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GUEST COMMENT How to boost online revenue using heuristic evaluation

Smart merchandising approaches are needed to stand out online

Heuristic evaluation – sometimes known as ‘heuristic testing’ or ‘experience-based testing’ – is helping online retailers to boost revenue and deliver ROI in their digital initiatives.

It’s an approach that jewellery upstart Astrid & Miyu used to maximise wins ahead of Black Friday 2017, helping them to secure a revenue rise of 144% compared with the previous year, and a 133% growth in transactions.

Ultimately it gives retailers a cost-effective way to improve and deliver digital initiatives that drive maximum value to the business, whether that value takes the form of revenue or operational improvements.

Ensuring ROI in digital investments

Deciding how and where to invest budget in developing and evolving a digital product such as an online shop is challenging, and it’s easy for digital leaders to fall victim to common pitfalls.

One pitfall can be the decision to invest in new features rather than investing time in understanding how and where existing features can be improved.

Too often new product components get signed-off and rolled out, while older areas of the website or app suffer from neglect. These ignored areas tend to be the older ‘core pillars’ of the website or digital product built when it was first launched, such as checkout funnels, registration processes, and product pages. Neglecting these areas can result in friction for your customers at critical moments in their purchase journey.

The problem arises when retailers fail to put business value at the heart of their digital roadmap. Digital initiatives should always be prioritised based on the tangible benefit they will produce for the business, whether that benefit is revenue growth or operational efficiencies.

So, put simply, digital investment absolutely needs to take ROI into account and must avoid vanity measures. And this is where heuristic evaluation comes in – a cost-effective way to do this by identifying the most compelling opportunities to improve your online shop or digital service.

What is heuristic evaluation?

Heuristic Evaluation – first developed in the ’90s by Jakob Nielsen – is a method that aims to find usability problems by tasking a small set of evaluators to examine the product and judge its performance.

It does so using a set of recognised usability principles (the ‘heuristics’) such as: ‘systems should speak the user’s language’, ‘the user shouldn’t have to remember information across journeys’, ‘errors should be prevented rather than just captured’, and so on.

Heuristic Evaluation uses a small group of people to examine a digital product based on the premise that different people with different experiences will find different problems. Clearly there will be some overlap in the problems discovered, especially with obvious issues, but results do uncover a substantial number of unique problems identified by different evaluators.

Obviously, there comes a point at which the law of diminishing returns applies to Heuristic Evaluation – for example, when investing in more people to assess an ecommerce shop or app doesn’t bring a worthwhile return in terms of new problems that the additional people uncover.

Based on my experience, I find that small groups of around four or five evaluators have a tendency to produce the best results without everyone starting to identify the same issues. Key to success is to construct a group with a diverse range of experiences. Unsurprisingly, the individual issues highlighted by a software engineer, marketing manager, and graphic designer are likely to be different, so there’s real worth in trying to vary the types of people you use to test, rather than having four developers, for example.

How does heuristic testing work?

When undertaking an evaluation, results are achieved by focusing the group on the specific goals or user journeys you want to assess. As an example, you might want to investigate how easy it is for your customers to locate a specific item on your website using any of the options available to them.

This approach ensures there is a clear and specific journey or feature to be assessed and keeps all efforts focused on surfacing problems to do with the same area of the digital product or service.

Each member of the group identifies and logs issues or improvement opportunities using a simple hypothesis format:

‘If we [change suggestion goes here]’:
● ‘It will result in [assumed outcome goes here]’; and
● ‘We’ll know we’ve succeeded when [metric changes]’

For example:

‘If we display more detailed product information on the product page’:
● ‘It will result in customers making a more informed purchase decision’; and
● ‘We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the number of unwanted products returned

Using the above approach, it’s possible to clearly identify the expected value that making the change will drive. This, in turn, allows digital teams to prioritise improvement experiments into a backlog focused on driving value back to the business.

The beauty of this testing strategy is that it’s quick and easy, and doesn’t require sophisticated testing systems to identify issues.

How Astrid & Miyu grew online revenue with heuristics testing

Following the success of Black Friday 2016, jewellery business Astrid & Miyu was keen to maximise the revenue potential of Black Friday 2017. But as a small online business with limited budget and resource for site improvement, Astrid & Miyu needed a pragmatic and tactical approach focusing on the key lessons uncovered the previous year.

In collaboration with digital consultancy Inviqa, the jewellery retailer carried out heuristics testing workshops with key stakeholders across the business. Critical Cyber Week customer journeys were mapped based on what was going to be most important to mobile shoppers and the 18-30 demographic.

Opportunities to improve the overall journeys were considered at every stage, and from this the team identified a list of improvement opportunities, with a focus on quick-to-implement, high-impact wins that would make the best use of the available budget.

The result was a record-breaking Black Friday for Astrid & Miyu which accounted for 17% of the retailer’s overall revenue for 2017, with conversion rate hitting a peak of 4.5%. The jewellery retailer has seen a 7% rise in returning customers since Black Friday.

Try it in your own business

Heuristic evaluation should be part of every retailer’s arsenal when it comes to driving improvement. It’s a highly cost-effective method of driving real value, with quick wins easily established by a small team during an hour’s workshop. And with clear metrics associated with each improvement, validating success is easy.

Revisiting key areas of your ecommerce store to identify improvement opportunities no longer has to be a costly process. Because whatever your budget or limitations, approaches like heuristic evaluation allow you to identify the improvements that will drive maximum ROI.

Author: Brett Lawrence, business consultancy director, Inviqa

Image credit: Fotolia 

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