Anyone who has tried to get funding for UX research knows that it’s not an easy task. We hear it from our clients time and time again.
I’ve done dozens of in-lab studies this year: mobile apps, mobile sites, forms and data entry, tablet apps, self-service online, and the list goes on. Every time I step into lab, I am architecting an experience for the user, everything from a 5 minute warm-up to make them feel a little more comfortable, to all of the pre-lab work we do to try and ensure that the prototypes are optimal and that the scenarios are believable. After all, what good is it for a user to give you feedback on a product that he or she would never use?
My last in-lab study of 2011 was unlike any other study I have done this year. It was standard in the sense that we were conducting user assessments on the Web and they revolved around navigation and uncovering users’ true research and shopping habits. However, rather than tell the user to pretend “shop” for something that they may never buy for themselves or wouldn’t prioritize, we actually let them shop with a real budget.
The client for this project not only funded the incentives for the users, as is standard practice, but they also allotted each user a budget of $80.00 to purchase an item on their site.
Here’s why this is such a big deal:
Users were genuinely excited about the experience.
I have had great users who are amicable, accommodating, and will persevere through tasks as long as I ask them to. But, I have never had a user get excited about sitting with me for an hour. Users showed visible joy and interest in the task when given the opportunity to make a decision of value; whether they had planned to shop for shoes or not, whether they needed them or not.
Users exhibited their natural navigation and search behaviors.
It can be scary leaving the room and letting the user freely explore a site or a prototype for 10 to 15 minutes. But in this case, it was necessary. I always ask the users questions hypothetically to better understand whether or not they would really do something if they were at home in their sweat pants, on their couch, looking at whatever the site or application is. I saw a user actually take an item description and open up a search browser to look for external reviews before he purchased the item. This does not happen in a pretend environment.
Users didn’t settle.
They didn’t just pick an item to appease me – instead, they cared about color, style and brand. They pursed their lips, raised their eyebrows, did the thinking man pose, and wondered aloud how the shoes might fit their needs, or go with their favorite outfit. They actually read the reviews with purpose. Users revealed what work arounds they’ve adopted for similar shopping sites, clearly outlined their mental model of the experience, and paid attention to their interactions. They even paid attention to small things like giving their shipping information a second look to make sure that the address was right. After all, they were really going to get these shoes in the mail within 5 to 8 business days!
I realize that it costs $400 for one lab day to give 5 users this experience. But let me ask you this: if you saw a dollar on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? If someone gave you a $15 gift card to Starbucks, would you throw it away? Incentives, large or small, matter. I would argue that depending on what products are offered through apps or sites, that the shopping incentive could be as little as $10 and it would prompt a more natural and valuable shopping experience than having the user fake the scenario for you.