The business case for usability

The benefits of usability engineering extend beyond improving the user interface and end user productivity: its beneficiaries include not only end users but also developers and their companies.

User centred design can reduce software and e-commerce costs (including development, support, training, documentation and maintenance costs), shorten development time and improve marketability.

Good usability leads to satisfied, purchasing and returning customers

  • A user-centered approach raised customer satisfaction with 40% (Gartner, 1992). End users/customers are more satisfied when a system offers relevant services that match their needs and expectations.
  • Online customers spend most of the time on sites with high usability (Nielsen, 1998).A majority of customers are loyal only to a few brands (1-3) and buy repeatedly on these sites (A.T. Kearney, 2000). Satisfied customers lead to increased sales for both e-commerce shopping sites as well as for software products. Satisfied customers stay longer on sites and consume more.
  • Almost 50 % of users do not come back if they found it hard to find relevant information on the web site (Forrester research, 1999). Satisfied customers are also more likely to become returning customers.

Bad usability leads to angry customers and loss in sales

  • 82% of users attempted to purchase but gave up as a result of poor design and usability (A.T. Kearney, 2001). That's one fifth of every customer trying to purchase. Imagine your local shopping mall: only 20% of the customers can find the checkout and the rest give up and drive home.
  • 43% of purchase attempts failed (Creative Good, 2000) and 35% in another similar study (User Interface Engineering, 2000).
  • 62% of people shopping on the Internet gave up their efforts on finding the merchandise they are looking for (Zona Research, 1999)
  • Research across all sites showed that visitors couldn't find what they are looking for as often as 60% of the time (Forrester and Jupiter, 2000)
  • 50% of potential sales were lost on the Internet because of the users not finding the information they needed (Forrester Research, 1998)

The results for e-commerce sites are devastating, and lost sales due to bad design and poor usability represented a $3.8 billion loss in year 2000 sales only (A.T. Kearney, 2001).

Conversion rate: measure purchases, not traffic

The best measure of a site's effectiveness is the site's "conversion rate". This metric refers to a site's ability to "convert" visitors to buyers. For example, a site with three purchases for every hundred visits will have a conversion rate of 3%.

Consider a site with a conversion rate of 1.8% and annual revenues of $100 million. Assume that the sites customer base is growing 25% annually as more customers come online. With a constant conversion rate of 1.8%, revenues will be $100 million this year, $125 million next year and $156 million in two years.

By raising the conversion rate to 2.7% (a modest increase, far below the industry leaders) through a user-centered redesign the revenues will increase $50 million this year, $62.5 million next year and $78 million in two years (Creative Good, 2000)!

It is not unusual that a user-centered approach doubles the conversion rate and revenues (Nielsen 1999). 

Better brand

10% of Fortune 1000 sites should be torn down because their usability is so poor they are hurting the company's brand (Forrester research, 1998). Bad usability causes a bad user experience. A bad user experience influences the experience of the brand.

If a site is frustrating and annoying, that's how visitors see the brand. Also, people who have had a bad experience with a site typically tell 10 others. An investment in user experience is certainly an investment in the brand.

Reduced costs for development and maintenance

  • If the cost of making design changes is 1x during the user-centered design phase the same thing would cost 10x as much during the development phase and 100x as much after product release (Mayhew & Bias, 1994)
  • American Airlines reduced development costs by 60-90% by making corrections in design phase (Mayhew & Bias, 1994).
  • Usability techniques allowed a high tech company to reduce the time spent on tedious development tasks by 40%; at another company, usability techniques helped cut development time by 33-50% (Forrester, 1998).
  • 80% of all software lifecycle costs occur during the maintenance phase (Mayhew & Bias, 1994).
  • Most maintenance costs are associated with "unmet or unforeseen" user requirements and other usability problems (Pressman, 1992)

Improved productivity

  • A major computer company spent $68,000 on usability work to improve a system that was used by over 100,000 people. The resulting productivity improvement saved the company $6,800,000, which is a cost-benefit ratio of $1: $100 (Mayhew & Bias, 1994).
  • Poor usability on corporate intranets can lead to poor employee productivity; investments in making intranets easier to use can pay off by a factor of 10 or more, especially at large companies (CIO Business Web Magazine, 1999).
  • Other productivity gains may be that less people can do the same job as many. One company saw its data-entry staff decrease by a third after usability improvements of an internal system (Mayhew & Bias, 1994).

Although efficiency is not always the key issue in the usage of the system it is often important. It is more productive and efficient if a system is designed to support how users prefer to work and is guided by usability principles for efficiency. Productivity improvements have the largest impact on work supporting systems.

Reduced costs for training

  • End-user training for a usability-engineered internal system was one hour compared to a full week of training for a similar system that had no usability work. As a result of usability improvements at AT&T, the company saved $2,500,000 in training expenses (Mayhew & Bias, 1994).

Usable systems are easier more intuitive and require less training. Every hour cut down on training is one hour more of productive work and one hour less to pay an instructor.

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