eCommerce Trends to Win More Customers in 2014

Retail Tablet AppThe eCommerce sector is approaching $300 billion in the U.S. alone, and retailers that want to compete need to stay on top of current trends. So what are these trends for 2014? And what can you do to ensure you’re providing customers with a delightful experience that will win their loyalty? These are exactly the types of question we answer in our latest webinar, “eCommerce Trends to Win More Customers in 2014.”

The webinar – which features Guest Speaker Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research Inc. Vice President, Principal Analyst serving eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals and uTest’s own Damian Roskill  – examines the 2013 eCommerce season and looks ahead to what you need to be ready for in order to achieve retail and eCommerce success in the coming year.  In addition to the looks back and ahead, solutions are provided to help you and your company prepare for major eCommerce needs, including:

  • Sustained peak periods that create large user demand
  • Site vulnerabilities
  • Users who use multiple screens and devices while shopping
  • Growing cross-border commerce

The webinar is available now on our web site. If you’re looking for more resources, check out our Retail App Testing eBook and Optimized eCommerce white paper and learn how to ensure you’re delighting your digital customers.

Understanding Accessibility Testing

uTest UniversityAs we live more of our lives online – everything from booking travel and shopping, to bill payment, watching TV shows or movies, and reading the news – a greater emphasis is put on the ability to access web sites and mobile apps, especially for people with disabilities. Of the 241.7 million adults aged 15 and older, 6.2% experience some level of difficulty with seeing, hearing, or having their speech understood, according to the 2010 U.S.Census Bureau Americans with Disabilities report.

Take into account the growing segment of adults who suffer from age-related sight or hearing loss and you begin to see a significant population who can be inadvertently shut out from using sites or apps that are not accessible. Companies who don’t pay attention to accessibility standards risk losing revenue from lost reservations or communications, and may even face litigation.

Web accessibility was brought to the forefront by a landmark class action lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) against Target Corporation over target.com. Target settled with the NFB for $6 million in 2008 and “agreed to update the site to accommodate sight-impaired online consumers, and to let the NFB regularly test those improvements once they are completed early next year,” according to Computerworld.

Despite this landmark settlement from a few years ago, accessibility testing still isn’t on the forefront of clients’ minds. The business case and value proposition is clear from the testing perspective and there are ways to easily work accessibility testing into your user experience (UX) or functional work.

In this uTest University webinar, accessibility testing expert Helen Burge discusses tips and tools for understanding accessibility testing, including the potential impact on the client’s reputation and the difference between accessibility, usability, and UX.

Some other topics covered in Helen’s “Tips and Tools for Understanding Accessibility Testing” webinar:

  • Web design often focuses on font choices for better readability, but color choices can affect how people consume the content.
  • Color ratios outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are an important checkpoint.
  • Testing tools range from screen readers and color analyzers, to Braille keyboards, HTML validators, and web developer toolbars.

Learn more about accessibility testing and other testing topics at uTest University, the learning hub for the testing community.

The Secret to Great Apps is User Input

User FeedbackIn last year’s Outside In Awards presented by Forrester, the analyst firm honored two companies for good app design and overall development process. Why were these two applications chosen? They both embraced a high level of user input and feedback and saw great results from their efforts.

Ally Bank conceived of and launched a mobile app on a tight timeline and PwC Australia updated their intranet to make it more usable for today’s employees. Both projects started with a brainstorming session that involved employees and checked in with key stakeholders and end users throughout the project. Asking end users for input at the beginning of the process meant both companies started on the right path rather then spending time and energy on efforts that ultimately don’t fit user needs. From CMS Wire:

Although the successful projects were very different, they both utilized “nearly identical” steps, including research into what the customer wanted, utilization of personas, iterative prototyping and iterative testing. But a key, overarching consistency was that both organizations used feedback from customers and stakeholders throughout the various iterations. …

In the Ally project, customer feedback was solicited and incorporated at four specific steps in the design. The initial customer testing was conducted informally with sketches and paper prototypes, followed by formal prototype testing. …

The cross-departmental UX team at PwC also started with a two-day session, utilizing brainstorming techniques that it offers to clients to help design creative solutions to the business challenge at hand. To gain buy-in from employees and other end-users, the team created an even larger workshop, “a physical space where end users and stakeholders could create and give depth to personas using photos, screen shots and sticky notes.”

