According to the report E-commerce in Poland 2022, compiled by Gemius in cooperation with Polish Internet Research and IAB Poland, the percentage of internet users who declare that they buy online is currently 77%.
PwC, in turn, forecasts that the value of the e-commerce market in Poland will reach PLN 187bn in 2027, which means an increase of PLN 94bn over the years 2021-27. PwC analysts point to several growth factors and phenomena that we are already facing or will face in the coming years. Among them, they mention new technologies – the continuous emergence of innovations in terms of building better shopping experiences for customers, and a further generational change: digital natives, for whom online shopping is a natural activity, will have a greater share of overall consumption.
The phenomena and trends observed will influence how online shops will be designed: online shop owners wishing to follow the needs of the market will develop their shops with new functionalities or processes, for example, new payment methods, and listen more and more closely to the needs and expectations of the digital natives. And what is the perspective of the e-commerce end customer at the moment?
Through the eyes of the customer: what bothers online shop users the most?
It turns out that the user experience is not always pleasant, the shopping process does not always run smoothly and as expected, and the path to finalising the purchase can be bumpy.
The authors of the study, the results of which are presented in the report E-commerce in Poland 2022, asked users who have ever shopped online on a mobile device to indicate the situations they encountered while shopping.
The results of the study show that 34% of users encountered inconvenient forms. In second place was the unsuitability of shopping pages for mobile devices, with 30% of users indicating this problem. 23% cited the pain of letters being too small. 22% declared problems with making payments, while 15% encountered an inconvenient payment method. One in five mobile shoppers cited the inconvenience of not having a mobile app. 19% complain about the excessive number of steps/operations that need to be performed when shopping.
Some pain points are indicated more frequently by specific groups of e-consumers. People in their fifties are more likely to indicate that letters are too small. The youngest people are more likely to complain about the lack of a mobile app and the inconvenient payment process – and let us recall that it is the expectations of the youngest group that will play an increasingly important role.
So, what can you do to make customers love your shop?
The same Gemius study shows that 35% of e-consumers choose a particular online shop because of previous positive experiences. Without a good User Experience and Customer Experience, you will neither attract nor keep customers with you.
It therefore makes sense to focus on developing an excellent User and Customer Experience. How do you go about this? How do you make the shopping experience in your online shop a pleasant and smooth one? What can you do to ensure that the above problems never happen to your customers? How do you create a satisfying user experience and thus increase conversion to sales?
The best way, instead of doing it blindly, is to carry out research or analysis and base further actions on the concrete data and recommendations gained from it.
UX research in e-commerce: a range of methods
There are a number of research methods used in the context of e-commerce that will allow you to design, build, develop, and improve your online shop, and ultimately help you bite the biggest piece of the market pie in your industry.
Usability testing, usability auditing, service safari, card sorting, tree testing, web analytics – the range of methods at our disposal is vast, and each will be applicable in specific circumstances or at a different stage of your shop’s development.
I wrote about the application of some of these methods in my article UX research in e-commerce – which method will work best for you? Customers who need a comprehensive diagnosis of their online shop would like to check whether their shop complies with current good practices and design standards and, consequently, whether it will provide an excellent user experience, often choose a usability audit.
What is a usability audit?
A usability audit is otherwise known as an expert assessment of your online shop. The audit is designed to check the usability of a shopping app or online shop and its compliance with good user experience design practices, otherwise known as heuristics. An experienced expert goes through the same processes and tasks in the service or app that a user would normally perform and assesses the online shop’s compliance with the heuristics.
The expert tests for both usability-enhancing solutions and bugs or aspects that need improvement. Of course, he follows a systematic approach and a defined procedure. A usability audit includes a cognitive transition and a heuristic transition.
The cognitive walkthrough is a review of the key paths and processes of a website or application. In the case of e-commerce, this will primarily be the purchasing process, but also other processes, e.g. account creation or the return process. The expert simulates a visit to an online shop, attempting to complete these processes, and notes any interface errors or difficulties encountered along the way.
A heuristic walkthrough is an assessment of whether a shopping website or application complies with so-called heuristics, i.e. a set of good interface design practices, which I describe further on. As a result of the audit, you receive from the expert a comprehensive list of errors or imperfections in the system that have been caught, along with recommendations on how to improve them.
