Case study - CAD software vendor & distributors
Technical and usability website review, digital strategy consultancy
Once again working alongside Colchester agency Coast Digital, in 2015 I was brought in to undertake a set of website reviews for a well-known CAD software vendor and several of their platinum partners across UK and Europe.
The project revolved around the primary software vendor’s online store, and assessing the reseller stores in comparison to this. The aim was to gain a thorough understanding of each store, their strengths, weaknesses, and to benchmark them against each other. In addition to this, we wanted to analyse why customers may be using certain stores over the others through comparing their experiences and the technicalities behind each one. The overall hope was to be able to identify areas for improvement, opportunities to better support customers through improved use of digital, and for the primary retailer to be able to better support their distributors.
A lot of the sites were old and outdated, and it was important for me to undertake an assessment from both usability and technical perspectives, and to be able to give information about the impact of recommendations around improvements in a way that could be easily understood by laymen.
- Client: Market-leading CAD software vendor & UK/European distributors
- Skills/work type: Website review, user research, data analysis, user journeys, heuristic evaluation, digital strategy.
- Industry: Software, ecommerce
Indication of project time: 1 month
My role was that of consultant alongside Coast Digital, where they provided the project management and I was responsible for all other project activities. At the end of my time on the project I handed over to another Coast Consultant that I’d worked with previously, who was to be taking on the next steps of the project after my final presentation.
The project spanned 7 distinct websites in total:
- Leading CAD software vendor main site
- 2x UK platinum distributors
- 2x French platinum distributors
- 2x German platinum distributors
Rather than assessing the sites completely openly, it had been decided that we would use the focus of two specific tasks to provide an initial framework for the comparison. The tasks chosen were finding [product X], and buying [product X].
Review of key journeys involved
I started off by getting a feel for the sites through looking at the key journeys that were involved in these tasks. One starting point looked at was how customers may come across these sites through search, and a review of analytics where possible.
Across the spread of distributors it was interesting to compare the different search terms bringing people to the websites, and the search rankings that they received for different terms related to the product we were focused on. A problem was very quickly identified in the form of all of the distributor sites having (mostly) entirely separate online stores and main websites, with different traffic, rankings, and journeys for each. Often the experience was very fragmented, with no calls to actions to buy from several key landing pages surfaced on main websites returned in search.
The journeys themselves were mapped out from common starting points through the paths available to users – from the point of reaching the site(s) up to the point of having found the main product detail (across the main sites and stores), and from this point through to the point of purchase.
Mapping out the journeys like this was invaluable in focusing feedback around the particular aspects that were flagged for improvement, allowing me to structure the recommendations that we were providing back to the companies.
Heuristic scoring exercise
As we were reviewing several sites and the client had requested that they were able to get a sense of how each was performing when compared against the others, it was important that we had some measurement criteria to judge this by. I therefore decided to undertake a heuristic review, using a set of standardised questions, scoring and weighting, in order to arrive at some quantifiable ‘scores’ for the sites. This again was focused on the key tasks of finding the product and buying the product, but looked at individual aspects including search, forms, performance (and more).
As expected, the primary vendor website scored the highest, with a good range of results across the other sites, which helped us to validate the findings from the other activities in this project.
A lot of the questions that the client wanted answering were around users’ perceptions, choices, and decision-making. As such we were hoping to be able to undertake some testing, however unfortunately this had to be reduced in scale for reasons outside of my control. We ended up doing some telephone interviews, plus questionnaires for overseas respondents. Whilst the findings were not as in-depth as I had originally hoped for, we still managed to gain some useful insights and some nice quotes to back up certain recommendations.
Finally, to balance the other actives, the last aspect was for me to undertake an expert review of the websites. This was a much more fluid, ad-hoc assessment, intended to balance the heuristic scoring criteria with a broader perspective. Areas that I considered included general usability, the responsive nature of the sites (mainly not!), accessibility, plus more technical considerations around the technologies that had been used, the quality (and therefore maintenance, potential for updating) of the codebase, commonalities in functionality, security, and performance.
Each site was run through an assortment of automated and manual tests that I typically perform, and results were added into the by now full mixing pot of observations.
All of the raw assets were available if needed for further detail, but to guide the conversation I put the key findings for each site into a slide deck. Webex presentations with screenshare were given to the UK distributors individually, then to the French representative, and German representative. These included compiled next steps, recommendations, and actionable improvements across the spectrum that I had investigated.
Finally, I led a presentation (along with the Coast project manager and the consultant I was handing over to for the next steps) in person at the UK offices of the primary software vendor, to representatives of the vendor and the body responsible for supporting the distributors. Once we had run through the findings from the site reviews and analysis we then discussed more strategic recommendations, such as the possibility for workshops and training sessions around digital principles for the distributors, and the potential for the evolution of an already existing white-labelled payment process that distributors could have access to.
As with most review projects, the initial assessment of what’s there at the moment and first view of a strategy is only the start of the story – the interesting bit is where everything goes from there. I look forward to seeing how the CAD software vendor and their distributors evolve their platform over time!