Homer Simpson Loves Usability

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If you run an e-commerce site, you’ve probably heard about “website usability.”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_usability At first I thought this was some buzzword self-proclaimed experts or agencies concocted to drum up more business. How wrong I was. As one lovable cartoon “character”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKWntmFt5ps would say DOH!!!
Our “website”:http://www.searstravel.ca relaunch earlier this year showed me usability optimization makes a difference. Despite an overall reduction of operating expenses (including marketing) year over year, our sales are up especially on higher margin product.
Although a new web-only pricing strategy was a contributory factor in our success, our website redesign (as a result of a usability audit by an agency) was the other major factor that contributed to our improved performance.
It’s naive to think you can improve everything at once, unless your financial and manpower resources afford you that luxury. So my humble suggestion is to pick one key area for your website and focus on optimizing it. Once you are done that, move to the next priority.
For example, if your number one goal is to increase sales, take a look how your website sales conversion is going. Is it good enough? If the answer is no, look to improve the booking flow or purchase path for your shopping cart from a usability perspective. Sometimes it’s a function of simply fixing the colour or size of the ‘Buy’ button. Sometimes it’s more complex.


While you undergo this adventure, it’s important to always keep in mind the customer’s perspective. This takes priority over the perspective of your graphic designer, website producer, boss or even your own. This is easier said than done. How do you get a customer’s perspective? Ask them. It doesn’t even have to be something as elaborate as a focus group. Look at customer email. Ask them for their opinion. You’d be surprised how many would respond.
If you are going to tackle usability in-house, I strongly suggest you read “Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think”:http://www.sensible.com/buythebook.html as was recommended to me. If you can afford agency help, check around and see what each offers. Talk to their previous clients. That’s what we did.
Mind you that was all after I managed to sell the value of a usability study internally to justify the cost. The image below was part of my business case to an SVP. Perhaps it may be of benefit to you. Based on the subsequent results the investment was well worth it. (Big sigh of relief)
The value of usability
By no means are we finished as website usability is an ongoing thing. The end game is to continously make your site simple enough that even Homer could “figure it out.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJ4aQhq2AjI&mode=related&search=

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