The importance of usability

Kathryn McDonell, a User Experience Consultant at and a guest blogger on Econsultancy wrote a very detailed account of her observations on Waitrose’s relaunched online shopping service. The title of the post, “Waitrose’s redesign: where did it go wrong?” is a hint on her views on the new site, which has apparently prompted a host of complaints.

She breaks down the results of a comparative usability exercise that they (I assume Karen is “they”) ran:

As a comparison, we asked users to perform the same tasks on Tesco’s online shopping site and to give their preference.

Users were asked users to select five items to put in their shopping trolley: bread, eggs, sunflower oil, a red pepper and two tuna steaks, thinking aloud as they did so.

If you’re a believer in the importance of usability, their test basically shows that people think that Waitrose’s design is cleaner and more beautiful, but that it falls down when people actually have to use the site.

The most interesting part of this post is the videos of users trying to perform some very basic online shopping tasks and thinking out loud as you watch a video of their screen showing what they are trying to do.

I’ve worked with a number of people who have never experienced this sort of research first-hand. It’s an incredibly important part of the process. I’d recommend checking out these videos (if not reading the whole post), especially if you’ve never seen it.

Any new website that’s launched will have problems. If you’re Waitrose, and you’ve been doing eCommerce for years, you expect it and you prepare a budget to optimise the experience for people as the feedback rolls in. If your budget isn’t as generous, not paying attention to usability in your process can be a very costly error.

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