What are Nielsen’s heuristics?
In the early 1990s, Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich, world-renowned usability experts, developed 10 heuristics, or basic principles in the field of interaction design.
These 10 points have, over time, become a primer for designers and user experience researchers and anyone involved in the process of designing interfaces and creating digital products. The heuristics sound like this:
- Show system status.
- Maintain compatibility between the system and reality.
- Give the user control and a sense of freedom.
- Stick to standards and maintain consistency.
- Prevent mistakes.
- Show, rather than force to remember.
- Be flexible and efficient.
- Look for aesthetics and moderation.
- Provide effective error handling.
- Provide support and documentation.
What do these principles mean?
Show system status. The user feels safe when he or she knows the current status of the system. Therefore, you should always keep the user informed of what is currently happening. If the user has entered some data or performed an action and the system takes time to show the result, the interface informs the user, for example by displaying a progress bar.
Maintain consistency between the system and reality. This heuristic states that the system should communicate in a language that is natural, understandable to the user, and familiar to the real world, e.g. do not use specialised jargon.
Give the user control and a sense of freedom. When accidentally performing an action on the system, users need a sense that there is an option available to reverse it. The feeling of having accidentally performed an irreversible action or of being stuck in the system creates user frustration. Buttons that allow the user to cancel or undo an action restore a sense of control over what they are doing in the system.
Stick to standards and maintain consistency. Sticking to industry conventions, and using known proven patterns makes the system easier for the user and will help you avoid unwanted cognitive overload for users.
Prevent errors. It is best to prevent user errors in the system in advance. Warnings displayed to users or windows confirming the intention to perform an action play an important role here.
Show, rather than force to remember. The capacity of the human short-term memory is not unlimited. Don’t make the user remember what he/she saw a few steps earlier, avoid burdening the user’s memory. Offer help contextually, rather than making the user read and memorise long tutorials.
Flexibility and efficiency. Personalisation, customisation or keyboard shortcuts will ensure more efficient use of the system.
Take care of aesthetics and moderation. Both content and UI elements should focus on what is important. Do not overwhelm the user with unnecessary text or elements that may distract them unnecessarily.
Provide effective error handling. Error messages should be understandable, explain to the user what has happened, and offer a possible solution.
Ensure help and documentation. Ideally, the system should guide the user in such a way that the user does not need help. However, the help must be easy to access and the user should be able to refer to the guidance when needed. Guidance is best shown in the context of a specific action.
Each of these principles may seem quite general and very capacious. What lies beneath these 10 guidelines in practice? How should they be interpreted in an e-commerce context?
Our approach: E-commerce Health Check
At EDISONDA, based on our many years of experience working with e-commerce clients, carrying out online shop audits, and relying on heuristics, we have developed our proprietary method for e-commerce audits called E-commerce Health Check.
E-commerce Health Check is an extensive list of heuristics with more than 130 criteria grouped into 7 key areas for e-commerce. The list allows us to spot the maximum number of interface errors and areas for improvement, so we are able to accurately diagnose the condition and state of “health” of the shop under investigation.
What is the scope of the E-commerce Health Check?
When carrying out the E-commerce Health Check, we check 7 areas. Within each area, we check compliance with a dozen criteria specific to the area.
Homepage and navigation. We look at various aspects of the homepage that affect the shopper’s experience: from the speed at which the page loads, to the clarity in communicating the main purpose of the page, the copy of the navigation labels, the number of navigation elements, to a thorough analysis of the compliance of individual interface elements with heuristics.
Product search and product page. We check the search engine and its compliance with design standards. We analyse the search results and how they are presented. We look at product lists, product categories, their capacity, and their layout.
Registration, login, and user account. We analyse the registration and login processes. We place great emphasis on very carefully verifying that the registration forms comply with good design practices, the issue of data validation, and correctly guiding the customer through the process if there are user errors when entering data into the form.
Basket process. We assess each stage of the process, from adding a product to the basket, the basket view, delivery, payment, and the summary. We also look at the shopping cart process holistically and check its compliance with the applicable standards.
