June 3, 2002, 12:00 AM

Web site usability improves, showing 49% compliance with guidelines

L.L. Bean is the top-rated retail site, complying with 66% of usability guidelines, according to the San Francisco-based Nielsen Norman Group.

There may be fewer e-commerce sites today than two years ago, but survivors and new entrants are easier to use than ever before, according to new research from the San Francisco-based Nielsen Norman Group. E-commerce sites it recently reviewed followed an average 49% of its usability guidelines versus 45% in a study conducted two years ago.

The top areas of improvement in 2002 from 2000 showed increases in usability compliance ranging from 15% to 23%. Among them was a 23% increase in compliance with guidelines on presenting product options on product pages – for example, putting all the options on one page and allowing shoppers to select options before adding them to their cart. There also was a 23% increase in compliance with guidelines on using a standard, simplified search style – for example, using one input box with one button, and lining to advanced search. The sites surveyed showed a 17% increase in compliance with guidelines on the design of forms and registration-for example, asking only for data that is truly necessary and explaining its use.

"Web site usability is definitely getting better, and if we continue at this rate for the next 15 years, we’ll reach full compliance with all the usability guidelines," says Jakob Nielsen, principal. The ongoing study reviewed the usability of 15 sites across a number of industries and included a review in both years of retail sites such as Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean, Office Depot and Wal-Mart. The highest-scoring site this year was L.L. Bean, which complied with 66% of the group’s usability guidelines.

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