The Surprising Link Between Web Usability, Customer Satisfaction and ROI


A just released survey of the top 40 e-commerce sites asked users to rate their satisfaction with the buying experience. In the results, the survey director notes “higher customer satisfaction ratings often translate into loyalty and purchase intent”.

It is amazing that we still need surveys to tell us that. Web usability started as an art and is now an established science that uses audience personas, usage stories and needs mapping to optimize site flow, calls to action and creating an engaging yet efficient experience tailored to each visitor.

Jacob Nielsen in recent studies found an improvement of 83% to 138% in KPI’s resulting from a web usability redesign. In about 12% of the cases, the increase was tenfold.

With every web initiative need to provide Return On Investment (ROI) justification, most sites and applications have huge potential for improvement and can easily justify usability upgrades.

How to build a strong ROI case

The common formula for the commerce site business potential is based on the simple concept of getting as many visitors as possible and converting them into paying customers.

Business = Visits x Conversion Rate X Average purchase amount (For each revenue stream on the site)

Let’s look at each of these 3 components that largely determine site performance: volume, conversion and purchase size and see where the usability comes in.

Volume: traffic is comprised of new traffic and repeat traffic (V = Vnew + Vrepeat). Attracting new visitors to the site can be expensive and the acquisition cost is often reduced from the total revenue generated. Repeat and loyal visitors are essential to profitability and any improvement in the repeat visitor rate has significant impact on the bottom line. Good user experience that contributes to customer satisfaction will increase the number of repeat visits and add traffic without the acquisition cost.

Conversion Rate: The other critical role of usability is to make sure each visitor is provided with their specific needs which are not always a direct purchase. In a previous post I looked at the new e-commerce paradigm that acknowledges the multiphase shopping experience and provides information, interaction and solutions for visitor in every phase of their purchasing decisions. User experience optimization can have a dramatic effect on converting a visitor to a customer.

Purchase Size: Amazon started product merchandizing, upsells and recommendations more than a decade ago but many companies still are not perfect at providing users with additional options and suggestions throughout the checkout process.

Therefore the impact of usability on the Business consists of the increase in repeat traffic (∆Vrepeat), the increase in conversion rate ∆CR and the increase in purchase size ∆PA or in a formula: B = (Vnew + (Vr + ∆Vr)) x (CR + ∆CR) x (PA + ∆PA)

Usability contributions to cost reduction and savings:

  • Reduction in marketing spend for new customer acquisition. The same traffic goals can be achieved with more repeat traffic reducing marketing expenses for new traffic generation.
  • Reduction in calls to phone support

Other factors to consider:

  • The cost of doing nothing. Not improving usability can actually hurt the factors listed above as the market is not static. The overall web usability standards have increased with rich interfaces and Ajax style functionality. Sites that have not caught up, look dated and clumsy. The competition is not static either. If your site’s experience is inferior to the competition, traffic will move there.
  • Social media and word of mouth quickly spread good experiences and bad one to an extremely wide audience.

And lastly, without good web analytics program and measurements, you may not know to identify the challenges of poor usability or the contributions of improvements so consider setting an analytics baseline prior to any substantial improvements.

Chrome – a quick first look and review

Yesterday I got all excited about the Chrome release. It is available now for download at

After playing around with the new Google Chrome Browser for the last hour, here are some initial thoughts:

  1. It’s very light weight. It installs in seconds and takes little system resources to run. It is also light on features. More on that later.
  2. It’s FAST and renders almost every page I’ve tried perfectly. 
  3. I like the new interface which is nice and clean, the tabs on top etc.
  4. The tools for developers are cool with the task manager providing great system details and even the view source supports code color coding. 
  5. The first page is fine but I find it somewhat annoying that you can not edit the content of the 9 default boxes. Automation is a fine concept but you are not always alone. If I happened to go and check on a gossip site during the day, do I want everyone present in the next meeting when I fire up my browser to know that? some editing functions will be useful.
  6. It is a beta release granted but even for a beta it is missing some browser staples that have been part of any browser for a long time. Accessibility, content ratings, parental controls, Zoom, Fontsize change all gone.
  7. Bookmark management is extremely basic
  8. Passwords. I could not believe but here it was in plain text. If you answer positively for storing you password, Chrome will allow you and anyone else that happens to be sitting at your desk not just to access sites but to view the plain text version of passwords to saved sites. This is bad.
  9. Surprisingly, no support exists for the Goolge Toolbar but I’m sure that will be remedied soon.
  10. Lack of support for plugins.

Overall, it is a good little browser that mostly good for casual reading and using the Google tools. It is not ready for the workplace nor can it be a single or even the primary browser for any power user.

It is an impressive first foray into the arena and I hope they beef it up for the actual release if it’s to be a contender

Data, The Ugly Stepsister of Web 2.0

The basket of technology comprising Web 2.0 is a wonderful thing and worthy of all of the press and commentary it receives, but what really scares me is the state of data in this new world.  Data sits in the basement of this wonderful technology edifice, ugly, dirty, surrounded by squalor, and chained in place.  It is much more fun to just buy the next storage array (disk is cheap, infinite, what power bill?), than it is to grind though it, clean it up, validate it, ensure proper governance and ontology.

What is Web 2.0 for, if not to expose more content? And data is the ultimate content.  Knowing what is hiding in the basement, there are going to be a lot of embarrassed organizations (Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do!).  Imagine how difficult it is going to be to link and synchronize content and data in the Web 2.0 environment.  Imagine explaining the project delays and failures of Web 2.0 initiatives when the beast in the basement gets a grip on them.

Normally, the technology will be blamed.  Nobody wants to admit they store the corporate crown jewels in the local landfill.  Nobody will buy the new products fast enough.  The server farms being built to support Cloud Computing will sit spinning and melting Arctic Ice in vain (Microsoft’s container-based approach is cool).  This could seriously impact the market capitalization of our top tech giants Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Amazon.  Oh no! It could crash the stock market and bring on tech and financial Armageddon given our weakened state!  Even worse, my own career is at stake!  The devil with them, they are all rolling in money, I could starve!

Now that I have my inner chimp back in the box, we need to put together a mitigation strategy to allow for a steady phased improvement of the data situation in tandem with Web 2.0 initiatives.  It is too much to expect anybody to clean up the toxic data dump in one sitting and we can not tag Web 2.0 with the entire bill from years of neglect (just toss it in the basement, no one goes there).  If we do not ask IT to own up to the issue and instead allow projects to fail, senior management, (fade to The Office), will assume the technology is at fault and will not allocate the resources needed to make this key technological transition.