Returns, contact, and support. We look at usability in the return or contact processes of the shop. We look at how the returns initiation process works in the shop and what happens next.
General requirements. We look at the overall readability of the site, the content, copy, how images, graphics, and other material are presented throughout the site, or even how the cookie box behaves.
Mobile-specific requirements. In the case of a mobile audit, we analyse whether the shop is adapted to mobile devices. We test how the shop behaves at different screen sizes, whether the spacing between interface elements is correct, and check the usability of active element fields.
What does a step-by-step E-commerce Health Check usability audit look like?
Stage one: Preparation
The first stage of the E-Commerce Health Check involves preparation for the usability audit.
Conversation with the client. We start by talking to the client. We want to get a good understanding of the context in which our client’s online shop operates and the reasons why the client has decided to diagnose the health of their shop. We ask about any observations and data the client has gathered so far: is the client observing conversion problems, cart abandonment, or facing specific difficulties reported by customers to customer service?
Or is he or she not complaining about specific problems with the shop, but wants a holistic view and to identify areas where the user experience can be improved and, consequently, the level of customer satisfaction can also be increased? What are the customer’s long-term goals?
We determine the scope of the audit. Together with the client, we agree on what will be the subject of the usability audit: a shopping application, a mobile website, or a desktop website. Depending on the client’s business requirements and goals, the subject of a usability audit may be one or all of the above. Sometimes, the client is at the stage of developing the shop with new functionalities and some options are, for example, only available on the website and are still waiting to be implemented in the shopping application. In addition, we already discussed at this stage which user paths should be analysed.
We agree on the form of the final results. Even before the expert begins the evaluation of the E-Commerce Health Check, we discuss with the client the form in which he or she would like to receive the results from us. Who will be the recipients of the results? Which teams will use them? How will the client use the results? Will the results be distributed within the organisation to a wide audience? Will they be reported to management or will they be used by design teams working together to implement the recommendations? Or will they be both? Depending on the answers to these questions, we tailor the form of presentation of the results so that the detailed final report meets the needs of our client and their team.
Stage two: Implementation
How does the expert work with the E-Commerce Health Check? In telegraphic terms: the expert goes through the interface at least several times. The first pass is to get to know the flow and catch a general overview in terms of the scope of the system being analysed – in this case an online shop or shopping application. In subsequent passes, the expert’s attention is already directed to specific stages of the purchasing process and specific elements. And what does this look like in detail?
Clarification of the paths examined. In the first step of the E-Commerce Health Check, after the first click-through and having a general overview of the online shop, we specify in detail which paths are to be analysed. Although this may seem trivial – after all, in every shop the user simply selects a product, puts it in the basket, pays and then just waits for the package – in practice this is not the case. Each online shop has its own specifics and it turns out that users may take different paths throughout the user journey.
For example, in the case of shopping in an optical online shop, there will be both the path of purchasing corrective spectacles on the basis of a prescription from a doctor, purchasing corrective spectacle frames with an appointment for an eye test, and the simplest path of purchasing a finished sunglasses product. Another example?
When shopping in a clothing shop and wishing to return a product, the path for informing the retailer that you want to return the product and the entire return process may look different for a logged-in user and a user who purchased the goods as a guest. Therefore, we define the exact paths, their variants, and the individual tasks that the user performs in the system. It is these paths and tasks that the expert performing the audit will check.
Cognitive transition and heuristic. We first implement the cognitive transition. Knowing the key paths and tasks, the expert ‘steps into the shoes’ of the user and simulates the execution of these tasks in the shop under study. He identifies and writes down the errors he encounters on the fly. We then implement a heuristic walkthrough – this is the most extensive and detailed element of the audit. The expert checks the compliance of the interface with more than 130 criteria relating to the homepage, registration, login, customer account, product search, product list, product card, shopping cart, delivery, and payment, check out, return process, contact, and help, general requirements and mobile requirements in the case of a mobile audit. During the walkthroughs, he writes down all identified errors and inconsistencies with heuristics. The first result of the expert’s work is thus a list of interface errors.
Stage three: Reporting
Once the transitions have been completed, the expert begins the reporting phase.
