Usability is a crucial element of the e-commerce shopping experience. Whatever your e-commerce solution your organization uses it should provide customers an intuitive user interface enabling effortless purchases of products.

What is usability?

Usability can be defined as a two-way concept. Firstly, as a qualitative concept measuring the easiness of use of certain interface, and secondly, as the entirety of the procedures used to enhance the interface’s easiness of use.  Usability expert Jakob Nielsen defines five usability components:

  • Learnability. How easy it is for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency. Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability. When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors. How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction. How pleasant it is to use the design?

Also, there is the key element of utility, which refers to the design’s functionality. Valuations of utility answer to the question: does the system do what users need?

In general we might say that usability is the golden mean between aesthetics and engineering. A perfectly usable system should be both visually appealing but also effective and informative. Problems usually arise when either one of these areas is emphasized too much over the other one.

User is king

The key for good usability is user-centric design which emphasizes the user and his/her goals and needs as the driving force around which the system must be adjusted.

The key is the task the user wants to perform and technology should aim to serve this goal, not the other way around.

A perfectly usable user-centric system follows the principles of naturalness, consistency, relevance, supportiveness and agility. These can be defined as follows:

Naturalness. A system with a good usability creates natural impression and speaks the language that is “natural” for the user. The system is well suited for the task at hand and can be learned quickly.

  • Consistency. The user does not have to remember different ways of doing similar things. The differences to other similar systems are clearly informed to users, and the same methods are always used to data input and output.
  • Relevancy. The same information is not asked twice. Only the bare minimum amount of information is required – the exact information which is necessary to perform the task at hand. The system does not present the user with information that is not relevant to the task at hand.
  • Supportiveness. The user should at all times be able to answer these questions: Where am I? How did I get here? What will happen next? Where can I go next? How will I get there?
  • Agility. The system can combine into itself the differences in user tastes and capabilities. In other words: the system is consistent for the use of every individual user and flexible for the demands of all the different user needs.

Shopping should be pleasant

Today consumers aren’t satisfied with sites that simply make it possible to shop; the experience must be pleasant. So aesthetics of e-commerce experience become as important as elements related purely to site’s functionality.

Good shopping experience is comprised of visually-appealing and usable website, intuitive ordering process, affordable and popular payments and delivery methods, and a good customer service.

According to Jacob Nielsen’s 2011 review of studies on e-commerce usability, e-commerce user experience has markedly improved since the early 2000s.

In-site search remains a sore point for many e-commerce sites, according to Nielsen. Consumers used to googling often demand far better search features than many sites are actually offering.

If a user does a search on an e-commerce site and does not immediately find what he or she wants, they often assume that the site doesn’t have the desired product.

Required registration might backfire

The benefits of acquired customer data may cause some online merchants to push aggressive registration requirements. In reality, visitors often leave ecommerce site without purchasing if registration is required.

Forrester has data, which states that when forced to register almost one-quarter leave the site without registering or purchasing, taking millions of dollars in potential revenue with them.

Hence, forcing customers to register might be doing your business more harm than good. Registration is useful for marketing, but it can also deflect some wary of providing any personal data.

The best solution is to make registration optional and the checkout process as easy and seamless as possible by letting customers sign up as guests.

Focus on mobile

Nowadays one part of good usability you should definitely not undermine is providing an excellent mobile shopping experience.

This can be done either by creating a separate version of the website for mobile browsers, developing native applications for the most popular smartphones, or just using responsive design.

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