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How to improve the usability of your E-commerce. Using Nielsen’s 10 heuristics – part I

Usability is the capacity of a system to offer an effective, efficient and satisfactory experience, to the people that seek to perform an action.

We can say that usability is a fundamental pillar in the performance of your digital strategies and thus, if its quality is improved, this becomes a key factor that can enhance the yield of your publicity investment.

Over the years, many usability professionals have written observations and started setting general principles for the discipline of interaction design, which comprise what we call nowadays the heuristics of usability.

Notably these include the works of authors such as Jakob Nielsen, Bruce Tognazzini and Susan Weinschenk, among others. We will now draw special attention to Jakob Nielsen’s heuristics, and we will see how they can contribute to improve the usability of your e-commerce.

Jacob Nielsen’s heurystics applied to e-commerce

The principles that Jakob Nielsen has established can be a useful guide to improve the usability of a website, these are:

  • Visibility of system status
  • Match between system and the real world
  • User Control and Freedom
  • Consistency and Standards
  • Error Prevention
  • Recognition rather than recall
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design
  • Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors
  • Help and documentation

#1 Visibility of the state of the system

Every system needs to provide feedback to the user about its state. In other words, fir any action performed by a person, the system needs to show an answer to the user. This applies for main actions as well as the design of interactions with a system.

If the system does not show a reaction to the action of users, these are more likely to be confused, disoriented, and thus decide to abandon the site.

In the example, we can see Nike‘s app using this heuristic, when the user adds an item to the cart (1), when it indicates the state of close stores (2) and when it marks with a tic the selected color on a search filter (3).

Adopting this heuristic brings transparency to the experience and it also reduces the mental effort carried out by the user when utilizing a system.

#2 Match between system and the real world

Sometimes, this is closely related to the language, but it also applies to the interaction and use of symbols. It refers to the fact that it is important to understand the real world and the context where the interaction between the people and our system occurs.

By owning ways of representing the real world on our sites, we can makes experiences to be perceived as familiar or natural.

It is recommended to avoid jargon or technical language, and to use familiar words for users, as well as symbols that are not likely to be misinterpreted.

In the example, we can see how within the flow of password change of the app of Banco Provincia de Buenos Aires they use a title that says “Local access” and littles clues in the text fields a very technical language such as “numeric characters”. On the other hand, the app for the bank Brubank uses the title “password change” and marks the difference between the present password with a phrase that refers to the context where this password is going to be used. ¿Which one seems more natural?

In the cases where the system is targeted towards expert users, for example, a site that sells highly complex medical equipment, it is important to note that although technical language can be relevant, it is not always the expert medical doctor the one performing the purchase.

Additional Tips:
– Simplicity in Language is always welcome.
– Language should not be perceived as complex for being specific or technical.

#3 User control and freedom

The user should be the one controlling the system, and not the other way around. The bigger the degree of control and freedom, the more solid will the bond of trust with the brand be.

Many times companies believe that by not including escape routes (such as a cross or a return arrow), they will be able to retain the users so that they can make a purchase and not abandon the site.

Nevertheless, this can impact negatively, because upon the need of verifying something or correcting a previous typing mistake, the user is forced to close the browser and leave the site.

In the example we see how Shipt uses this heuristic to give control to the users in different points of its purchasing flow, allowing them to go back, to leave a tip ir not, or even allowing them to edit the items of an order, while it is still in preparation.

It is very difficult for a user that leaves to come back. This usually costs a lot of money and emphasis in remarketing processes. For this reason, it is important that we always leave the users the option to decide how to interact with our system.

#4 Consistency and Standards

It is essential to have both inner and outer consistency. Inner in connection to our site, as to how we show ourselves and how we call things. And outer as to the patterns of our culture.

Users tend to spend more time in other sites than your e-commerce. It is important to understand which are the most common patterns in your industry to generate interactions that feel familiar.

In this example, we see an analysis performed by the group Nn’g, where they explored repetitive interaction patterns in renowned E-commerce sites, such as Ikea, Target, Etsy and Grainger.

On the other hand, we recommend that if in your site you use a specific word to refer to a specific category of products, you should always use the same word. Consistency in the language can avoid confusions.

People who use your ecommerce for the first time are going to learn how to use your system and adopt the interaction pattern you propose. For this reason we talk about consistency not only in terms of language, but also in terms of structure level and interaction. For instance, it is important that if your main button is usually in one position, make sure it is in the same area of the screen. Consistency is a key factor for the adoption of your site.

#5 Error Prevention

Consider this taking into account an online store. Let’s suppose that you currently have an active system of discount coupons and a user enters a code that is not valid. The system should avoid the error, letting the user know that this promo is not valid the moment they stop typing the code, instead of waiting for the next step to explain it.

It is recommended to think about what mistakes are possible in these moments when a user interacts with our platform, in order to be one step ahead, avoid them and make sure your site provides a seamless experience.

In the example on the left we see how Nike uses a validator on the email field, which detects that the site domain is missing after the ‘’@’’ and that shows the error even before the person wants to continue.
On the image in the middle, we see how Panera Bread uses suggestions when the user is writing its address.
Target, on the example in the right, uses the same feature to search for products or categories.

So far, we have seen the application of the first five heuristic principles of Nielsen.

In order to have optimal results we always recommend that you work with usability experts. This article is written to exemplify how the heuristic principles of usability can enhance your ecommerce.

Improving the experience of your website directly impacts the perception of the people towards your brand and it is vital for the growth of a business. Enhancing it is an ongoing task that requires constant revisions and that will promote your business in the long run.

At Adtomic we commit and defy ourselves to develop our product, understanding the needs of our clients to simplify their daily work and reach their goals. The basis of all our work is on their feedback and on continuing to improve and to fulfill and exceed their expectations, with an easy and self-manageable platform.

In the next article we will keep on revising and putting into practice the remaining principles to show the impact they can have on the experience of your site. Stay tuned!

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