A Customer Experience Moment: Specifically Seeking Sandals


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Taking a day off from work in the midst of a challenging project requires, what I refer to as, ‘vacation agility’. I’m out of the office but I carry my blackberry and check email at regular intervals during the day. I schedule conference calls early in the day and utilize the business center at the hotel so the family can sleep in.  It works.  Following this course of action during a recent get away to the Mid-Atlantic, I was unexpectedly able to exercise my usability research skills to gather some interesting design data. 

Here’s what happened…
I headed for the hotel business center at about 7AM, stopping only to grab a cup of java from the complimentary coffee urns boasting Starbucks brews. I was lucky enough to find the corner seat vacant placing me in front of a hotel-supplied computer to check personal email and to the right an open desk area to set up my work-supplied laptop. Through my laptop I could also access all my work files via the technical magic the smart people at my company perform. (Hocus-pocus if you ask me, but I try not to ask too many questions.)

During the second hour of my stay at the business center a friendly man I estimated to be in his late 60’s sat down at the computer next to me. As he browsed the Yahoo news he rattled a few headlines out loud.  My comment on one of the headlines broke the ice and we began to chat.  As I worked, I enjoyed hearing about his company, his family and some of his recent travels.

I also learned that one of his goals that morning was to order a pair of sandals designed specifically to be worn in the water.  He was able to quickly find the online store where he wanted to make his sandal purchase.  He spoke out loud as he navigated through the transaction.  He found the style, color and size sandal he wanted and the price was right.  He added his selection to his shopping cart and pulled out his credit card to seal the deal.

As he proceeded to the on line register the system presented a screen indicating it was a secure transaction and he seemed pleased to learn that.  He entered in his address and credit card information, clicked on Submit button and expected that his sandals were successfully on his way to his home.  Instead, a screen displayed indicating there were errors on the page he had just completed and he needed to resolve those issues.  The challenge was that the issues that needed to be resolved were not specifically identified in ‘error’ message the system presented.

As I read the error message, I could deduce which fields likely needed attention but based on his talk out loud approach the fields in need of correction were not as evident to him. The trainer in me wanted to immediately respond by suggesting how to resolve the issues.  However the usability researcher in me won the brief internal debate and observed how he navigated through this poorly designed purchasing transaction and attempted to resolve the issues.

There were about five tense minutes filled with trial and error.  And I have to admit at one point, when he seemed to be caught in a looping scenario, the trainer in me did emerge to ask him a slightly leading question to facilitate his progress.  Although after several attempts he did successfully complete the sandal purchase, observing the transaction forced me to question how many other potential customers have had a similar customer experience and how many, unlike in this case, abandon the purchase transaction.

This is a case where reviewing web analytics on abandon rates during the check out process would likely provide insight into the potential value of redesigning the purchase transaction.  In addition, integrating actual customer feedback into the redesign process would provide simple answers to design questions and likely yield significant revenue increases for this online store.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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