When pricing itself is a usability problem
June 11, 2001
Paula Thornton points out that in the dot-com aftermath, at least some usability experts are overstating the extent to which hard-to-use sites contributed to the crash. Certainly ease of use is important, but as a profession we're liable to shoot ourselves in the foot if we overstate things. Case in point, Jupiter Media Matrix found that shipping and handling fees are causing headaches for consumers and online retailers alike.

Nearly two-thirds of consumers surveyed said shipping and handling and costs deterred them from making online purchases. Part of this probably is due to poor usability, since most sites make it difficult to find out how much these fees are going to cost. Which is surprising, since it's not that hard to do. For example, NexTag's price comparison engine asks you for your ZIP code and then calculates the shipping costs—and lets you then compare prices for various methods of shipping as you're looking at the product.

But even with the best user interface available, buyers will still balk if they think the price is unreasonable. For example, the Jupiter study found that buying 200 CDs from an online retailer would add $200 to the price, even though it only cost the retailer $28 in shipping costs (admittedly it's an extreme example…). Despite this example, nearly half the retailers surveyed are actually losing money on shipping in an effort to simplify their fees.

Setting the right price point is a marketing concern, not a user experience concern, but it's something user experience architects need to be aware of, since good usability won't save a bad business plan.

But a good understanding of users and their goals can help improve a business plan. As you might have guessed, Jupiter suggested a weight-based fee system is the best for businesses and consumers. And because it's the system used by the United States Postal Service (and other package delivery services), consumers were much wiser about the true costs of shipping than businesses had assumed—and many said they'd prefer it. Yes it's adding more complexity, but it's acceptable to people because it's complexity that they're familiar with.

Being able to show better usability test results is good, but being able to show a business how understanding their customers better can help their bottom line is better. ::

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Your thoughts…

I agree...knowing the business case is important. In a usability study I conducted for a click and mortar retail site, they were using Order Charge and Shipping Charge. Most participants were taken back by the "Order Charge" verbiage and when asked they did not related it to a "Handling Charge" as in "Shipping & Handling" . So much so, that most said they would abandon the shopping cart. Participants noted they felt more comfortable with one Shipping and Handling Charge and not having it broken out into two seperate charges. What is your view on this type of finding? I personally think it is a company issue not an individual department issue.

– JohnK @ 06.11.2001

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"Setting the right price point is a marketing concern, not a user experience concern, but it's something user experience architects need to be aware of, since good usability won't save a bad business plan."

A user experience arquitect should be able to manage or at least give his opinion about prices since it is one of the main drivers of a "good experience". We should see a user experience architect as a person who manage the entire experience of a user, i mean, how he feels, sense, learn, act... This is the approach of the experiential marketing and it is the approach that we, user experience consultants, should take.

– Javier Darriba @ 06.12.2001

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