Interview with Wim van Zijl about trends in online-shopping, inspiration and methods for usability-testing
Wim van Zijl has over 8 years experience in online retail and marketing.
He started his career directly following a study communication systems with graphical user interface design.
This experience is still used in everyday decisions regarding front end design and usability of Mexx. At Mexx he is as head of online shops and website design responsible for last year’s redesign and replatforming of the entire E-Commerce setup.
Fulfillment of demand vs. demand creation: Online shops are built pretty functional. Search engines and navigation structure is optimized especially for those users who are searching for a specific product and therefore already know what they want/need.
Which website elements are in your opinion used in online shops in order to inspire and therefore create demands which are only latently present? Which online shop is from your point of view the best concerning the handling/usability and why?
I see wishlists, moodboards or catwalk movies as inspiring elements. Also celebrity looks and inspirational stories (in the form of weblog entries) can create a kind of demand.
I do not particularly see one perfect website; I see lots of sites that copy good usability practices. A good example is the new Mexx website which uses a revolutionary new 1 page checkout procedure. And a lot of sites nowadays use a horizontal scrolling area to display products, as opposed to the traditional grid layout. Other brands that have a good usability are Timberland UK, Hugo Boss e-shop and Abercrombie. What connects these sites is that they have very shallow navigational structure which keeps the site clean and easy to use.
Is it possible to ask for the usability of a website? Are there good and valid measuring instruments with which the usability of a website can be determined using a survey?
Usability is something that can be measured using a multitude of means. We did a usability research before we went live with a panel test which consisted of a prototype test and interview combination. We are now closely using analytics to identify usability bottlenecks in the site. I strongly believe in eyetracking as well. Surveys are useful if you allow the responder to give open answers. Otherwise you force them into an answer which you though of, not them.
Is it in your opinion possible to disclaim usability tests and user surveys if you use a web analytic tool? / Are usability tests and user-surveys still necessary if you use a web analytic tool?
Yes, web analytics tell you a lot about how actual visitors use your site and can also tell you a lot about what is wrong. But often they do not tell you exactly where it is wrong. It is partly possible to identify that with multivariate testing but an alternative is always the easy old fashioned way: ask people for their opinion. A nice side effect is that customers who have been asked feel heard and that increases loyalty.
Web 2.0 and social software/networks are still topics everybody talks about. What kinds of relevance do these functions, or rather tools have for the methods of usability analysis – do we need new methods and procedures or are the old ones more than sufficient?
Social networks have a strong peoples vote. They give the individual great power. I think any brand should closely monitor its consumer brand perception, also on usability. If people complain on social networks, it can kill your brand and site performance. Integrating social networks to open up the business for the consumer dialogue is one ambition I still have. It would greatly improve consumer insight with relatively low cost.
Another technical development that greatly engages web technology to give better usability insight is for instance Woopra. This analytical tool enables you to identify problems real time and communicate with the user experiencing the problem. It can show that the website is not a corporate thing but rather a personal communication platform where the communication is just as strong as in real life shopping experiences.