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The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

Personas and Use Cases

LivePerson, provider of online help to e-commerce sites, recently published a global study on the user experience.  The findings, as you might expect, underpin the need for their service.

  • Speed of abandonment: 71% expect to be able to access help when purchasing online within five minutes, whilst 31% expect this help to be immediate.
  • Help-seeking behaviors: Globally 83% of online users admit that they need some form of support during their online journey.
  • Chat on demand: 59% of global users would like to have more choice in how they contact online brands with 93% seeing real time help being of use in at least one online shopping scenario.
  • Purchase: 51% stated that they were more likely to purchase from a website if they could get answers via Live Chat, with particular demand in Italy (60%), the USA (56%) and Australia (52%).

The findings, however, beg a deeper question: Why, after a decade and a half of design experience, should e-commerce still drive its users to seek so much help?  My own recent experience as a multi-channel shopper points to a few of the answers. E-commerce often allows for only the most basic shopping experiences.  Product comparison, search by feature, channel coordination, and even the kind of “extended” transactions described below tax the design limitations of many iconic sites. Even if personas were used in their design, the use cases that accompanied those personas left out great chunks of real-life shopping behavior. Over the last couple of weeks, I have researched tablets online and in-store and bought two from a store. I researched and purchased two trans-Atlantic air fares. I researched but did not book hotels in London. I also researched rain gear online and bought a pair of Gore-tex walking shoes from a store. The store experiences were, for the most part, both satisfactory and successful.  The online element was far less so.  Let’s start with the tablets.  Online, I could get no real idea of the comparative experience of watching a cloud-delivered movie on a 7” screen vs. an 8.9” screen.  Would the streaming be faster on the smaller version? Was there more pixelization on the larger screen? How did the two units compare for sound?  Since I do not play games online, what benefit would I gain from a quad processor?  Trying to find answers to these and other commonly asked question was far from easy.  I had to go to the store to get them in the end.  I had to ask a sales person and have him set the units side by side so I could see for myself the comparative performance, brand by brand.  The decision, when made within this physical context, was simple.  That’s a real use case.  That’s what e-commerce should offer. The air fares were easier.  Coach is coach is coach.  Sitting in a seat in which a cat would have difficulty getting comfortable and breathing stale air for 8 hours sucks no matter what airline you travel.  So it’s just a matter of schedules and cost.  That was easy to determine, once I worked out the apples-to-apples aspects of the offerings.  Booking, however, was a different issue. I had to call the 800 number when my booking failed to go through.  The customer service lady explained that the booking failure might have occurred because I had paid extra for selecting my seats ahead of time. Say what?  Is that not a use case for which their booking engine has been programmed? The hotels, you may have noticed, I did not book.  I could not.  I could not because I have hired a car and will need to park it at the hotel.  London hotels do not uniformly offer on-premise parking.  Nor do they typically tell you where the nearest available parking may be or what it costs.  London is an expensive place to stay, far more so than any of the other European capitals, and parking is often a nightmare in terms of cost, security, and convenience.  But do you think it is possible to search for hotels with on-premise parking?  Or determine the cost or the security arrangements or the walk back to the hotel?  Not for this user? Yet this, again, is a common use case.  Thousands of travelers hire cars at Gatwick and Heathrow every day and many of them will be staying in London for at least part of their visit.  Yet hotel parking is another common use case that the hotel consolidator sites have either ignored or not adequately accommodated. The Gore-tex shoe purchase was an adventure unto itself.  One needs waterproof gear and footwear in the UK or one does not go outside. So I searched a well-known sports retailer’s website for Sale and Clearance items. I was, indeed, able to filter by footwear, then by hiking boots, then by Gore-tex.  I found a pair I liked. I wanted to be able to pick them up at my local store.  No way.  And because the boots were on sale, they did not qualify for free shipping.  So I went to the store to see if they had the boots on sale and in-stock and in my size.  Of course not.  Nor was there a mechanism on their website that allowed me to search the local store’s inventory, so that I could have saved myself a wasted trip.  So where in this retailer’s online strategy, I ask, does my need for multi-channel coordination rank as “untypical”?  It does not.  Yet my use case did not appear to have been even a design consideration. By way of conclusion, I would point to a recent Forrester email I received. It marketed one of their persona webinars and posed the question: Are personas still necessary?  The question, of course, was rhetorical.  Not only are they necessary, they need to be bolstered by a wide range of authentic use cases, so that the eventual design accommodates real-life shopping behaviors and reduces the need for LivePerson-like safety nets.

 -Roger Beynon, CSO, Usability Sciences Corporation

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