The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

When Usability Fails

Recently I attempted to place an order on a website that had unique products that no other manufacturer offers. My initial order with this company was placed by a representative with the company and all future orders were to be reviewed and placed by me. It was easy enough to login to my account, but that was the end of what should have been a seamless experience.

e-CommerceWhat went wrong?

I was unaware that that my initial order had been placed as a reoccurring order. My first learning! My first challenge was editing the existing order. It seemed simple enough to delete items from the reoccurring order, but adding new items was not clear in the least. I eventually found a link ‘Add More Items’ placed in an obscure location, that didn’t look like a button and was easily overlooked. After clicking the link, I was presented with a page of featured products, but not a listing of all products. Fortunately, the site provided excellent left navigation to narrow the searches of products. However, there were no filtering options to narrow the results.

So, feeling successful in adding items to my order, there did not appear to be a way to return to my order to see the items I had added. I eventually found a ‘Review my Order’ link in the position you would typically find the cart icon. In the cart view there were some great specials offered with a 28% savings on specific products. I certainly wanted to take advantage of that. So, removing some of the items, to then put these special offers in my cart, seemed like it would be easy to accomplish. I removed a handful of items, but then the specials that were at the top of the cart disappeared. I went back to the listing of products, thinking I would find the specials there….no such luck.

Shopping CartWanting to finish my order I decided to put the initial items back in the cart and just check out. I discovered as I was placing the items back in the cart, that the specials reappeared. Nowhere on the site did it tell me there was a minimum order requirement to take advantage of the 28% discounted items. I played with adding and removing items from the cart to determine what the minimum requirement was, to take advantage of the specials. Way too much work on my part, but who doesn’t want to save a few bucks.

Now the real issue and final issue. I’m finding it impossible to checkout. There’s no checkout button or way that I can discover to place my order. Out of frustration I called the company and said I’m stumped. They had a quick response, ‘Didn’t you see the video on the cart page showing you how to order and check out?’ Boy did I feel silly!!! Never have I been to a site, that was so difficult to order products or to check out and the ultimate solution rather than fixing the usability issues was to provide a video. By the way, I completely overlooked that video because I typically never watch them and it would have never occurred to me that I needed to, to use their website. The video was well done and did show me all the errors of my ways in ordering and checking out. The final blow, there was a ‘Save my Changes’ button, which was actually the checkout button. Hoping to click on it and preview my order, I wasn’t surprised in the least that there was no preview and it simple just completed the checkout process.

So, what’s the bottom line… How do you know when your site fails usability completely, when you must provide a video to show how to use your site? I applaud them for providing the video, but I much prefer they had followed standard usability best practices for their checkout process.

-Rebecca Ratliff, Vice President of User Experience Operations, Usability Sciences

Read more about user research and how you can utilize best practices to prevent usability fails like this.

Contact us


Sign up to become a Paid Test Participant.

Sign UP Now


“From beginning to end, everyone I interacted with from Usability Sciences was professional and thorough. I was impressed with the testing technology, the methodology and especially the team that led the project. This is one of the most impactful pieces of research I have ever delivered to my team. Thank you!”

Senior Director
Digital Media Television Networks

“USC managed tight timelines and a client team that was tough to wrangle, But more importantly, the quality of the work was exemplary. It's work I would hold up as "the way we should do things" and share as a case study across the organization.”

Group Product Director
Digital Marketing, Pharmaceutical Company