checkout forms are quick and easy—helping to avoid shopping cart abandonment.

Shopping.Yahoo.com: A redirecting nightmare
At first glance, the Shopping.Yahoo.com Website appears to be on par with its major competitors. A large search bar is found at the top of the homepage, appearing to easily redirect shoppers where they want to go. But any similarities end there.

The search results serve up several paid-search listings redirecting visitors to another retailer’s Website–where they have to start the search all over. While the natural listings do redirect shoppers to a specific landing page, overall, the product organization and navigation is poor. This may confuse shoppers–leaving them to look elsewhere for a product.

Website usability is extremely important for turning clicks into cold hard cash. Take a look at your Website navigation, design and checkout procedures.

Is it easy to navigate your site, or are shoppers lost and confused? Does your checkout enable sales, or impede them? Take a cue from Amazon.com and Overstock.com, and make good Website usability an important focus for 2009.

Lisa Wehr is CEO/founder of digital marketing agency Oneupweb.