How Are App Users Supposed to Tell What They Need?
June 30, 2023
One day, a client approached our team with an unusual inquiry regarding the e-commerce platform we had developed for them.
The client's marketing team made an interesting observation: many users were making futile attempts to click on the product images in their shopping cart, not realizing that the images were not interactive. As a result, the client requested our team to equip these images with clickable links leading to product description pages.
Executing this request didn't pose much of a challenge. On the surface, it seemed like a small interface improvement, a routine job - nothing remarkable about this story. However, it made me pause and completely reconsider a portion of the application that I hadn't previously attached much importance to - the user behavior tracking tools. Contemplations on this topic brought me to some rather surprising insights, which I am eager to share with you in this article.
Does Anyone Actually Go to Such Lengths to Monitor Every Individual Point on the Screen That Users Click?
This was the initial question that left me intrigued. I had a slightly different conception of what marketers typically do. The analytical tools we usually embed in applications are mainly intended to monitor what we define as "conversion actions." These actions represent the user activities during the various stages leading up to a purchase.
For example, these tools enable marketers to track:
- the click rates for advertising links;
- the percentage of users who read advertisements completely;
- subscription rates for newsletters;
- notification open rates, and more.
Marketers rely on these tools to optimize website content so as to generate a higher volume of these desired user actions.
However, clicking on non-clickable images cannot be deemed a conversion action. If marketers have undertaken the demanding task of consistently analyzing these user actions, there must be a compelling motive behind it, one that goes beyond direct sales. What prompts their interest in such analysis? It is not particularly difficult to guess - their objective is to ascertain what users are looking for.
They are striving to uncover:
- the intentions behind users' visits to the website;
- the tasks they are attempting to accomplish; and
- the methods they prefer to employ in achieving those tasks.
Certainly, having this knowledge can be advantageous in driving sales. However, it is not my place to pass judgment in this matter.
But one aspect I can confidently affirm is that in this matter, the interests of marketers align directly with those of developers. Being aware of users' wants and needs - recognizing features that provide value and filtering out obstacles, as well as comprehending users' unmet needs in the application - is the essential ingredient for success in our venture. And the situation with the shopping cart is a perfect opportunity to observe how it works in practice.
How Is It That the Developers Didn't Anticipate That Users Would Find This Function Necessary in the Cart?
This is the second question that inevitably arises in the situation I described. Isn't it obvious that a buyer may need to refer back to the product description after adding it to their cart?
It's easy to think of many situations like that. For instance, a customer may have doubts and want to reconsider the purchase once again. Or they may need to clarify overlooked details or compare the selected product with a later-found alternative. How did we miss such a straightforward aspect during the app development process?
It's not a difficult question to answer. We adhered to a widely accepted rule that says: don't attempt to guess which functions users need and which they don't - this can only be determined through trial and error. This rule is based on a harsh reality: countless projects have sadly failed, with a significant amount of funds invested in developing features that were ultimately disregarded by users.
The reality of tens of thousands of users can greatly differ from how it appears to the owner of the application and a few developers. Therefore, relying on the feeling that tells you, "it's absolutely obvious," is a risky approach.
The developers had to learn this lesson and come up with a better strategy. It is known as "agile development" and is now universally recognized as the industry standard. It is based on the following idea: all features should be implemented in their most simplified form initially, and only those that users express interest in should be further extended.
Stripped down to its simplest form, the user's shopping cart is intended solely for one purpose - the payment of the added items. We implemented it in exactly that way. Next, it was up to the users to have their say. But how can they express their opinion to us? That leads us to the next question that needs to be addressed.
Could It Be That Users Didn't Mention This Flaw of the Shopping Cart in Their Reviews?
So, developers need feedback from users in order to create genuinely useful applications. By feedback, people generally mean users' reviews and comments. Reviews are indeed one of the main aspects that app owners rely on when deciding how to evolve their app further. However, this way of feedback collection has many limitations, as we can see in this case.
Indeed, the users' reviews of this e-commerce platform did not make any mention of the interface flaws in the shopping cart, despite the platform having been around for several years with a substantial user count in the hundreds of thousands.
And the users' silence doesn't appear to be surprising to me. When do you usually write negative feedback? As for myself, I must come across an issue that genuinely infuriates me, and it definitely isn't minor interface flaws.
User Behaviour Tracking Tools: an Undervalued Opportunity
If we revisit the initial question that prompted my thoughts, the idea of monitoring users' mouse movements on the screen doesn't seem as odd anymore. And user behavior tracking tools no longer appear to be just an internal aspect of marketers' work.
In the non-clickable images case, these services have uncovered user needs that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. And indeed, the information these tools provide is difficult to obtain through any other means. And this data may be incredibly valuable for developers as it offers concrete insights into which app features people actually use and where there are issues.
Besides, it can compensate for essential shortcomings of user reviews, as:
- This information is reliable - it offers objective statistics of user behavior, in contrast to the subjective nature of reviews. Many individuals, including myself, have a tendency to leave impulsive positive reviews, even if their actual app usage is minimal. And negative reviews often focus on emotionally charged but not necessarily significant issues.
- This information is specific and detailed - it is possible to collect statistics on the utilization of almost any element of the application in such depth that users wouldn't describe or even remember.
However, app owners seldom make active use of these tools during development, despite the eventual incorporation of user behavior tracking tools in the majority of applications. For example, there are few startup founders who would prioritize these services among the key features they would like to see in their application. Meanwhile, it's the quality of users feedback that largely determines the success of a project.
And finally, here is another takeaway from this story. Whenever you want something to be clickable in your favored app, just go ahead and click on it. You might be surprised to see your wish fulfilled. It's IT magic.