Following my recent article on Econsultancy, benchmarking Amazon and The Book Depository on usability and best practice, I’ve used our benchmarking application to carry out further research in the book market. Waterstone’s, WH Smith’s and Border’s are the 3 high-street booksellers that I’ve included in the report.
I have benchmarked all 5 book retailers in some of the key areas of the shopping journey where good usability can be the difference between a sale and an abandonment:
- average rating across key shopping pages
- product page
- cross-selling and up-selling
- shopping basket
- checkout process
- web forms
Table of contents:
Average usability rating across all key shopping pages
Waterstones and Borders are the 2 lowest performing book retailers, with the biggest impact on their ratings due to poor usability during their checkout process, and in particular their web forms. More information on each of these areas is below.
Product page usability benchmark
The standout retailer in this report is Waterstone’s, who achieve just 50% in this benchmark evaluation. WH Smiths (78%) are pushing the 2 big pureplay retailers very hard, with Amazon achieving 77% and The Book Depository achieving 83%.
Cross-selling and up-selling usability benchmark
Amazon, one of the 1st pioneers of tailored product suggestions and intelligent recommendations, lead the way with an almost perfect 94%, with The Book Depository (83%) and Waterstones (79%) having very respectable ratings in this benchmark.
At the other end of the scale Borders are damaging their ability to try and encourage visitors to spend more than they were originally intending by not investing as much effort in following best practice usability principles to deliver cross-sell and up-sell products.
Shopping basket usability benchmark
In contract to their performance in the cross-selling and up-selling study, Amazon come off worst in the study of product pages, closely followed by Borders. The Book Depository (78%) rate the highest and continue their solid performance from earlier parts of the buying journey.
At the end of this article I have provided some further insights into our benchmarking application, in terms of how it caters for different size businesses and varying levels of brand credibility. Both these impact on how patient a shopper will be when using an e-commerce site, and its thanks to Amazon credibility and brand awareness that they don’t need to worry as much as other less know retailers when it comes to providing good usability in their shopping journey.
Checkout process usability benchmark
For this study on the retailers checkout process, the evaluation was carried out as a 1st time shopper rather than a returning customer simply logging in before completing their checkout process.
The standout retailers who aren’t following many usability recommendations are Amazon, Borders and Waterstones, and it is a certaintity that these brands will be losing potential sales due to checkout process abandonments which could be avoided with better usability.
WH Smiths (64%) and The Book Depository (70%) certainly provided a better user experience, although they both have plenty room for improvement.
Checkout web forms usability benchmark
One of my previous articles talked about the importance of providing usable web forms especially during a checkout process. Surprisingly 3 of the 5 retailers have a usability rating of 50% or less, with their web forms breaking many usability recommendations. Its hard to judge just how frustrated some 1st time visitors will become when using these web forms during the checkout process, but it is clear to say that these 3 retailers are more likely to suffer from increased checkout abandonments than if their web forms where easier to complete and with less usability barriers.
Benchmark application intelligence
On a benchmark article I published on the Econsultancy website, a usability consultant rightly questioned the validity of using a benchmarking application on diverse retailers, where different usability recommendations can have varying levels of impact dependant on a number of different factors, and below are extracts from this (taken from the Econsultancy article I published):
Comment from David Hammill
You make some interesting points here. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of assessing usability by scoring and benchmarking against characteristics of what of considered to make a usable system.
You see, one characterstics will have an entirely different impact than another. So the numbers are merely an indication of the extent to which one site follows best practice. This doesn’t equate to one site being more usable than the other.
Response from Daniel Chabert
Thanks for your comments David. You’ve made a really valid point with regards how different characteristics can and will have an entirely different impact than others.
In addition to guidelines/recommendations having varying degrees of importance and impact, the same guidelines/best practice recommendations will have a different degree of impact based on the type/size/age of retailer.
A good example of this would be Ebay – they can rely on their brand credibility and worldwide recognition to provide 1st time visitors with confidence as to the levels of security that their site provides, whereas a new to market auction website that no-one has heard of would have to work a lot harder at assuring wary users that their site is totally secure and trustworthy.
With all the above in mind I can confirm that our benchmarking application that I used during this article caters for both:
- weighting of different recommendations as to thier impact on usability/customer confidence
- weighting of different recommendations based on the type/size/age of business – ie. high street brand, pureplay retailer, start-up
In terms of the 2 sites featured in this benchmark review, from what I understand The Book Depository do have a very strong conversion rate compared to the book industry standard, so this would suggest that their performance in the usability benchmark study does reflect the fact that they do have a very usable e-commerce site that does deliver commercially.
How well do you compare to your competitors?
If this is a question you would like answered then please give us a call. Benchmarking and usability evaluations are just 2 of our services that help businesses better understand why their current website isn’t delivering the sales levels that is expected. They also help our clients develop the business case for further investment in improving the user experience of their website, particularly for retailers competing in the ever more ruthless online arena.