August 23, 2007, 12:00 AM

Retail site design not excelling at usability, a Forrester review finds

In a recent review of 16 retail sites, Forrester Research gave only one a passing grade. Sites were tested against 25 specific criteria, including the location of content required to complete a task.

What design elements constitute a good experience for site visitors from a usability perspective? Forrester Research Inc.’s web site review methodology calls out 25 specific criteria ranging from the location of content essential to accomplishing a task to page layout, and in a recent review of 16 B2C web sites, gave only one a passing grade.

That was Dell.com, one of four PC manufacturer sites reviewed. The other sites in Forrester’s study report, “The Best and Worst of B2C Site Design 2007,” included four consumer electronics retailers as well as sites for credit card issuers and wireless providers. The criteria assessed four aspects of usability in site design: value, navigation, presentation and trust. Out of a range of possible scores ranging from -50 to +50, based on how well it fared in each of the 25 criteria, Dell.com got a +29.

But with the average score across all sites reviewed only a +7, the review found flaws in every category and across all of the sites studied. Forrester found that in general, electronics retailers had the highest average score at +10.8, while sites for credit card providers trailed with an average score of +2.3. The lowest score in retail, a +8, was also the highest score achieved by any card issuer reviewed.

Forrester found that failure to meet criteria relating to value clustered around essential content that was either missing from or not easily found on pages. Navigation was plagued by inefficient task flow and unclear menu choices, while illegible text was a major problem in the presentation category. Erratic performance and missing privacy policies were a reason many sites scored poorly under criteria relating to trust.

To address these issues Forrester advises identifying the site’s target users and then adjusting the site experience to their needs. “Site managers should start by testing user scenarios that are most important to driving business results,” notes the report.

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