Some of PwC Australia’s clients and 6,000 employees were involved in both the kickoff session and the workshop, and then a roadshow was created to demonstrate and elicit feedback throughout the company about the developing intranet.

A continuous dedication to testing throughout the process ensured both companies remained on the right track and ultimately helped them create applications that worked and that users actually wanted to use. Within a month of launching its mobile app, Ally sees 70% of eCheck deposits being made via the new app. PwC saw “mproved access to information, faster workflow and a collaboration tool that now supports more than 1,000 project teams,” plus a 25% reduction in email volume.

When designing an app – whether for mobile, desktop or web – its vital to remember who will be using this app everyday. Thinking from the perspective of an end user, or even better, getting actual user input throughout the process can help ensure you create an app that will be useful and that users actually want. And input shouldn’t stop once your app is launched. When your application goes live you can tap into a treasure trove of real user feedback via social media sentiment, comment sections and app store ratings and reviews. Take these to heart as your continue refining and improving your application.

You can create a beautiful, awesome app, but if your users don’t see a need for it or think it’s overly complicated, they won’t open it and your efforts will be wasted.

How a Tablet App Can Make or Break Your Retail Business

Retail Tablet AppToday there are dozens of options available for those looking for a tablet computer. In fact, U.S. consumers have so warmly adopted this trend that 34% now own a tablet, and in Q4 2013 tablet shipments were expected to exceed PC shipments. Additionally, 43% of U.S. tablet owners spend more time on their tablets than on their desktop computers, according to a study by Google Inc.

All of these stats only reinforce the fact that retailers need an amazing tablet app if they have any hope of surviving in the rapidly growing online retail market.

Internet Retailer and AnswerLab suggest that a good place to start is by creating a tablet app that is easy to use and easy to shop from. They offer the following tips for companies looking to launch or improve a tablet app:

Make search obvious and easy: Just as with smartphones and e-commerce sites, users need to be able to search and find products easily. AnswerLab suggests putting the search box at the top of the screen with a magnifying glass or the word “search” to let readers know they can type in a query there.

Be big on browsing: Allow ample room for consumers to leisurely browse high-quality images and interact with them. Tablets aren’t much heavier than many magazines, and many shoppers explore and use tablets in the same way they would page through a magazine, the report says. So focus on images and make the navigation options slim so that they don’t take up much space, AnswerLab says. The report also suggests allowing users to enlarge images by tapping or stretching their fingers and offering visuals signs such as arrows to notify consumers that there is more content available.

Have clear calls to action: Houzz does this well by displaying green price tags shoppers can tap to learn more about products and to purchase them.

Minimize the need for typing: Although it easier to type on a tablet than a smartphone, it’s still not ideal, AnswerLab says. Don’t ask for information that isn’t absolutely necessary and consider using multiple-choice options to reduce the amount of manual typing required, the report says. AnswerLab also suggests companies increase entry field sizes to make form field boxes large enough to tap. Consumers using tablets don’t have the option to click on a field with a mouse cursor, so fields need to fit the larger tip of a finger. The same goes for buttons, AnswerLab says. Ensure they are large enough to tap with a finger without selecting the wrong option.

The article also references Sephora and Houzz as two excellent examples of retail tablet apps. However, it seems at least in Sephora’s case that they may have overlooked careful functional testing before some of their latest releases. Sephora’s App for iPad only has an Applause score of 49, mainly getting dinged in reviews for crashes, failures to open and other complaints about functionality. Even the best user interface can’t overcome poor functionality.

