December 8, 2010, 2:17 PM

The four principles of better web site usability

Testing makes perfect, says one design conference speaker.

Mark Brohan

Research Director

Lead Photo

Michael Summers, vice president, usability, GSI Commerce Inc.

As the main expert on usability for GSI Commerce Inc., which routinely designs e-commerce sites for some of the nation’s biggest retail brands, Michael Summers offers this advice for web merchants looking to enhance their key features and functions: Testing makes perfect.

 Summers, vice president of usability for GSI Commerce, who will speak at the Internet Retailer Web Design and Usability Conference 2011 in a session titled “Top usability mistakes that drive customers away—and how to avoid them” between 12:00 and 12:45 p.m. on Feb. 15, says web retailers can avoid key usability mistakes by adhering to a set of four best practices. They can also deliver solid usability results by revising and then repeating core design testing with a user group until the results are successful.

“Many web retailers still don’t understand how shoppers really want to use and navigate their web sites,” says Summers. “Many retailers design their sites based internally on what they think is important.”

The key to better usability begins with assembling a test group of motivated shoppers and then giving them a real challenge to perform such as finding the right product on a redesigned home or product page. Next retailers need to measure the results, refine the design process and keep testing until they get a successful outcome. “You need to watch carefully and measure how real people react to the new design, feature or function,” says Summers. “Once they are content you will have achieved a successful outcome.”

By following a core set of best practices and then repeating and revising the usability test until the design truly works, retailers also can see a big jump in sales and conversion rates, says Summers. “After a well thought-out and executed process, we’ve seen better site usability increase conversion rates by more than 20%,” he says.

Routine usability mistakes occur when retailers don’t truly understand and then react to how shoppers really want to use an e-commerce site. “Retailers should design for what shoppers want and not what they just think shoppers want,” says Summers.

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