OVERVIEW: Web Usability in Ecommerce

What is Web usability? : Web Users can complete their task
"[Usability refers to] the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of user." - ISO 9241-11

For the Web User, this is the ease that an individual can use a website. The more simply a task is completed and required information accessed, the better usability a site has. What will be usable and useful for one person may not be for another. For a site to achieve web usability, it must ultimately attain all the characteristics that appease its audience.

It is said that a web user apparently doesn't figure things out going through a site, rather he or she muddles through a site, scanning for the first reasonable option to select . No matter how good-looking it may seem, if a web interface is confusing, complicated and slow to load, or provides irrelevant information for the user, it will be ineffective.

In attaining usability, an interface should be "
accessible, appealing, consistent, clear, simple, navigable and forgiving of user blunders." To cater for the diversity in its targeted audience, not only does this interface have to 'work' but also consider aspects such as differing technology (browsers, softwares, plug ins) and speed capabilities. However it should be noted that performance of a site must first meet basic user expectations and requirements. Aesthetics and extra functionality helps little where basic user needs are not met.

Why is this important for E-commerce?

Consumers purchase online rather than at their local bricks and mortar store because of convenience, availability of vendor information, lack of pressure from sales personnel and time savings . Some of these factors - speedy, user-friendly information and ease-of- use features are comprised in Web Usability, and thus determine a business' success.

Despite differing technological experience, web users are easily frustrated and can be characterised as impatient and fickle. (79% of readers scan text! ). Whether computer illiterate individuals or Internet savvy, one small dissatisfying experience looking for information or whilst executing a transaction may likely mean there may never be another one from that same individual. Much like the real world, if the customer is unhappy, there are plenty more places to choose from. Both online and Offline.

Poor web usability hurts E-Commerce. Not only are customers unsuccessful in their transactions and struggle to navigate a web site, but the reputation of E-Businesses suffers as users lose confidence in the advantages of online transactions. Customers who: do not know how to purchase, are unable to find products, and worry about security issues will leave a site. They are quickly turned off the online experience. With this, goodwill, customer loyalty (if it existed), disappears along with revenue from transactions and the ability to meet what the customer wants.

The purpose of an E-commerce site is to sell. If customers can't find what they want, how they want, and purchase properly, nothing can be sold and nothing can be bought. If a website is not usable to the consumer, there is little chance of success. On the other hand, businesses like amazon.com, which embrace usability principles have a broad and extensive customer base and loyalty.

To ensure success E-Commerce Web site builders and management must ensure that they too embrace usability for the customer so they can meet customer needs and surpass their expectations.

What issues do E Commerce managers face in web usability?

Web Usability faces a broad range of Issues. The changing global experience, and transactional nature of E-Commerce lend itself to several critical areas to satisfy consumer usability. This involves:


    Simplifying path to product search. Customers prefer a more shallow, hierarchical approach because deep navigation makes it difficult and cumbersome to find a certain item. Business sites must think like the customer.
    Alternative search options are a prevalent need in any successful commercial website. Search Engines particularly, are useful and the ability to customise these search engines provides a greater advantage for the user.

Purchasing Options / Flexibility

    In many websites, the shopping transaction experience is frustrating and an unhappy experience. Ineffective instructions showing how to add/ remove items from the shopping cart are often not clear. Nor is the ability to find the total amount in many cases.
    Purchasing items lack flexibility in many cases in terms of currency conversion, and the ability of the customer to customise this shopping cart.

Security and Privacy

    Security card concerns are one of the most important factors in e-transactions. Ensuring the customers are confident that the site is built safely to prevent fraudulent acts and that the website is genuine continues to be an increasingly vital issue between the customer purchasing or going to somewhere else that protects their safety.
    Privacy concerns about personal information provided to 3rd parties also require to be addressed by e-business owners.

These issues above are not exclusive there are also many significant matters that E-Commerce needs to consider in maintaining web-usability.

View Web Resources on Usability
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Web Resources:

1. Global Study of Commercial Websites
2. Jakob Nielson's Paper & Essays
3. Usable Web
4. Sun's New Web Design
5. Factors and Principles affecting Usability
6. Designing an E-Commerce Site for Users
7. Usability Problems of Today
8. Information Architecture of the Shopping Cart
9. Web Usability, IHJCS
10. Stickiness in an E-tailing environment


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