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2.8 Web Design, Usability and Communication


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The E-Business, the E-Customer, their Relationship and Interactivity



KunnskapskildenE-Business –
E-Business, E-Customer, Relationship and Interactivity


The E-Business, the E-Customer,
their Relationship and Interactivity 

Jan Vig 

Dissertation  av Jan Vig om E.Business, E-Customer, Relationship and Interactivity  (286 sider) i forbindelse med Masterstudie i Information Technology and Communication Juni 2000.


The E-Retailer Business, the E-Customer,
their Relationship and Interactivity

Table of Contents

Chapter One Introduction to the study

Chapter Two Business in Cyberspace

Chapter Three E- Retailer Commerce

Chapter Four E-Customer, Relationship and Interactivity

Chapter Five A Successful Case study – Amazon.com

Chapter Six The Future, Critical Success Factors, E-Business Strategy, Results and Conclusion




Chapter 2

Business in Cyberspace 


Chapter Two Business in Cyberspace

2.1 Introduction
2.2. The new digital world

2.3 The Net Economy
2.4 The interactive marketplace
2.5 Business in Cyberspace
2.6 E-Business, Organisation and Culture Change
2.7 Trends
2.8 Web Design, Usability and Communication
2.8.1 Web Communication
2.8.2 Web Design and Communication
2.8.3 Usability
2.9 Interactivity, Flow and Stickiness
2.9.1 Interactivity
2.9.2 Flow
2.9.3 Stickiness
2.10 Summary




Web Design, Usability and Communication


2.8.1 Web Communication

Companies use various media to communicate with their current and potential customers and one of the most popular one today is through World Wide Web as mentioned.  From a business and marketing perspective, the most exciting developments today is through the Web. As a marketing and advertising medium, the Web has the potential to change radically the way firms do business with their customers by using publishing, real-time communication broadcast and narrow casting together.


Compared to other communication channels as hard copy, telephone and fax. radio and TV web has some advantages mentioned below:




  • Information is linked and searchable (example of researching in library vs. on web)
  • Inexpensive and easy to distribute and update
  • Minimal production and distribution time
  • Can be interactive to-way and multi-way channel
  • Supports multi-media (audio, video, etc.)
  • Available to huge audience

According to Lynch and Horton (1999: 137):

The promise of multimedia has been slow to reach the Web because of bandwidth limitations, but each day brings new solutions.
Although there are numerous methods for creating Web multimedia,
we recommend using stable technology that works for the great majority of client machines.
Plugins that extend the capabilities of your Web pages are a mixed blessing.
You risk losing your audience if you require them to jump through hoops to view your content.


If we take a look at the Cluetrain.com customer- led manifesto we see that in the digital world the to-ways communication and interactivity is more and more important. (E.g., http://www.cluetrain.com , 1999)


  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.



Further the company should make use of E-mail in a sensitive way in the communication process with the customers.

2.8.2 Web Design and Communication


The design of the web site is essential to the success of an E-Business. Web design is more important than a lot of companies are aware over.

Despite much apparent comment to the contrary, current Internet technology places many hurdles in the way of successful creating an E-Retailer Web Site. The critical rule for those specifying the design of a site are not to allow designers to have it all their own way.

Here are some rules

  1. Short loading time
  2. Make text layouts legible
  3. Attractive layout
  4. Remember the company’s commercial goals
  5. And remember it is a communication vehicle. That means conversation.
  6. Keep critically testing the r web site



According to Amor (2000: 141) a company needs to adhere to the following Web design rules in order to have a successful business online:


  • Content – Focus your attention first on content and then on design.
  • Consistency – Design your site consistently without varying the content.
  • Density – break up content into little pieces without tearing it apart.
  • Design – Use few colors without designing a monotone web site.
  • Size – Use small graphics with large impact.




To attract visitors to a company’s Web Site Amor (2000: 147-153) suggests:

  • Keep your content up-to-date
  • Offer free information
  • Use personalization
  • Use support online and offline Reading
  • Do cross-Marketing and Cross-Selling
  • Be Faster than Your Customers
  • Use event marketing
  • Build affiliate networks
  • Try to map the target groups into Internet communities.
  • Build up an interactive dialogue between the company and the customers.




Amor (2000:171) argues that a web site that does not use one-to-one marketing won’t be successful in the future, as it ignores the needs of the customers. Information technology provides electronic businesses with the following possibilities: Identification, Interaction, Differentiation, Tracking and Customization. In order to develop a successful one-to-one marketing strategy these possibilities need to be combined.


Animation, sound and video are dynamic time based media. They contribute a dramatic, attention, grabbing dimension to multimedia. Used effectively they contribute enormously to the impact of customer experience. Here the one-to-one marketer has a lot of opportunities. The challenge is to integrate these media elements as components within an integrated multimedia experience.


Galitz (1997: 53- 72) presents how important it is to understanding the customers and what they do online and that this is a difficult and undervalued process, but extremely important because of the gap in skills and attitudes existing between system users and developers.


