UX guru Andy Budd warns that websites ignore usability at their peril

At the Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg, Clearleft’s Andy Budd spoke at length about why, given the choice, users will always pick easier to use products over better architected products. Using real world examples, Budd explains how this principle should be applied to website design in order for websites to compete effectively.

Decide whether you sell a product or an experience

Using the coffee industry as an example, Budd spoke about the coffee farmer that makes around 1p for a cup of coffee while a gourmet coffee shop in London sells that same cup for upwards of £2.30 a cup. The difference between them is that one is selling a product while the other is selling the experience – the “thirty minute holiday from the mundanity of life.” Unless you’re happy for your product to be commoditised, he argues, you’re in trouble as a business if you don’t focus on customer experience as a way to differentiate yourself and make money

Pay attention to your shop front

As Malcolm Gladwell explained in “Blink”, when it comes to decision-making, the human brain tends to make snap judgements rather than rationally weigh up the pros and cons. When it comes to your website, you need to put this into action by creating a home page that immediately tells your users why they’re there and what your site is about. The Google home page is a great example of this –- as opposed to other “portal-focused” search competitors like Yahoo! — Google chose to focus on their core offering: search.

Put the milk and bread at the back

Supermarkets create “desire lines” to draw people inside the store and keep them shopping, for example by placing essentials like bread and milk at the back of the shop rather than the front. On a website, there are a variety of ways you can do this, from using video and interactive tours to keeping payment and login requirements until the end of the customer click path. The hugely successful Moo.com lets you move through the entire process of designing your own business cards before you’re asked to login and pay for them. And at that point, he argues, customers are having so much fun in the process that they’re only too willing to hand over the cash.

Learn to simplify

On the TV show “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”, British chef Gordon Ramsay helps failing restaurants turn themselves around into being profitable and popular. One of the first tasks Ramsay undertakes in doing this is to simplify the menu, which forces the restaurant to specialise in one particular area. So rather than trying to be just another Italian restaurant, for example, he helps people create the best pizza restaurant or the best Italian seafood restaurant in town. This concept takes into account the paradox of choice: the more options someone is given, the more chance there is that they’ll make the perceived wrong choice, which can even make them less willing to even make a choice at all. In a web environment, this means not overwhelming your users with too many features on your site. Strive for the sweet spot where you give enough features to make your website useful, while not making it too complicated so that, as Budd says, “your customers can’t do that one thing they came to do in the first place”.

You can turn customers into evangelists

There is a Whole Foods supermarket in the US whose tills stopped working on Christmas Eve. In response, the manager gave turkeys away for free to customers, instead of turning them away. It cost the store money to do this, but the manager recognised it as an investment, in return for the Whole Foods brand evangelists that were instantly created. When it comes to websites, the added challenge of providing excellent service is that you don’t have the advantage of face-to-face contact. Still, it can be done: online shoe store Zappos, for example, has a no questions asked 365 day, no questions asked return policy, and offers free shipping both ways. So make your contact details highly visible and accessible, and identify bottlenecks in the site and provide guidance for your customers in those areas.

Create an emotional connection

Little touches to “excite and delight” customers, like the hotel that leaves handwritten notes on guests’ pillows with a summary of the next day’s weather, may seem small but they create an emotional connection that will increase customer brand loyalty. This can be as simple as using a quirky sense of humour in your website, or giving your customers a fun way to complete a boring task. Done properly it helps to establish brand loyalty on an emotional level in the same way as the handwritten note example, which then makes your website a far more effective sales tool over time.



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