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This chapter is from the book

Costs of Poor Usability

Do you know how much poor usability costs? Most online stores know how much it costs to run the business. They even know how much money they save by creating more efficient, database-driven stores. But few recognize how much they lose in the long run if a website does not meet basic customer usability needs.

Poor Usability Cost Factor

What does poor usability cost the customer in time and frustration? Let's look at a couple of examples.

In the opening example, Charlotte attempted to find a common product on a website and spent 15 minutes before aborting the task. The same task on another website took her less than 60 seconds. The second site had been developed by applying customer-centered design principles and techniques revealed throughout this book.

Charlotte and other shoppers tested that day spent an average of 9.5 minutes on the same task on the first website and an average of 1.1 minutes on the second website. Multiply eight shoppers times 9.5 minutes, and you get a total of 76 minutes. Compare 76 minutes with 8.8 minutes total on the second website. Imagine the amount of time spent by 1,000 new customers shopping for the same item on the first website. Which site would you choose to shop?

But wait, there's more. When the shoppers were asked if they would be inclined to purchase from the first website, all said that they would not because of their unsuccessful experiences. They would, however, purchase from the second website—because it was easier.

The cost of poor usability is the total number of customers who attempt—and fail—to find a product on a website. It's also the cost of the item they failed to find and purchase, the missed opportunity for additional sales, and the lifetime value of the customer, which is discussed in Chapter 2.

Compounding Navigational Mistakes

Consider another example that illustrates how navigation mistakes compound. Web store navigation is a sequential process. Usually, there is only one correct way to successfully navigate—by clicking links—from the home page to the destination product page when searching for a known product. Each new page displayed in the process requires the shopper to make a correct choice and click to the next page in the sequence. Each page in the sequence invites a chance for an incorrect choice. The more pages in the sequence, the more chances there are for a shopper to make an incorrect click.

The problem compounds each step of the way, especially when shoppers unknowingly make several incorrect choices. This causes them to use trial and error methods until they are successful, are forced to start over at the home page, or just click to another store.

Take, for example, a navigation consisting of six sequential pages, starting at the home page with 24 links, page 2 with 17 links, page 3 with 12 links, page 4 with 17 links, page 5 with 36 links, and page 6, the destination product detail page. The total number of clicks is 106. If you compound that by three—the incorrect click, back-up click, then choose another click—there is a potential of 318 incorrect choices.

How many clicks do you think the shopper is willing to make before abandoning the shopping cart?

Customer Opportunity Costs

When a customer spends time searching a website for a known product, it takes up time he could spend doing something else. That "something else" is the opportunity cost. Time spent searching adds up. Collectively, unacceptable shopping experiences give online shopping a bad reputation.

A word of mouth endorsement is a powerful tool. A friend's opinion or recommendation carries more weight than traditional advertising. It can also be a detriment to your company when people have unsatisfying experiences with your website. They won't hesitate to let their friends or business acquaintances know when asked about good shopping websites.

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