The fact that UX plays a key role in the creation and development of websites today hardly needs convincing. User-centered design allows us to look at our product through the eyes of its users and adapt it to their needs.
In the e-commerce sector, user experience plays a particularly important role as it directly translates into financial results. One of the key reasons why online shopping is becoming increasingly popular is the convenience it offers. When shopping online, the consumer has a much larger number of stores to choose from than in the real world. The consumer is not limited by distance and does not lose time travelling to stores and visiting them. In the digital reality, without leaving home, we can quickly browse the offers of many stores located in different parts of the country and even the world. With such intense competition and customers’ desire for maximum convenience, it is the stores that provide their users with better experience than their rivals that end up successful. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that on-line store owners are increasingly seeking help from User Experience specialists. Among the services offered by the latter, UX auditing occupies an important place.
Further on in this article, you will find out where its popularity comes from and what benefits it can bring to e-commerce owners. We will also tell you what elements to pay attention to while conducting an audit, what errors to avoid and how to translate its results into specific solutions delivering business results. As practice shows, it is not so simple to conduct an audit properly as it requires a broad view of the context of the interactions taking place and the use of a variety of research techniques. But one step at a time. Let’s start with what a UX audit actually is.
What is a UX audit?
A UX audit is an expert analysis of a website or an application. Its aim is to identify the weak points of a website – the elements that cause problems for users and make it difficult for them to find the information they are looking for or perform certain actions, such as booking a ticket or buying a product. Once we have found the elements that are causing problems for users, we think about what we can do to improve them. An audit should, therefore, on the one hand, contain information on what we have discovered and by what methods, and on the other hand, recommendations suggesting how the problem can be solved. Benchmarks of various kinds are particularly useful here, i.e., references to solutions used by closer or more distant competitors or even companies from other industries.
What are UX audits for and what are their benefits? A UX audit provides us with extensive and detailed knowledge of how users interact with our store and what the weak points are, as well as practical tips on what to change in order to eliminate them. User experience experts analyze the user behavior of a large number of on-line stores during their work. Thanks to their experience, they are able to evaluate the solutions used in your store, taking the point of view of the people who use it. If they also use tools that give insight into real user behavior, such as analytical tools or session recording, the audit results can be considered very reliable. An audit can be a stand-alone solution and form the basis for introducing changes to a website, or it can be a prelude to a larger-scale project involving, for example, UX research. Its main advantages are, on the one hand, the relatively low cost and little time required to carry it out and, on the other hand, the high efficiency, and a holistic view of the digital product.
How to perform a UX audit of an on-line store?
In general, when performing a UX audit, we should analyse the elements of a given on-line store and the behavior of its users. We need a certain amount of knowledge and experience in order to do this because we need to know what to look for and how to correctly interpret the available data. After all, e-commerce sites usually consist of many sub-pages, and each page contains a large number of elements, and we need to catch the ones that may be difficult for the user. The same is true of data – without experience to give us a point of reference and knowledge of the context, it is difficult to draw reliable conclusions from it. For this reason, it is best to look at the on-line store website from a broader perspective. Only this approach will ensure our final success. And what should an e-commerce UX audit look like step by step? Typical parts of an audit are a cognitive walkthrough and a heuristic analysis. However, it is worth extending our audit to include additional elements that will provide us with a more complete picture of our website experience.
Interview with the client
We start the audit by interviewing the stakeholders, i.e., representatives of the client who commissioned the audit. The interview is designed to find out about the specifics of the business and to identify its users, i.e. to initially identify who they are, what objectives they intend to achieve with it and what problems they need to solve. Every e-commerce store is different, as are its clients, and the art of User Experience design lies in adapting products to the needs of a specific group of buyers. In addition, during the interview, we will learn what expectations the client has of the audit, what goals they want to achieve and what the limitations are in implementing the recommended changes. At this stage, it is also possible to learn about the problems identified by the client themself and those reported by their users.
The main part of qualitative analysis is a cognitive walkthrough, a research method where the researcher takes on the role of the user and tries to perform typical tasks on the website. In the case of an on-line clothing store, for example, the user’s task may be to buy a jacket that suits their needs. To achieve this main task, however, the user has to perform a number of minor tasks, finding a jacket at the right price, with the right cut, choosing the right color and matching the size. Once the user has selected a jacket that meets their requirements, the next step will be to add it to their cart, go through all the checkout steps and pay for the order. It is also likely that they will want to know the terms and conditions for returns and complaints and shipping details before making the final purchase decision. When carrying out the cognitive walkthrough, the researcher analyzes possible user experiences during the task and identifies problem areas.
The e-commerce customer experience is not limited to interaction with the site itself and does not end with the purchase. The whole experience also includes the after-sales process: how long they will have to wait for the delivery and in what packaging it will arrive, the after-sales e-mails, the contact with customer service or the possible handling of returns or complaints. It is a good idea to include all of these elements in our audit as they may prove to be just as important as those directly related to the purchase path.