It is important to:

  • Understand how people interact with computers.
  • Understand the human characteristics important in design.
  • Identify the user’s level of knowledge and experience.
  • Identify the characteristics of the user’s tasks and jobs.
  • Identify the user’s psychological characteristics.
  • Identify the user’s physical characteristics.
  • Employ recommended methods for gaining understanding of users.



The desired directions for the E-Commerce site is towards simplicity, clarity, and understandability, qualities that are lacking by a lot of E-Commerce sites today.


According to Kristof and Satran (1995: 12) the goals and purpose of the site drives the design.


If you want users to… Then your design might need…
Learn and Retain Clarity, simplicity, directness, repetition, and reinforcement; modular breakdown of information into short presentations, testing and remediation where appropriate
Have Fun Variety, surprises, randomness, and wit; unpredictable events that change each time the product is used
Understand Conceptual explanations; ”how it works” illustrations and video; graphs, charts, simulations
Experience High level of interactivity; user control of actions and events; realistic sights and sounds
Act of Buy Well defined features and benefits; a clear call to arm/options; toll-free phone number, interactive order forms, etc.
Get Answers Reference-style organization; fast access; searchable index of contents


Table 2.5 Goals and purpose of a web site

Lynch and Horton (1999:2-3) pinpoints how important it is to know the audience as they are diversified concerning needs, interests, beliefs and values.


One way is to see them either as:

  • Web surfers?
  • Novice and occasional users?
  • Expert and frequent users?
  • International users?




According to Nielsen (1999) his studies have shown the same user behavior in the last seven years.

Users look straight at the content and ignore the navigation areas when they scan a new page.


User studies typically find:

  • users comment on the content first
  • when they arrive on a page, users ignore navigation bars and other global design elements
  • users don’t understand where they are in a web site’s information architecture
  • users are extremely goal-driven and look only for the one thing they have in mind
  • in pursuit of their goal, users often rely on search as their main hunting strategy
  • users rarely look at logos, mission statements, slogans
  • if a page does not appear relevant to the user’s current goals, then the user will ruthlessly click the Back button after two to three seconds
  • if users don’t understand a certain design element, they don’t spend time learning it



“E-commerce sites have learned a simple lesson: Design matters.
Good design can make a Web site stand out among dozens of competing sites selling similar products.
A well-thought-out presentation can boost traffic and sales.
The best-designed sites keep customers coming back.” “On the Web, good looks count.” (Bacheldor, 2000)


According to the most experts the top 10 design tips for e-commerce sites are: (Bacheldor, 2000)


  •  Keep graphics and other bandwidth-intensive design elements to a minimum
  • Put the search function in an easy-to-find spot
  • Keep content current, but make available an archive of previously published content
  • Don’t use frames, which can be difficult to navigate and take too long to download
  • Minimize the need to scroll, especially on navigation pages
  • Structure content into hierarchies, but don’t make things too complex
  • Make sure your company’s name and logo are clearly visible on each Web page
  • Key functions such as shopping carts and help buttons should be easy to find
  • Avoid pop-ups that open new browser windows
  • Links to pages not yet seen should be blue; links to pages already viewed should be red or purple




«Design affects everything, from how long it takes to download a page to how long it takes to find something on the page.»
“Good design takes into account every aspect of a Web site–even intangibles such as the impact of certain colors.
Experts suggest limiting the use of color, and to keep in mind that colors have connotations”. (Bacheldor, 2000)


If a company is investing some time to evaluate Web sites, they will find valuable information for their own Web site.


Nielsen (1999) opinion is that the company and the designers should have a look at the twenty most-visited sites on the Internet and see how they do it.

  • If 90% or more of the big sites do things in a single way, then this is the de-facto standard and you have to comply.
  • If 60-90% of the big sites do things in a single way, then this is a strong convention and you should comply unless your alternative design has at least 50% higher measured usability.
  • If less than 60% of the big sites do things in a single way, then there are no dominant conventions yet and you are free to design in an alternative way.




According to a survey Nielsen (1999) did of twenty prominent sites he found that they violate 16% of the list on average. In other words, the average large site violates less than two of the top-ten mistakes of Web design


Design Mistake Violation
Slow download times 84%
Non-standard link colors 17%
Long scrolling navigation pages 15%
Scrolling text or looping animation 12%
Frames 11%
Orphan pages 10%
Bleeding-edge technology 7%
Complex URLs 6%
Lack of navigation support 4%
Outdated information 1%


Table 2.6 Design mistakes


Across the 10 largest corporations, the average violation rate was 20%

Across the 10 most popular Web sites, the average violation rate was only 13%


The biggest differences between the corporate sites and the popular sites were:

  • Download time: corporate home pages downloaded at a snail’s pace, taking 19 seconds on average, whereas the popular sites’ home pages took an average of 8 seconds to download. These times were measured over an ISDN line during a weekend, so the picture is bleak indeed for users with analog modems.
  • Frames scored a 21% violation rate for corporate sites and were not seen at all on the high-traffic sites.



