Every website needs to conduct usability tests, and there’s no excuse for not testing. I’m a graduate student with a fulltime job, and I was able to conduct a small usability study in one week—during an email marketer’s busiest time of year, no less. It’s not as daunting as it initially seems if you haven’t conducted one. This busy week I completed my first one for a class about understanding audiences.
Usability Test definition
Usability Testing is the evaluation of a website or product by observing representative users attempting to complete tasks and scenarios. Below I detail my usability study.
I chose to run a usability test on JumpUSA.com, an online retailer that specializes in sports and training equipment. I purchased from the site about a decade ago. The site has barely changed in the decade since I made that purchase. I’m unsure if I want to buy from the website again. My goal was to check the site’s usability by having participants complete common eCommerce interactions:
- Search for products
- Find more information about products and specialty products
- Find contact information
- Test the site’s shopping cart
I recruited participants based on convenience and willingness to participate. My participants were three retirees who are computer literate and familiar with eCommerce websites. Yes, in an ideal world, participants would reflect end users. But Steve Krug in Usability testing on 10 cents a day – Don’t Make Me Think writes, “The best-kept secret of usability testing is the extent to which it doesn’t much matter who you test.”
On Friday, I conducted three usability tests in person and for a total of about five dollars. The lone expenditure was for Screen Record, an iOS screen recorder. A smartphone with a tripod pointed at a monitor would have worked just as well.
During the sessions, I asked participants to complete the following tasks on the site:
- Find the Jumpsoles Frequently Asked Questions page.
- Find the JumpUSA.com Customer Service email address.
- Find a product designed to strengthen the upper body (chest or shoulders), and add it to the shopping cart.
- Remove the product from the shopping cart and return to the homepage
- Find a DVD to help improve a basketball player’s shooting ability.
- Find more information about JumpUSA’s resistance (and stretch) bands.
Each session lasted around twenty minutes. I posted the entire second session on YouTube. See the video below.
Moderating sessions is not difficult. However, I had to fight my inclination to offer help (as you can see in the video). Even with a small number of tasks, I was able to find two significant problems with the website:
The shopping cart is not intuitive. Participants had difficulty noticing the “remove” button and navigating back to the homepage. In task three, participant three didn’t find the “remove” button, and participant two didn’t realize that the logo linked back to the homepage. If visitors don’t have confidence in a website’s shopping cart, it’s a safe bet that some aren’t purchasing products.
The “more information” links are easy to overlook. For tasks one and five, participants needed a little assistance to complete the tasks because the links were buried in the product descriptions. Participants also questioned why the website didn’t have a F.A.Q. page. Again, if visitors can’t find more information about products, they may decide not to buy from a website.
As my quick usability test shows, it doesn’t take a lot of money, participants, or tasks to find valuable insights. If a busy, time-strapped graduate student can conduct a usability test, there’s no excuse for any web developer or organization not to conduct one.