Heuristic analysis is also an important tool used during qualitative analysis, which, as the name suggests, is based on heuristics, i.e., principles developed by UX gurus for designing digital products. The best-known set of heuristics was developed by the Jacob Nielsen – Rolf Molich duo, but it happens that individual companies develop their own heuristics. Heuristics provide the auditor with a hint as to what they should pay attention to when checking a given website, e.g., whether the user is properly informed about the current stage of the task, whether the website prevents mistakes and whether it uses a language that is understandable for its users.
As we have already mentioned, important elements during qualitative and quantitative analysis include the knowledge and experience of the auditor. However, since (as the name suggests) we are dealing with a user experience audit, it is also worth learning about user behavior. These days, tools that allow us to record user sessions, such as Hotjar, come to our aid. They allow us to analyse how users behave when they visit our site, how they scroll through the site and how often they click on particular elements. By watching recordings of the sessions, we will learn how users perform particular tasks and what they find difficult. Heat maps will help us identify the elements that are frequently involved in interactions and those that are omitted, while scroll maps will show us how many out of all users view the various content presented on the site and how many of them do not reach it because they do not scroll as far down as we anticipated. A typical mistake, for example, is to overload the homepage with information and images which slows it down, while it is often the case that users hardly scroll through the homepage at all and go straight to the navigation or search engine.
As is the case in UX research, the qualitative analysis should be combined with quantitative analysis in auditing. In most cases, only the combination of these two different types of data will give us the full picture. Quantitative analysis is based on tools that describe user behavior on the website using statistical data, such as Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics. Using web analytics, we obtain data about our users and the devices they use, discover their paths through our site, and find out which pages they start on, which they end on and how long they spend on each page. From the point of view of e-commerce, it is particularly interesting to analyse the purchase path and the abandonment rate at its individual stages, sales indicators, and the achievement of business objectives.
Performance, i.e., the speed of operation and loading of individual sub-pages, is a factor that may influence user experience as much as content, so performance analysis should also be included in the UX audit. The speed of a website plays a special role, especially on mobile devices and is also one of the key factors considered by Google’s algorithms when indexing pages.
Performance can be affected by server parameters, size of graphic elements, plug-ins, or browser buffering, among other things.
More than 15% of the planet’s population struggles with various types of dysfunctions, which amounts to more than one billion people! In Poland, the number is around 5 million people. It is particularly important for web designers to pay attention to people with visual dysfunctions as it is mainly this sense that is used when operating computers and mobile devices. Worldwide, 285 million people suffer from visual dysfunctions, including 2 million of our compatriots.
The accessibility of websites is increasingly becoming not only a matter of goodwill on the part of their owner but also a legal requirement that they must meet. Guidance is provided by documents such as WCAG or W3C. We may not realize it but when it comes to
e-commerce, increasing accessibility can translate into improved business results. After all, visual impairments do not just concern the blind. Think of how many people around us suffer from different types of visual impairment. If we make it easy for them to use our
on-line store, they will certainly be more willing to shop there.
So, what should we look for when performing an accessibility audit? For all the elements that may hinder the use of our store by people with different dysfunctions. Typical accessibility errors include insufficient contrast or size of individual elements, difficult site navigation using the keyboard, or lack of descriptions of individual elements in the code to allow proper reading by screen readers.
Presentation of results
UX audits are usually carried out by user experience design specialists on behalf of the owner of an on-line store or other website. The important thing for the owner is how to translate the findings of the audit into tangible changes to the website. For this reason, comments on individual elements on the site should be combined with recommendations on how to modify them. When making recommendations, it is possible to base them on already functioning solutions found at distant or closer competitors and to present them in the form of benchmarks. If the situation allows it, we can also offer ready-made mock-ups on which we will correct the discovered errors.
The typical form of presenting the results of an audit is a report describing extensively the findings and proposals for change, also presenting the methodology and tools used. However, creating a report of a few dozen or more pages requires a considerable amount of time. If we don’t have enough of it or don’t need to create a report, we can also present the results of the UX audit in another form. In our experience, various types of on-line boards for visual work, such as Miro, work well here. We can post screenshots of each screen on the board with our comments. The advantage of this solution is that it gives the client the opportunity to refer to our comments directly in the application which greatly facilitates communication.
What type of UX audit to choose in e-commerce?
You learned from our article that a UX audit can take many forms and consist of many elements. What type of audit will work best for the e-commerce sector? Which methods will give us the most insight into what we need to improve in our store?
Cognitive walkthrough and heuristic analysis form the basis of a UX audit and will provide us with a lot of valuable information about our store. However, the scope of user interaction with an on-line store is quite wide and is not limited to the website itself but also includes the post-purchase process and customer service, and even competing stores, because, as we have already written, e-commerce websites operate in a strong competitive environment, and it is easy for customers to compare the offer of many different stores. The performance and accessibility of our website also affect how users perceive it. For this reason, it is better to opt for a more extensive form of an audit. A holistic view of the user journey and the user experience at each stage of the journey will allow us to better adapt our store to the user’s needs, and ultimately increase conversions and improve business results. Taking into account the post-purchase process will make it possible to discover problems not directly related to the website, and the use of a variety of research techniques will enable a more accurate and precise diagnosis to be made.
We recommend a UX audit as an easily accessible tool that, with relatively modest resources, will allow you to achieve quick and significant results in improving the user experience of your store, and thus translate into increased sales and improvements of other business indicators.