Learn more about the biggest pain points for retail apps and how to address them in this free eBook.

mTail Holiday Trauma

mobile user angry_137348504-thumb-380xauto-2378As the holiday shopping season wraps up, analysts will have even more evidence of one of mobile eTail’s most vexing trends: mobile web load times suffer severely during the holidays, when consumers expect the most from their chosen retail brands. Kissmetrics released a study earlier this year about consumer habits surrounding the load times of web apps, that highlights the importance of fast load times:

  • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
  • A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.

With the 2013 mean mobile load time already at more than 7 seconds, a holiday spike can be debilitating for a retailer. Apart from heavily beefing up your server rack, here are some common tips for decreasing load times on the mobile web:

  • Images should not be any larger or higher in resolution than they need to be
  • Enable browser caching to speed up load times for repeat visitors, but be aware that mobile web browsers generally have small caches
  • HTML, CSS, and JS should be no more lengthy or complex than it needs to be. It can also be compressed through a variety of minification programs online, if you’re comfortable submitting your company’s code into a form.

Those who have resolved to get their holiday shopping done from their mobile device will grit their teeth and wade through figgy pudding-slow load speeds. Anyone on the fence about the convenience of mobile shopping – or online shopping altogether-  may decide it’s not worth the bother, and that’s not a risk worth taking.

Fast Pace Set for Holiday Season eCommerce

mCommerce and eCommerce sales set fast holiday paceThe holiday shopping season is in full swing. Despite it being of shorter duration this year due to a late Thanksgiving here in the U.S., it’s looking more and more like the season will be a record-setting one for retailers. One reason? The increasingly important online sales. As the inimitable Jamie Saine wrote about last month, people were predicting an increase in e-commerce sales this year. Turns out those predictions were more spot-on than almost any of us thought they’d be, thanks to an incredible opening weekend. From Paul Demery of Internet Retailer:

Mobile commerce sales accounted for nearly 21% of total Black Friday digital sales in the United States, $314 million out of $1.512 billion, and nearly 17% of Cyber Monday sales, $350 million out of $2.085 billion, Internet research firm comScore Inc. reports. … The fact that mobile commerce accounted for close to one in five digital dollars, or 18.5%, spent on those two days is significant. …

By comparison, mobile’s share of online retail spending in the third quarter was 10.8%, and in the fourth quarter of 2012 it was 11.3%. The research firm attributes the increase in mobile’s share partly to the trend of shoppers to buy on mobile devices from retail web sites after viewing products in a bricks-and-mortar store, as well as their shopping via smartphones and tablet computers while sitting at home. …

In another measure of online shopping activity, online customer service company LivePerson Inc. says it hosted a record number of digital engagements, such as live chat sessions, on Cyber Monday. “In addition to the record-breaking number of engagements and chat interactions, LivePerson saw a dramatic increase in visitor traffic across its network, which was up 38% from last year,” the company says.

All of this reinforces the need for retailers to test their apps and websites. Remember, as we noted a few weeks back, it’s no longer enough for your retail app or website to just work. What makes your ecommerce presence successful is how it delights would-be customers and gets them to purchase what they’ve perused. What’s also important is how your ecommerce site performs under high traffic. The high sales numbers for this year’s opening weekend signify the official paradigm shift – online retail sales are not a nice add-on, but a necessity for companies during the holiday season. Make sure your site is tested to make sure it will perform, or else you could be missing out on countless potential sales.

Will the pace set by the record-setting opening weekend hold up throughout this shortened holiday season? We’ll have to wait and see. I know I’ve got my sites picked out, and I’ll be continuing to use them for the remainder of the year.

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More Shoppers Turning to eCommerce This Holiday Season

Online ShoppingRetailers are preparing for the flock of early morning shoppers who will descend on brick and mortar stores on Black Friday – the morning after Thanksgiving. And online retailers are gearing up for Cyber Monday, when their apps will be put to the ultimate eCommerce test. But increasingly these two worlds are merging. A new study shows that more shoppers than ever plan to do their Black Friday bargain hunting online.

