Online retail best practice guide: Usability

In the first of a series of blogs offering toy retailers how to enhance their user shopping experience, Neoworks explains how important usability is.
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What is usability and why is it important to gain and retain customers? 

Retailers often concentrate on the established concept of user experience.

They look at their site, their conversion ratios and assemble representative user panels to provide feedback, but is that enough to provide what their customers see as a good user experience?

Our industry has user experience consultants, we talk about it so much that we even call it 'UX' to save time, but how do you measure what a good user experience is? A quick Google search for user experience will show you diagrams and graphs indicating factors such as content, speed and accessibility.

These are all critically important in your user’s experience, but they aren't the only factors. Consider the example of Beryl, she’s looking to buy a Chuggington Brewster for her son’s birthday later that week. 

First, she goes to a site A, which is a bit slow, it’s dated looking. She searches for the item a few times, but misspells her search and finds nothing. She persists and it takes her a while to find and buy her item. 

The checkout process is a little confusing, but she makes her way through it and her item arrives promptly the next day by courier. The second site, site B, has every trick in the book: HTML5 video, social media integration, Q&A, user reviews and adaptive layout. 

Beryl searches for her product and even though she misspells the name, it is the first item suggested in the search results. She views the product page and sees lots of relevant content and user reviews. 

She clicks the large obvious add to cart button and breezes through the well-crafted interactive checkout process, but her order does not arrive for five days, missing her son’s birthday and forcing her to purchase the item on the high street.

Site B had obviously invested heavily in its appearance to users, but Beryl's order turned up late. What could have caused that? Behind the scenes on any site are the unseen systems, those which take the customer’s order and pass it through to the warehousing and fulfilment systems. 

It may be that in their desire to provide the best user experience on their website, Site B didn’t pay much attention to what happens after the order. Their systems may have put all orders together into an hourly file and send that to the warehouse. 

If so, maybe there was nothing wrong with Beryl’s order, but someone else made an order the warehouse didn’t understand. 

This bad order caused all the orders in the file to be delayed, and because site B had been so focused on their website appearance, they hadn’t given a lot of thought to what happened in the event of a problem. 

Site A understood this. They hadn’t spent all of their money on their site, but they'd thought about their internal processes and what happened when things went wrong and their warehouse couldn't fulfil an order. Their system was more robust and ultimately offered better customer service.

By all standard user experience metrics, site B was by far the stronger proposition. Beryl was able to use it easily, it looked cleaner and more coherent and she found the shopping experience simpler, but they failed at the most important step: delivering her order on time. 

If you asked Beryl which site gave her the better user experience she would almost certainly respond that the best user experience was that offered by site A, the site that delivered her order in time for her son’s birthday.

About the author

Nick Vincent is a senior e-commerce consultant at Neoworks ( Neoworks is an award winning e-commerce consultancy and software solutions provider that specialises in the architecture, implementation, integration and support of multichannel platforms worldwide. 

Jargon Buster:

HTML5 video – video in a web page that doesn’t use Flash.

Social media integration – integration of sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Adaptive layout – A webpage that changes its layout depending on the size of the screen it appears on.

Interactive checkout process – A checkout process involving the user dynamically.

Standard user experience metrics – Standard measurements such as total time the user spends on the website.

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