One Year Ago: B2B Web Sites Fail Usage Test


Originally published on January 11, 2000 and brought to you today as a time capsule.


According to a new report by Forrester Research, many business-to-business Web sites ignore customer goals and fail to meet the basic requirements of a good user experience.

Forrester came to this conclusion after grading 30 business-to-business Web sites and finding that every one of them failed basic tests for value, ease and reliability.

“Major problems included missing content, meager function, and frequent errors — weakness that thwart users as they pursue typical goals,” the report said.

Test Results

For the report, Forrester graded 25 business-to-consumer Web sites along with the 30 business-to-business sites. The results were less than favorable.

While just 50 percent of the sites allowed users to conduct transactions, Forrester found that only 13 percent of the sites had essential content at each decision point of the user’s process.

Shockingly, none of the sites actively personalized content based on a user’s profile.

Additionally, the survey found that just 20 percent of the sites allowed purchases in four or more currencies and only 23 percent offered four or more languages.

Buried Information

Ultimately, the survey concluded that most B2B sites fail miserably when it comes to conveying buying information.

“Some sites force visitors to click through more than seven levels of content to find relevant material,” Forrester said. “Using search didn’t help — results were frequently irrelevant, and more sites didn’t let users refine search results or sort the listings.”

Possible Solutions

According to Forrester, while ease-of-use is a starting point, firms need to go much further. The findings indicate that business-to-business sites must add value to every step in a user’s online activity. The report concludes that in order for sites to succeed, companies must adopt a scenario-centered design approach that produces sites based on user process.

“Firms can — and must — eliminate irritating defects that block site visitors from fulfilling their goals,” the report added. “The vast majority of Web efforts we reviewed could improve dramatically by adopting a handful of tactical best practices that surface key content, support primary tasks and help ensure that every click actually works.”

Specific Users

The report points out that one way to rebuild the shambles of many B2B Web sites is for firms to begin redesigning their sites for customers instead of companies.

“For example, creators of e-commerce apps should not be asked to design workable solutions for ‘medium-sized firms buying petroleum products,'” Forrester concludes. “Instead, they should design for ‘Beatrice, a 50-year-old, non-technical purchasing agent responsible for procuring industrial solvents.'”

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