July 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

User errors lead to dead ends at half of sites reviewed, Forrester says

49% of sites checked by Forrester don’t show visitors an easy way to correct their own errors. They’re losing out on conversions and self-service cost savings.

Sites that don’t help visitors by providing an easy way to fix errors lose out on several fronts, according to the first of a new series of reports by Forrester Research Inc. on best practices for designing site reliability. Not only are they losing potential sales, but they’re also missing opportunities to save costs through online self-service, Forrester says.

49% of sites checked by Forrester offered no provisions for helping online customers correct errors that they made while attempting to complete tasks such as completing a form. Yet helping customers correct errors instead of leaving them at a dead end can boost conversion rates. Forrester reports that when Staples.com, for example, moved the display of error messages to the page where corrections were needed instead of to a different page of the site, the drop-off rate in its registration area decreased by 73%.

Effective error-handling on consumer sites provides detail on error messages, telling customers what the problem is as well as showing them how to correct the error, according to Forrester. Site design also should allow visitors to correct errors quickly and in the context of the task they are attempting to compete. Forrester reports that car rental site Alamo.com, for example, shows an error message right above the field that has an incorrectly-entered date in it and opens a calendar window to let help users enter correct dates.


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