From shopping to research, your eCommerce site better be ready for a wave of traffic in the coming weeks. From Internet Retailer:

Black Friday this year promises to be more digital than last year, suggest survey results from Accenture. The management and information technology consulting firm says that 30% of consumers will do most of their day-after-Thanksgiving shopping online this year, up from 25% who said the same in 2012. …

A separate survey from the National Retail Federation finds that nearly half of consumers expect to go online to research gift ideas.

Shopping around for gift ideas won’t be contained to retail sites, though. According to the Nation Retail Federation survey, shoppers will go to different types of online media to find the perfect gift idea.

  • 47.9% of consumers will seek out holiday gift ideas online
  • 21.5% will use e-mail marketing messages
  • 14.0% will use Facebook
  • 10.1% will use retailers’ apps
  • 7.2% will use Pinterest

And those numbers don’t account for shoppers who will use apps while in physical stores. This year, 55% of Accenture’s survey respondents expect to shop in some form on Black Friday, and 38% plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day itself.

Make sure your retail or eTail app is functional, usable and ready to stand up to the traffic load. (If you’re concerned your retail app isn’t ready for prime time, check out our free resources: Retail App Testing and Optimized eCommerce.)

5 Tips for Last Minute Usability Testing

Last minute usability testingInge De Bleecker is a uTest Usability Expert with more than 20 years experience with user interfaces and 13 years of experience with mobile usability. She’s a regular guest blogger on the uTest Software Testing Blog and in today’s post she’ll help you get your app ready for the holiday rush, even if you left usability testing until the tenth hour.

*****

It is October, and the Fall season is here. Which means the end-of-year holidays are nearing. If you are part of a company that has an online presence, you may be working feverishly to get your site ready for the Holidays. Time is short and there is much to be done. And while usability testing has been on your mind, it might still be on the To Do list.

When it comes to usability, testing early in your development process and testing often along the way are key to your success. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t run a usability test in the tenth hour and still benefit. There is still time to identify some of the low-hanging fruit, and come out ahead.

Here is a list with some of the most common usability issues that can be quick and easy to fix:

Mobile web: According to a recent Pew Internet Research study, 64% of adult Americans go online using their mobile phone, and 21% use their mobile device primarily to go online, so it is important to have a user-friendly mobile experience. Go through your interface and ask yourself:

  • Can users easily tap on links? Links or buttons may be too close together or too small to allow for comfortable tapping.
  • Can users complete tasks on the mobile screen? Form elements can obscure the keyboard, making it impossible to complete account creation or check out on an e-tail site.

Call-to-Action: Your homepage or the first page users land on should explain to the user what they can use your site for, and how to get started. Check whether your main pages have a clear “Get Started” or “Do This Now” indicator. If not, users will leave your site promptly or wander around aimlessly.

Page layout: Items that belong together should be placed close to each other. Make sure that labels and instructions for input fields, such as a phone number format example, appear close to the input field. Dropdown arrows for accordion elements should be next to the section title rather than all the way off to the side.

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#ShopOrg13: The Opportunities and Challenges of Digital Retail

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uTest’s Booth at Shop.Org ’13

How can you transform your retail brand for the digital world – optimizing your user experience for mobile, tablets and more?

This was one of the many questions that sparked discussion at this week’s Shop.org 2013 Summit. Major retailers from all over – such as leaders from Walgreens, Crate & Barrel, L.L. Bean and Lululemon – flooded the sessions and the exhibit hall to discuss best practices for leveraging web, mobile and tablet traffic – and thus driving bottom line growth and brand awareness.

Keynote Sessions 

One of our favorite keynotes was led by Walgreens’ President and CEO, Gregory D. Wasson. Wasson, joined by the company’s President of eCommerce as well as a Forrester Analyst, spoke about the brand’s journey transforming itself to become a mobile leader. While Walgreens hasn’t lept at every fad, if you want your brand to stay around for 112 years like Walgreens has, you need to stay relevant to people’s lives – and that is exactly what they have done.

While Walgreens is now one of the brands leading innovation in the tech world, it doesn’t come without many big challenges. Some of the biggest challenges Wasson shared in his keynote was the need to integrate the social and mobile experience – as well as dealing with the blurred lines from multiple digital channels. Where users start the shopping process and where they end it are not always on the same device. This means retail brands must create a seamless digital experience across platforms.

