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My users told me they wanna shop around: An in-the-wild shopping study

| October 13, 2015
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We all know that it’s never been easier to buy what you need from your desktop, smartphone, or tablet. A lot of that is due to more and more companies doing basic user testing—putting testers to the task of shopping on a site or app, watching where they stumble, and then smoothing out the experience.

However, there are a lot of products out there that can’t, and generally shouldn’t, be shopped for and purchased inside of a standard 15-minute test window.

For most people, high-cost items like cars, computers, and televisions require additional time to research. There are more features to consider. There are prices to compare. There’s even an issue of tangibility that must be considered:

  • Do I feel comfortable in the driver’s seat?
  • Does the laptop fit in my bag?
  • Will the matte black finish clash with the TV stand we have?

All these considerations make for a challenging user testing environment, but not an impossible one! UserTesting’s desktop and mobile recording technology allowed us the chance to follow users as they shopped for an essential household item: a new television.

Getting started

Our research objective was simple: How do users go about shopping for a television, across different devices and in-store? What information do they need, and where do they find it? And what stumbling blocks do they hit along the way?

We recruited test participants who were currently in the process of purchasing a new television to participate in our study. The participants were able to indicate which platform they would start the process on, and then they were assigned tests accordingly.

The tasks were open-ended in nature; first we asked them to explain where they were in the purchasing process and how they typically shop for a new TV, then we had them visit whatever sites or apps they normally would in order to learn more. We concluded the first test by asking them what they would do next and then assigned follow-up tests to review the next steps, as well.

Initial TV exploration

As it turned out, beginning to shop for a television was an overwhelming experience, regardless of platform or site.

A desktop user was almost immediately “lost” in Best Buy’s navigation menu, which listed seven television categories under “TV & Home Theater.”

A shopper on Amazon’s mobile site struggled to locate television categories because the list appeared at the very bottom of a long page full of product thumbnails.

And even the LG site, which included a “Find the Right TV” feature, set the user up for an overwhelming start by making the “Start Now” button a little too small and presenting televisions before the shopper was ready.

As you can see, one of the biggest challenges facing this industry is organizing the content in a way that makes sense and doesn’t overwhelm its shoppers.

Other online issues

Particularly in the mobile environment, sites aren’t able to show all of the important information, like price and user reviews.

And while some sites are successful in presenting the information to their users, they still aren’t quite able to translate awesome features into awesome experiences; shoppers rely on salespeople to do that.

 

In-store shopping

All the participants in this study indicated that after their initial online research, they’d want to head to a store to make a purchase decision. Most often, it was because they wanted to see the TV in person, to make sure there was nothing off-putting about the physical appearance of the unit (like bulky borders around the screen area or a flimsy mount). The other reason was to ask questions about features that were confusing or hard to filter for online, like 4K resolution or variations in SmartTV (LG’s webOS 2.0 versus standard).

So we sent participants to whatever store they would typically consider purchasing a TV, and had them record that experience as well.

And as with online shopping, in-store shopping can be overwhelming, especially if the shopper doesn’t have a particular model or brand in mind. Stores don’t always divide TVs in logical or obvious ways, which makes comparison shopping next to impossible without talking to a representative.

 

Item labels and spacing left something to be desired for most participants. Information cards were small and had to be scrutinized closely in order to match the details to the particular unit.

Another thing participants encountered in stores were new, interactive kiosks to learn more about various innovations in the television-viewing experience (like 4K screens, smart TVs, etc.). While interesting, one user found them less-than-helpful in learning more; the audio was either indistinct or malfunctioning, the video was confusing and unclear, and the store’s overall noise made it difficult to focus.

Conclusion

As fascinating as this small study was, it barely scratched the surface of what customers are thinking and doing as they make purchase decisions. Studies like this one can offer insights relevant to a company’s web designers, app designers, product managers, marketers, and many other teams. They can reveal stumbling blocks and learning opportunities that might be missed if user testing is confined to just one platform at a time. Plus, they’re really fun to watch!

Providing an awesome experience every step of the customer’s way is a crucial step in out-performing competitors, increasing brand loyalty, and encouraging positive word of mouth. Researching the full customer journey should be a high priority for any company, and it’s never been easier.

Happy testing!