Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tablets and user experience

In general, most websites work well on tablet PCs, and the user experience is certainly better than on top end smartphones
However, most websites are designed to be navigated using a mouse and keyboard, and touch screen devices can cause various usability issues. 
In order for retailers to provide the best possible user experience on tablets, and therefore maximise conversions, they should be testing their websites with tablets to find out the potential pain-points for consumers.  
Here are a few areas where e-commerce sites could optimise for tablet users. 

Small font sizes

Though great for browsing the web, tablet screens are still smaller than those of most laptops and PCs, so some text can be hard to read on them. 
This means that text-heavy pages, such as Amazon's product pages, can be hard to read without zooming.  

Drop-down menus 

Since you can't hover over links with a mouse when using touch screen device, some aspects of websites don't work at all, or else very poorly. 
On many e-commerce sites, drop-down menus on the homepage are a pain to use on tablets. They only flash up for a fraction of a second, meaning that you cannot use them to find a quicker route to sub-categories. 
On the M&S and ASOS websites, the drop-downs don't stay there long enough to be of any use, and instead take the tablet user straight to the category.
This means that online retailers need to offer alternatives to browsing via the drop-down menu. 
Links too close together
A mouse is a precise tool for clicking on links, but on touch screen devices, clicking on links accurately can be a problem. 
One common problem is links that are placed too close together, making it very difficult to select the desired option, as is the case with the navigation options on the left hand side of Amazon’s UK site. 
There is also a problem with the promoted products on the homepage, as small links don’t provide a very big target for users’ fingers and thumbs.  
This problem of links smaller than the fingers attempting to select them is what Jakob Nielsen calls ‘fat finger syndrome’. It’s one of the most common usability issues with touchscreen devices.  
Use of Flash
Given Apple's aversion to it, sites that rely on Flash too much are not going to work well on the iPad.  
Since the iPad currently dominates the tablet market, this is an important consideration for retailers. Here, much of Ikea's homepage isn't visible:
There are other reasons not to rely on Flash; it isn’t great for SEO, and also won’t work on many mobiles. 
If you have a lot of Flash on your site, then the tablet user will see blank spaces. This doesn’t look good, but may also make the user assume an error on the site. 
Cluttered websites don't work well 
The more elements and text you place on a page, the harder it becomes to read and navigate on a smaller screen. 
For example, this product page from Tesco contains a lot of text and imagery. This means that tablet users have to work harder to read the text and move around the page. 
Too much clutter also makes it more likely that users will accidentally click on the wrong link. 
Product photos and videos
Flash is often used for product display, whether through videos or pictures, and these elements don't work on the iPad. 
I'm not suggesting that retailers should avoid Flash for this purpose, but it's worth considering if you have a decent amount of traffic from tablets. 
Forms should be designed for tablet users, and data entry should be kept to a minimum. 
Tablets aren’t great for data entry, and a long form could lead users to abandon in favour of their desktop PC or laptop. Indeed, in a recent whatusersdo study of the Thomas Cook site on iPad, forms were a major irritation for testers. 
Don’t use long, daunting forms, and present plenty of shortcuts, such as postcode lookup tools and copying billing data to the delivery address. 
Calls to action should be big enough to be visible, and easy to click on. 
There is room for testing and experimentation here, and buttons and other navigational elements can be tailored to tablet devices. 
For example, this call to action for the Direct Line’s iPad-optimised site uses the slide action instead of a traditional call to action button. 
This change led to a 9.2% uplift in online registrations for car insurance quotes. 

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