The Buzz Around Usability

Refining the user experience and the usability of eCommerce sites and apps was the biggest pain point we heard from retailers. Most of the brands we talked to, while experiencing great success through mobile and web, were still seeing problems reported by their users. The big takeaway was that no matter how well your site or app is working, it can always be improved – and with each improvement more sales and higher user engagement can be achieved. Getting the right device/geographic coverage and scaling their test teams was the challenge retailers claimed to struggle with most – and we were excited to share the uTest in-the-wild testing model with different QA and User Experience leaders at different brands.

Looking for resources to help you optimize your eCommerce and mCommerce offerings? Check out our whitepaper on six strategies for Optimized eCommerce and our eBook on the biggest retail app testing challenges (and how to overcome them).

Why Testing mCommerce Apps is Vital to Your Bottom Line

mCommerce AppsI think we can all agree that thorough quality testing is a key ingredient of success for any website or application. There are some industries, though, where that testing, or the lack of it, can directly impact the bottom line. With the holiday shopping season quickly approaching, I’d like to take a closer look at one such industry – retail and e-tail.

Mobile commerce (mCommerce) has been gaining momentum over the last couple of years, with some retailers reporting a 15% increase in mobile sales activity year over year, and is projected to go up by 16% this year. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot on paper, so let’s look at the dollar amounts:

The revenue from holiday season (November – December) e-commerce shopping is expected to reach $61.8 billion dollars this year, making the mCommerce portion a sweet $9.88 billion dollars. Considering the mobile market itself is growing exponentially year after year, we can only assume that these numbers will, as well.

What does that mean for retail companies?  It means increased spend and effort on creating user-friendly mobile online shopping experiences, and a lot of larger retailers have already begun down that path.  Hopefully, it also means a concentrated effort on functionality, stability, and general quality.

Why is Testing so Important for Retail?

Customer retention and repeat purchasing is always on the mind of everyone in the retail industry.  It’s never enough to just get someone in the door – you have to gain that person’s trust and loyalty and keep them coming back.  That business is the bread and butter that every retailer seeks.

As of last year in the US, only 8% of e-commerce shoppers were repeat visitors but they made up  41% of overall revenue coming from online sources.  Again, it doesn’t seem like much, but growth and loyalty take time to build, and the mobile economy is seeing a lot of both.

At the same time, mobile users’ patience with website and web app problems is dropping (which I discuss in my past post about responsive web design.)  If your mobile consumers become frustrated or unhappy with your mCommerce experience, they’re history, and your competitors get to try for shoppers’ dollars.

Proper and thorough testing for mCommerce sites – including functional, load, and user experience testing – are a necessity. This is really where in-the-wild testing shines. Your mobile consumers won’t be in a lab – they’ll be running through malls on one bar of connectivity, in their kitchens taking trays of cookies out of ovens, or be mid-commute by train. They’ll be on smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and even some audio players or e-readers. They’ll need your site to work the first time and every time, no matter where they are or what device they’re using.

A Story with a Lesson

I know that we preach in-the-wild testing quite a bit, but there really is a reason behind it. I’m a consumer, a developer, and a tester and I just happened to be working on a mobile test cycle for an online retailer not too long ago. For whatever reason, I ended up being the only Android tester on the cycle with around 12 other iOS-specific testers. I joined the test case a little late and noticed that very few bugs had been logged which made me think that the build was a solid one – and it was, just not on my newer Android device. I was able to identify and report several critical issues that iOS testers couldn’t see, some of which were display and functionality bugs that rendered aspects of the site completely unusable. Even more importantly, these issues were not apparent on all of my Android devices, meaning that the bugs were very specific but also highly destructive to some users’ experience.

And there’s the retail mCommerce lesson: not all devices are created equal, but they do all contribute to your bottom line, and your customers won’t be forgiving if your sites and apps leave them in the cold this holiday season.