Simplicity is a key element in ensuring the stability and longevity of Web site. The reasons are that simpler is more stable, more compatible, easier to use and maintain and less prone to error.


The already central role of usability considerations will become an important issue for a lot of E-Commerce sites. When a company’s site’s audience grows, it necessarily becomes less technically minded and therefore less tolerant of too much design.


A special issue, which is very important on the Internet, is how to communicate trustworthiness in Web Design. Nielsen (1999) suggests in an article that “trust builds from the customer experience.” Further that  “history shows that high-trust societies fare better than low-trust societies” and that “right now, the Web is turning into a low-trust society


Further when customers encounter technical difficulties at previously preferred site, their reactions are:

  • 29% continued loyalty (user tries again later)
  • 52% split loyalty (found a different site: future use alternates between the original site and the new site)
  • 19% abandon the site forever




According to Nielsen (1999) the design itself can communicate trustworthiness in four ways:


  • Design quality with clear navigation.
  • Up-front disclosure of all aspects of the customer relationship.
  • Comprehensive, correct, and current content and product selection feel solid.
  • Connected to the rest of the Web.




Last but not least some fundamental and common errors on all levels of web design: (Nielsen, 2000: 15)


  • Business model. Treating the Web as a brochure.
  • Project management. Managing a web project as if it were a traditional corporate project.
  • Information architecture. Structuring the site to mirror the way the company is structured.
  • Page design. Creating pages that look gorgeous and that evoke positive feelings when demo’d inside the company.
  • Content authoring. Writing in the same linear style as you’ve always written.
  • Linking strategy. Treating your own site as the only one that matters, without proper links to other sites and without well-designed entry-points for others to link to.




As a conclusion of the above web design and communication should be simple, straight to the point for an E-Retailer to succeed. Further E-Retailer managers and web design staff must ensure that it’s easy for users to download a page, find an item, make a purchase, and navigate through page after page without losing track of the starting point. The more complicated, the fancier the graphics, the more obscure the page design, all of these things get in the way of buying, customers and sales are what the E-Commerce site is all about, whether the E-Retailer is an E-commerce heavy-hitter such as Amazon.com or a business-to-business newcomer.



2.8.3 Usability


Web users are getting more impatient every year: reduced desire to learn new interaction techniques,
less ready to download plug-ins, and unwilling to tolerate slow downloads.
If a site doesn’t provide immediate gratification, they leave. (Nielsen, 1999

According to Nielsen “Internet start-ups typically spend 300 times as much money on advertising as they spend on usability.” As a result, many of these new sites will fail to keep their users and will not grow into long-term successes. On the Internet, it’s survival of the easiest: If customers can’t find a product, they can’t buy it. It’s cheaper to increase the design budget than the ad budget, and attention to usability can increase the percentage of Web-site visitors who complete a purchase.
The Web puts user experience of the site first, purchase and payment second. On the Web, users first experience the usability of a site and then buy something. Give users a good experience and they’re apt to turn into frequent and loyal customers. But the Web also offers low switching costs; it’s easy to turn to another supplier. Only if a site is extremely easy to use will anybody bother staying around.


The real difference between a person’s behavior on the Web and in the physical world of real stores involves switching costs, how much effort it takes to switch from one vendor to another. In a physical store, the costs of switching are high.


On the Internet, switching costs are low. If the E-Customer don’t find what he wants, the competition is only a mouse-click away. Vendors such as Amazon.com Inc. try to overcome switching costs in several ways. First, they make it easy to find the item the potential buyer wants. Second, they make it worthwhile to return. For example, the more items bought at Amazon.com, the better its purchase recommendations will be.  Third, Amazon.com uses its affiliate list to make its visitors part of the family and let’s them earns money by recommending the site to others. And fourth, the purchase process is as easy as any on the Web, again fighting the low psychological cost of switching with the low psychological cost of purchasing.
Studies of user behavior on the Web find a low tolerance for difficult designs or slow sites. People don’t want to wait. And they don’t want to learn how to use a home page.



Success on the Internet depends on multiplying the number of people who will visit a home page times the proportion who actually buy anything, the percentage who become customers. It’s expensive and difficult for most companies to get people to the Web site in the first place. That’s why advertising budgets are so high.



To double the success of a site, companies must either double the visitors or double the conversion rate. Doubling the number of visitors could require doubling the advertising budget, or more. Doubling the percentage that purchase may require simply redesigning the Web site guided by a human-centered design process. Considering that many sites have conversion rates on the order of 1% or 2%, it’s much more cost-effective to focus on that.


Most Web sites today are tough to use. Usability studies typically find a success rate of less than 50%. When the average person is asked to accomplish a simple task on the average Web site, the outcome all too often is failure.


The conclusion is that the E-Retailer has to observe real E-Customers as they actually use the E-Retailer web site. By looking at what the E-Customers are doing the E-Retailer could ask and get answers what they find easy and what they find difficult and make a redesign which are taking into account their suggestions. Usability is the key technique for superior customer relationships and customer satisfaction and it is important for the E-Retailer not to forget that.

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