Five days: Dixons.co.uk 8 May 2006
Welcome to day one
Over the next five days, we'll be publishing Eye Tracking heatmaps from five websites. We'll give you our thoughts on each and hopefully you'll give us your questions, comments and analysis. More information about the study can be found in our original announcement.
Today, it's Dixons turn for the Etre treatment...
Dixons is one of the UK's best-known high street brands. Beginning life in 1937 as a small photographic studio in Southend, the company has since become Britain's leading retailer of consumer electronics. Despite its dominant market position however, Dixons has suffered strong criticism from the media, government and consumer rights organisations. In 1998, Intel accused Dixons of charging "ridiculous margins", while in 2003, The Consumers' Association rebuked the company for its "dodgy sales tactics" and "dubious practices". This may go some way toward explaining the company's recent decision to withdraw from the high street in order to concentrate exclusively on its online operation: Dixons.co.uk.
The Guardian reports that Dixons' website "has seen its sales rise more than 50% year-on-year over the past four years, with more than 1 million customers a month", making it an interesting subject for our Eye Tracking study.
The white line represents the page fold at our 1024 x 768 monitor resolution. Users needed to scroll to view content located beneath.
If Dixons' goal is to expose users to as wide a range of homepage content as possible, it seems that they have a fairly effective design. While the left-hand navigation menu proved a strong draw, most of the page elements located above the fold were still seen by more than a quarter of our users.
Conventional usability wisdom states that users always look at the company logo to confirm that they have arrived at the right website. Not in this case. Only 18% of our users glanced at the Dixons logo. During the sessions, we noticed that most people took a look at the browser title bar and the URL before the homepage had loaded to orientate themselves. Perhaps this information was enough to reassure them that they hadn't made a mistake.
Dixons title bar entry is actually quite effective at orientating users, reading "Dixons - first for new technology - shop for digital cameras, mp3 players, widescreen LCD and plasma TVs". If users were unsure as to whether they had arrived at the website of "Britain's leading retailer of consumer electronics", they probably felt quite reassured after reading this sentence.
Users appeared to favour the left-hand navigation menu over the main navigation menu (the blue bar running horizontally across the top of the page). This behaviour might have been informed by their use of other websites. Left-hand navigation menus usually offer more specific options than main navigation menus, and therefore get users to their desired content faster. It must be said, however, that most of the options in Dixons' left-hand menu are just as generic as those found in the company's main menu. It is also worth noting that the left-hand navigation menu was highly unresponsive during our testing and works in a rather strange fashion. Clicking on "Cameras and Camcorders" for example, causes a sub-menu to appear dynamically below. Clicking an item from the sub-menu, somewhat bizarrely, fires off a search query (!). This counter-intuitive mode of operation may have led users to linger over the navigation menu while figuring it out.
It is interesting to see some evidence of "order effects" in the processing of the left-hand navigation menu. "Order effects" is the name that psychologists use to describe our general preference for selecting items that feature at either the start or end of a list, while ignoring those located in the middle. (This effect is so strong that being first on an election ballot is said to be worth between one and four percent of the total vote alone). In this particular example, the pattern is only partially evident however. While items near the top of the list, like "Cooking", were seen by most users, items near the end, like "Washers & Dryers", were seen less frequently than expected. The mid-section of the list performed better than anticipated - it seems like "In Car Entertainment", "Mobiles and Telephones" and MP3 Players were attractive enough propositions to disrupt the "order effects" pattern.
Users paid little attention to the utility navigation menu at the top of the page. Of the six options, only "Store Finder" and "Jargon Buster" (on the far left of the menu) were seen by more than 20% of users. The menu's poor performance may be attributed to the nature of the task however - when given the freedom of the site to explore, it is unlikely that users' first choice would have been to hunt down support functions like "Help" and "Contact Us". As the placement of this menu is conventional, users may have purposely chosen to ignore it - that is, they may have been able to "predict" its contents from their experience of other websites, and therefore determine that it was of no interest.
The "Popular brands..." navigation menu (located beneath the left-hand navigation menu) proved to be something of a shock success. Design elements located beneath the fold tend to fair poorly in comparison to those located nearer the top of the page (at least they do on the average site). But not in this particular case. The brand logos drew the attention of around 35% of our users, attracting clicks from 10% of them to boot. This seems logical as these logos are instantly recognisable, and presumably far more effective than plain text equivalents.
The main advertising banner proved appealing, with more than 35% of users fixating on the phrase "When it's gone, it's gone!" and 10% of users clicking on it.
The "OVER 1500 KITCHEN APPLIANCES" banner performed reasonably well, attracting the attention of more than 30% of users (although no user clicked on this banner). It is interesting to note that the three prices went largely unnoticed - we blame their non-standard vertical presentation.
The "Our Top Deals all with Free Delivery" section was equally attractive. Interestingly, of the 10% of users that interacted with the items in this area, all clicked on product images - and not on the textual descriptions or "info" and "BUY" buttons, as we might have expected. As you will see in the days that follow, this behaviour was observed on many of the homepages we tested. It therefore provides a compelling argument for ensuring that your product images are clickable.
The right hand column - with the notable exception of the "Buy now, pay April 2007" banner - was relatively unsuccessful, attracting little attention and no click-through. The slender third-party advert on the far right performed even more poorly. Few users noticed it; even though it was animated (The green spots you can see to its right are evidence of users trying to acquire the scroll bar).
Over to you
So that's our take. Now, over to you. Do you agree with our findings, or disagree? Perhaps you've noticed something we've missed. We'd love to hear from you...
...and if you're interested in commissioning an Eye Tracking study of your own site, please don't hesitate to get in touch
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