Description of the identified interface errors. The expert describes in detail all the interface errors he has encountered while carrying out the shop audit. Each usability problem is described separately and illustrated with screenshots.
Recommendations. The most important element of the audit. For each of the usability errors presented, we develop a recommendation for a solution. We suggest what to change in the interface, and how to fix individual elements to make them usable and customer-friendly. Additional icing on the cake is the international and Polish benchmarks: we show you examples and inspiration on how to solve interface problems in an interesting and correct way.
Final workshop. We close the E-Commerce Health Check audit with a final workshop with the client. We discuss errors and present recommendations for solutions. We advise which problems should go first and be solved first, discuss possible solution paths and answer questions.
Why do an E-Commerce Health Check audit?
You gain an objective view from the outside. You can do a basic audit yourself by analysing your shop against Nielsen’s 10 heuristics. But don’t fall into the trap that digital product developers sometimes fall into. It is natural that having put a lot of work into a solution, we become attached to it. Therefore, an objective view from someone not involved in the shop design is extremely important.
Being the author of certain solutions, it is more difficult to assess them coldly, and only a cool assessment and identification of areas for improvement will allow you to improve your shop, spread your wings and gain more.
You will see interface errors that you did not notice before. When you work with a product for a long time, you stop noticing things. An independent expert will catch what has already become transparent to you and other people directly involved in the creation of your shop – insiders – because you have seen or discussed it too many times.
You will make sure that your online shop keeps up with current standards and trends. The expert carrying out the audit is familiar with current standards and trends, so the audit is carried out with the eye of someone who compares many e-commerce solutions with each other on a daily basis. Thanks to his recommendations, you will not be left behind and your shop will not deviate from what e-consumers currently expect.
You get a comprehensive diagnosis. The E-commerce Health Check is a comprehensive method. The list of criteria for which we check shops is very extensive and has been developed on the basis of our many years of experience with e-commerce audits. We have already assessed several hundred online shops using the E-Commerce Health Check method, and we continuously review and update the list taking into account new developments in e-commerce. No important area of your shop will be overlooked.
You will receive recommendations for solutions. An expert will not only point out problems, but give you solutions that are in line with good practice, correct, and in line with current trends. Clear guidance will allow you to act quickly on effective improvements and enhancements to your shop. You will learn which errors are pressing and a big barrier to buying from your shop, and which are less threatening and cosmetic. This will enable you to effectively prioritise and plan your shop improvement work.
You can act quickly. An audit carried out according to the E-Commerce Health Check list of criteria is extremely effective, because it yields a wealth of valuable findings in a relatively short period of time.
You receive the results in a form tailored to your needs. We will adapt the form of the detailed report to your needs. You can choose whether you like a detailed report in the form of a presentation, or whether you prefer a flexible format for the results, which will allow your team to collaborate and continue to develop and improve your shop.
When to do an E-commerce Health Check?
In what situations to do an E-commerce Health Check audit?
An E-commerce Health Check is like a health check of your online shop – it will tell you if, and at which stages in the shopping process or elements, something is wrong. It is worth doing when:
- you want to find out if your shop complies with current standards and e-consumer expectations,
- you want to examine the health of your shop, conduct a periodic “health check” of your e-commerce,
- your shop has been refreshed and you are going in with a new design,
- changes or new options have been introduced to your shop, e.g. new payment methods,
- the business or logistics model underneath has changed, and changes to the interface are a consequence,
- you notice specific problems with your shop, e.g. analytics indicate that there is a problem with some elements or steps in the shopping process,
- customers report difficulties to your customer service department,
- you want to make it easier for users to use your shop, increase your customers’ satisfaction, and increase conversion,
- or you want to achieve several of the above-mentioned goals.
The E-Commerce Health Check usability audit can occur as a stand-alone method, or it can be carried out alongside other methods. Depending on your business requirements and information needs – i.e. what you want to find out about your shop – one or sometimes a set of several methods is chosen.
For example, it is worth combining an audit with web analytics, e.g. to track how changes made after the audit have affected conversions. On the other hand, if you want to find out what motivations might be behind specific user actions in the shop and see how the user reacts while in the purchasing process, then it is worth including in-depth interviews or usability tests in the research plan.