Behind The Scenes of an Online Retailer

I would hazard to bet that the majority of people who shop online don’t give a second thought to the experience except for when things go wrong. One of the many secrets to being a successful online retailer is to continually test the usability of your website with members of the public. Fundamentally, as an online retailer, what you want to test is that people who are unfamiliar with your brand have confidence buying from it. In order to achieve this your website has to run smoothly and look great.

This week we’re running another round of website testing to make sure that the buying process is completely straightforward. Here’s how it works:

We recruit members of the public to come into our office and complete a few shopping ‘tasks’ on the eSpares website. Ideally you want testers who represent your target audience. So, if for example, your target user-group is female and 30-45 years old, you should get testers who fall within that category.

The tricky thing for us is that our website defies traditional ‘target audience’ metrics. We’ve got just as many women buying from our site as men and they come from all age groups with varying degrees of online shopping experience. As you can imagine our testing group is very diverse. Once we’ve got all of our testers lined up we go ahead with a round of testing. Our Marketing Director, Matt Henton, runs the testing in our meeting room whilst members of our team look on remotely, as shown in the above photo.

Even though most of us at eSpares spend all day looking at our website, there are things that we miss. Some of the feedback that we’ve had from testers has actually been quite simple, easy to action, and has made our website considerably better. We try to do testing at least once every two months to make sure that we’re moving our site in the right direction.

It’s quite easy to assume that all the tweaks and changes you make to your website are perfect and just what the customer wants. Hubris is responsible for the downfall in most Greek tragedies; don’t let your ego lead your website, let your customers lead it. If you’ve got a new bit of functionality or a new design it’s much better to test a new bit of functionality first rather than launching it and having to make a lot of changes to a live site. It’s also quite easy to fall into the trap that if functionality is live on your site, and no one has complained about it, then it’s working to its full potential. This is why you should test.

When you work in an online marketplace, it’s quite easy to forget about the customer as your face-to-face contact is limited, we try our hardest not to let this happen. If you work for an online retailer we’d encourage you to test your website with members of the public as frequently as you can.


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