The fundamentals on User research and testing

Customer aquistion cost

User research and testing can be a bit of an unknown territory for most merchants that have never done it before, all you have and all you can see are the tools that have been given to you. You might have google analytics and at best Facebook ad analytics but for an e-commerce store that has never ventured into this, it pretty much stops there.

There’s a whole spectrum of testing you can do, I’ll warn you in advance, it doesn’t happen overnight, even over a week or month. It can be a lengthy process but done properly can result in some great outcomes for your store. Remember every business and every audience is different this is why the best agency in the world can suggest and design/develop a 10 out of 10 site which from the naked eye seems flawless… but in reality, how do you know for sure that your target audience finds it easy to navigate around your store, stay interested enough to not exit or be incentivised to complete that cart purchase?

We’ll be covering the following techniques briefly; I suggest trying to aim for around 5 different user participants in each test for the best results:

  • In-person usability testing
  • Remote usability testing
  • Unfacilitated usability testing
  • Usability benchmarking
  • Session recorders
  • A/B and multivariate testing
  • Card sorting
  • Semantic differential survey
  • Top task analysis


In-person/ Remote/ Unfacilitated usability testing

These three techniques are one of my personal favourites and are all similar but can cause in different results, as well one technique might suit you better depending on your position/ time and money budgeted to research.


In-person testing is where the participant and the facilitator are in the same room and the user will be analysed on how they navigate the website and if they come across any issues, the facilitator may ask questions or ask the user to carry out certain tasks which can then be assessed how the user reacts, if they have any issues, the body language and their behaviour. Sometimes this is a great method as we have to remember we aren’t selling our products and services to computers, there is an actually a human being the other side of the screen so getting real-time reactions to this behaviour you can’t get anywhere else. Also, another benefit is that you can carry this out throughout the whole process with initial wireframes to pre-published site.


Remote usability testing, is similar, and you might have guessed, it’s done in the same environment just with the facilitator and participant partake over screen share, the same environment where the facilitator will ask the user to carry out certain tasks and can see how the user reacts to the site and try guide theme and have a conversation over any issues. Another benefit is that it can be easier to source a participant using this method as it’s more flexible on the end-user, this could be very useful if your site is used across multiple countries and regions as that might have an effect on the user and behaviour.


Unfacilitated usability testing requires the participant to carry out several tasks and the user to fill out a report on their findings but unlike the other two methods there won’t be a facilitator present and it is usually recorded. This can cause some issues as the facilitator can’t ask questions or note down how the end-user reacts in real-time although this is a great method to use if you need to do masses amount of user testing in a short period of time and of course prevents any influences of the facilitator or pressure on to the participant.


Session recorders

Session recorders can be very useful as you can’t amount a mass amount of consumer behaviour on your site by identifying where they might be hitting problems, why the exit a site in certain areas and heatmap of where the consumer spends the most time constraining on and where they spend the least and you can use this unbiased behaviour to identify strengths and weaknesses on your site. Although you can’t ask the end-user questions or ask them to carry out certain tasks, I still suggest this method highly if certain areas of your live site are underperforming as it’ll help you identify these reasons.


Drawback it only works on live sites!

 Call To Action - Positioning

A/B and multivariate testing

A slightly bit different but very effective source of testing when you have an established site and want to improve performance or maybe conversion rates have dropped.
It focuses on small changes, normally one to three changes at once and the objective is to refine the site to the finer details so it’s more custom to its end-user.

Usually, you’ll split certain elements of the site and test 3 or 4 different designs/functionality of that element on the page and other the cause of time you’ll see what element has performed better – it’s a quick way to stop second-guessing and choose out of several design concepts to make it them actually work for the end-user.

 Call to action button spacing

Card sorting

This method is primarily used to sort out the best page structure or product categorising too make it easier for the user to navigate around the site. Card sorting is best to do this in the early stages of design mock-ups and can be a good insight on your consumer's vocal points when they visit your site.


Semantic differential survey

Semantic differential surveys are for end-users to rate the site on performance, feel, look and anything the facilitator needs to identify if the site matches the site's brand.

Merchants hire partners to ensure their brand vision is demonstrated through the design, and a semantic differential survey will help ascertain whether the design successfully elicits the right sentiment in the minds of users.

 Semantical testing

Top task analysis

Top task analysis is used by merchants and developers to identify from the end consumer what are top priority tasks that they carry out on the site and little tasks that aren’t a priority to them. Using critical questions to identify this you can ensure the top tasks are emphasized on the site and the little tasks are not getting in the way of why the actual consumer has visited the site, for the ‘top tasks’.

Empathy gap

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