In Winter 2017, my team and I worked with Detroit Machine Tools to evaluate their website for usability. The video above presents our process, findings and recommendations.
Usability Researcher, Interviewer, Survey Designer
Heuristic Evaluation, Interviewing, Surveys, User Testing, Comparative Evaluation
Detroit Machine Tools, or DMT, is an Ann Arbor based, 30-year-old small business that sells machining equipment, such as mills and lathes. DMT wanted to enhance usability of their website in order to increase the conversion rate of website visitors into customers. We were asked to focus specifically on their Computer Numeric Control, or CNC machines as these were a recent offering from the company.
The DMT website provides information, images, and video tutorials on the machines, as well as customer support. DMT lets customers buy lower priced items online and has financing options for the higher priced ones. The current iteration of the website is designed to drive potential CNC buyers to complete purchases by calling DMT sales reps.
To start with, we created an Interaction Map of DMT's website to capture the information architecture of the website and to understand its organizational structure.
We then met and talked to 6 people, including 1 stakeholder and 5 machine tool buyers. From those interviews, we could presume a few things about our target user. That being they were typically white males of various ages that had a formal or informal background in engineering.
In the Comparative Analysis stage, we identified 10 companies including Direct Competitors, Partial Competitors, Indirect Competitors, and Analogous Systems. One of our comparison criteria was the degree of social media presence among Partial and Direct Competitors, which we graphed against their US site ranking through the website Alexa.
We then conducted a survey, and at this point we wanted to be sure to reach people we weren’t able to in our interviews: particularly CNC buyers and institutional buyers. We developed a survey consisting of 18 questions, and then sent it out to various offline and online machining communities. Out of our respondents, 61% owned CNC machines and 63% were buying machines for an institution.
For the heuristic analysis stage, our 5 team members each rated 47 different usability items, which we developed and adapted from Jakob Nielsen's heuristics which include aspects of Feedback, Metaphor, Navigation, Consistency and Standards, Error Prevention, Memory, Design, and Help.
Finally, in the Usability Test, we asked 5 people familiar with machine tools to attempt some basic tasks and scenarios on the DMT website. We wanted to evaluate exploring the machine catalog, comparing products, and buying a specific item.
Findings & RECOMMENDATIONS
Over the course of the semester, we’ve developed many findings and recommendations. However, we identified the following high level takeaways that will prove useful for the client as they look towards the future.
Finding #1: Pricing information is not easily accessible
In both our Interviews and our Surveys, we found that pricing information is extremely important for users when purchasing machining tools. Among the hobbyist buyers as well as the institutional buyers, budget was a big factor in their buying decision.
However, machine tools prices on the DMT website can be difficult to access. In our usability test, all participants expressed frustration that the pricing is not always available immediately on the product page. In the product comparison chart, there is also no pricing information for customers to compare. One of our participants was reluctant to complete a task because he could not observe prices in a listing.
Our recommendation is that pricing information be attached to a product wherever it appears, and prominently visible on the product page. Furthermore, costs such as the addition of extra features and shipping costs should be clarified on the product page and in the online checkout process.
Finding #2: The site design is not consistent with web standards or with itself
In our heuristics evaluation as well as in usability testing, we found that the DMT site does not conform to common web standards. One persistent issue is visually identifying hyperlinks. Sometimes underlined text contain links, sometimes they do not, and sometimes bolded headings contain links with no other indication. One participant in our usability test was confused that in the checkout cart, the mouse changed shape to indicate there was a link when in fact nothing happened when he clicked.
Additionally the site, overall, is not visually consistent . Pages that serve the same function, especially product pages, are not organized in the same way. This has disoriented one user enough that he could not be sure which product the page was selling. Users would go from one overview page to another and be confused that the format was not the same.
We recommend that DMT creates a common template for the site, one that specifies how each type of page should be organized, as well as what elements of a page should look like. Overview pages should all look one way, and product pages should all look one way. This way the users expectation of consistency is met as they explore the site.
Finding #3: The search feature does not meet expectations of an online shopping experience
When searching on DMT’s website, the search currently returns all web pages with matching keywords when a user searches the site, not just product results. Consequently, the user can’t search individual or types of products and immediately get info, such as functions or price, from the results. This also means that a user can’t sort or filter results as well.
The current experience goes against ones of a typical ecommerce site. One usability participant wished that he had the choice to filter products by price, while most participants failed to use the search at all to explore offerings.
We recommend that DMT implements a search feature meeting these expectations.
Finding #4: The call to action elements are confusing
At this time, it’s impossible for users to complete the purchase of the CNC machines on DMT’s website. On the product pages of CNC machines, however, the primary call-to-action element is an Add to Cart button, which leads the user to a Get-a-quote form. This is not only misleading to the user, it’s also not what the stated desirable course of action is.
We recommend DMT changes the Add-to-Cart button to something that properly indicates how the user should proceed if they want to purchase a machine. Furthermore, the DMT phone number should be more prominent on every page on the site to encourage users to call the company in case they have questions or concerns.
TIMELINE / ROADMAP
Our team realizes that some of our recommendations might be costlier to implement, such as the improvement to the search feature. We believe that eventually all of these recommendations will prove to be worthwhile, but there are immediate improvements that DMT could implement first and adopt some suggestions later in the longer term.
We propose this timeline for the development of the website. First, pricing information can easily be added and call-to-action elements can easily be fixed. Second, a template should be developed and all pages should be made to adhere to the template. This is not going to be too difficult, as users have already identified some pages they did like, so the new template can be based on that. The contents of the site is already pretty good too. Finally, the search feature should be improved.
A more indepth competitive analysis should be conducted to serve as a source of inspiration towards the design of the website. The client should think about implementing elements from competitors websites when thinking about the future of their current website
Secondly, we primarily evaluated the CNC pages in our usability tests. There should be further testing done on other parts of the site, such as the support section, in order to gain a full grasp of how usable the entire site is.