CUA of the Month – January, 2007

Becky Sherman
"A company's Web presence is so visible that you must continually attend to the online customer experience. This new attitude has taken hold here at JCPenney, and our usability projects will continue to support it"
 
Becky Sherman
Usability Manager
JCPenney

"Back to school" shopping

by Jesse Berkowitz

Becky Sherman is a CUA with an appetite for learning. In addition to leading the customer experience efforts for jcp.com, she is earning her masters degree in applied cognition and neuroscience at the University of Texas at Dallas. Being a usability manager, her emphasis is naturally on human-computer interaction.

At JCPenney, Becky applies usability methods to create a positive online user experience. This poses different challenges than the traditional printed catalog, since good information design on the Web does not necessarily mirror its hard copy counterpart. For instance, online retailers must constantly balance between browse and search navigational schemes. Indeed, as HFI's Jan '05 newsletter observed: "Recent research suggests that users' decisions to search or browse depend as much on the site as on the users' disposition toward a given navigation strategy."

Becky's recent focus has been two-fold: one is improving the site's search function and the other is launching a pilot for a major department on the site incorporating the use of filters and automated navigational structures. Both projects used the UCD lifecycle of design and iterate with customer feedback at the beginning and the end.

"I love when customers point out things that we as designers don't see," she explains. "We've been very systematic about getting user feedback to design the new pilot department. In addition to traditional usability testing of both low-fidelity wireframes and our live site, our team has also completed category aggregation and product attribute studies." Category aggregation is a card sorting technique to help define the taxonomy for a department on the site. An attribute study is a mapping technique to rank highly relevant attributes that the customer wants. The outcome of these studies helps define filters for a department on a gallery page.

At the beginning of '06 Becky launched a new search experience on jcp.com that enabled dynamic filtering based upon user wants and needs.

By supplementing this user research with back-end search data, her team has been able to provide users with more relevant search filters. Becky is hopeful as she embarks upon an '07 search project that she will enable a metrics-driven approach to yield relevant (search) results to meet customer expectations and of course increase conversion rates and average order value.

"Our old search results were simply a white page with lots of hyperlinks and no pictures. They were not sorted by relevance and there were many duplicates," says Becky. "Now users can sort by size, price, color and 12 other dynamic filters. Plus, we've added spelling correction features and synonym capabilities. We've shown that user experience is about so much more than just the underlying technology."

Becky envisions the jcp.com usability team growing to support more sections of the site. She understands the importance of presenting a coherent, unified interface to customers, despite the fact that different areas have different business owners (e.g. furniture, jewelry, clothing, etc).

"In the old model, corporations would do a major Web project, check it off their 'to-do' list, then walk away for 2-3 years," explains Becky, whose Internet branding experience pre-dates her tenure at JCPenney. "That's clearly not a valuable e-commerce strategy anymore. A company's Web presence is so visible that you must continually attend to the online customer experience. This new attitude has taken hold here at JCPenney, and our usability projects will continue to support it."

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to hfi@humanfactors.com

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