The ROI of Usability Analysis

  |  September 9, 2005   |  Comments

How one company improved its site's usability, thereby increasing its ROI and customer loyalty.

A while back, I wrote about the importance of performing a site audit to identify major areas for improvement. Next week, I'll be part of "The Usability Narcissist," an expert panel at the annual conference that will evaluate sites based on their usability. Though I usually write about who's doing it wrong, today we'll look at how one company improved its site's usability, thereby increasing its return on investment (ROI) and customer loyalty.

Earlier this year, Fingerhut decided it wanted to redesign its online user experience, and my company performed the site assessment. Its goals were no different from any other retailer: increase conversion rates, decrease cart abandonment, streamline checkout, and make the site more navigable.


Check out this snapshot of Fingerhut's old home page. Immediately we noticed:

  • Overall, the site has an amateurish feel to it. This is the result of the site's many visual problems, including color palette, element alignment on the page, and overall clutter of promotional information.

  • A high percentage of customers come from the catalog, but the "Catalog Quick Order" feature is visually obscured. It looks like a header for the other categories.

  • Navigation isn't apparent because the site lacks a visual hierarchy. Global elements (shopping cart, order status) aren't grouped together (some appear only on the left-hand navigation). The eye does not automatically go anywhere on the page, making the primary navigation less obvious than it should be.

  • The product categories are confusing because they aren't in any apparent order. More confusing is how all categories are lumped together, even when they aren't similar category types. For instance, "Our Newest Items" and "Clearance" are lumped with "Watches" and "Video Games." The first two are special categories made up of products from other categories and should be treated as separate features.

  • The page lists products under "Shop these great buys featured for you!" This leads to a sense of perceived personalization, but the page isn't personalized. A user might look at the list and wonder why these products were recommended. These products are just top-sellers, a point made clear by the redesigned home page.

  • Fingerhut offers its own financing via the Fingerhut Credit Account, a large part of Fingerhut's business model. However, there's no way to sign up for an account on the home page.

The assessment addressed the entire site (including the checkout path, user registration path, etc.), but just this brief look at the home page analysis shows a lot of room for growth and improvement.


Fingerhut began rolling out the redesigned site a couple of months ago. Comparing the redesigned home page with the old version, a few things are immediately obvious:

  • The site looks professional now. By softening the color palette, making sure all elements align properly, and using clear, consistent font choices, Fingerhut has created a page that's easy on the eyes and looks good.

  • The Catalog Quick Order feature is more prominent, which directly affects how much it's used.

  • The left navigation is clear and well-organized. "Specialty Shops", such as the Clearance department and brand-centric departments (e.g., the "Star Wars Store"), are clearly distinguished from the "regular" departments.

  • The page clearly identifies why products are featured on it.

  • It offers a place for users to sign up for credit.

Fingerhut also streamlined its checkout path tremendously based on assessment results.

Fingerhut's metrics have been terrific. According to Mike Sidders, director of e-commerce at Fingerhut, the site assessment and redesign have already proved their worth: Overall site conversion and sales are up. Catalog Quick Order is substantially improved. Abandoned shopping cart items are down. And average order is up.

These were exactly the metrics Fingerhut was hoping to improve and were the reason for the redesign. As more of the new design rolls out across the site, these metrics will only get better.

Case Studies

Do you have a case study that shows how usability changes affected your ROI and customer loyalty? If so, let me know, and I'll try to use it in an upcoming column.

Until next time...


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Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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