Recently Baymard has published a new in-depth Telco UX Benchmark Database.
These sites have been manually assessed by Baymard researchers across 400+ research-based UX parameters relevant for Telco websites.This analysis has resulted in 2,400+ weighted UX performance scores exclusively for Telco websites.Additionally, the database contains 1,625+ best-practice examples from leading Telco websites.
In this article we’ll analyze this dataset to provide you with an overview of the UX performance of Telco industry websites, and outline 17 common design pitfalls and strategic oversights applicable to most Telco websites.
This article is divided into the following chapters:
Telephone communications (“Telco”) is a multibillion-dollar industry, made up of large multinational companies providing services and products all over the world.
From an e-commerce website perspective, telco websites are unique in that they sell both physical products (smartphones, tablets, TVs, internet modems) as well as digital/wireless subscription services (internet, tv, phone and data plans, etc.), often bundled together.
Users are also harder to accommodate, as some may be looking to bring their own devices and only sign up for a service plan, or may be seeking a customized package for their specific needs. Furthermore, sometimes certain services are restricted and hence not applicable to all users visiting the site.
All of this adds a level of complexity in communicating to users what their options are, with a need to highlight the benefits of combining certain devices with certain plans.
For this analysis we’ve summarized the 2,400+ Telco usability scores across the 52 topics and plotted the 5 benchmarked Telco sites across these in the scatterplot above. Each dot, therefore, represents the summarized UX score of one site across the 1–17 guidelines within that respective topic. The top row is the total Telco site UX performance.
Our Telco benchmark database reveals that all 5 Telco sites have a poor to mediocre UX performance.
Looking at specific e-commerce themes, we see that, while most Telco sites perform mediocre to acceptable when it comes to “Homepage and Category”, performance is poor when it comes to “On-Site Search”, “Product Lists and Filtering”, and “Device/Product Page, & Plan Matrix”, and “Mobile Web”.
For perspective, when looking at the broader e-commerce landscape, the average overall UX performance falls well below an acceptable level by user standards, with 83% of sites providing what can be described as a mediocre overall user experience, only 17% providing a decent experience, and no sites providing a “State-of-the-Art” experience within all 7 themes that collectively constitute the overall e-commerce user experience.
Thus, Telco sites tend to perform worse when compared to the general e-commerce landscape. (Premium users can access the Overall E-Commerce UX Benchmark Analysis here.)
In this article, we will focus on the “Homepage & Category”, “On-Site Search”, “Product Lists and Filtering”, and “Device/Product Page & Plan Matrix” areas of Telco sites, as well as pitfalls observed for the “Mobile Web” platform.
As a starting point for most users, the average UX performance in the “Homepage & Category” area for Telco sites performs mediocre to acceptable.
While this is the highest-performing area for the Telco industry, sites struggle to accommodate both new users (who are in information-gathering mode) and returning users (who are in account-management mode).
In particular, there are 2 issues Telco sites get wrong when it comes to the “Homepage & Category”.
Our Telco benchmark reveals there is a tendency to hide product categories within the main navigation, making it difficult for users to gauge what the site offers.
In testing, we often observe that when sites didn’t implement the main navigation as the first level of product categories, the navigation experience for users vastly deteriorated.
On these sites users have to hover or click a solitary navigational item — typically called “Shop”, “Products”, or something similar — before even being able to see the first level of categories (e.g., “Phones & Tablets”, “Accessories”, “Plans”, etc.).
The most severe issue of scoping and collapsing the entire product catalog navigation within a solitary navigation item (e.g., “Shop”) is users not being able to fully understand the range of products the site carries.
Meanwhile, users on mobile sites often struggled to simply get started browsing the product catalog when product categories weren’t immediately visible in the main navigation.
Therefore, product categories should be visible in the top level of the main navigation on desktop, and visible immediately after opening the main navigation menu on mobile.
Carousels can perform okay, though there are many implementation details to get right to avoid frustrating users.
While our testing reveals that users generally like the large imagery of carousels, they can cause more harm than good if serious usability issues aren’t addressed.
For example, carousel slides were often observed changing just milliseconds before a user clicked — causing the wrong page to be loaded.
On the other hand, when implemented with care, carousels are a powerful way to promote features, offers, and wizards.
In particular, carousel slides can autorotate on desktop, but not too quickly (especially if they include text), and autorotation should temporarily pause while hovered and permanently pause after any user interaction.
Of the sites in our benchmark, look to Xfinity for the best “Homepage & Category” implementation, with a small catalogue that is well organized and communicated to users.
While search is not likely to be the dominant strategy for Telco shoppers, given the complexity of the service plans, the unanimously poor UX performance of these benchmarked sites renders on-site search nearly impossible.
In particular, there are 3 issues Telco sites get wrong when it comes to Search.
“Product Type” searches are very general and may already exist as a category (often included in higher levels of navigation).
For example, a user may search for “tablet” or “smart watches” instead of plowing click-by-click (or tap-by-tap) through each step of a site’s navigation — or the searches may be synonymous with a product category (e.g., a search for “earphones” when the category is “Headphones”).
During testing, when users scanning results began to see products unrelated to their query, they became puzzled and doubted the search feature or that the site would carry the products they were seeking.
Moreover, users faced with ill-matched “Product Type” results have to spend time deleting and retyping queries or use alternate-browsing methods to find products more relevant to them — causing a diminished perception of the site or even leading to abandonments.
Since “Product Type” searches can be a first interaction with a site, they help shape users’ early impressions of what’s available, making it critical to get “Product Type” matches right.
Furthermore, users don’t always arrive at a site with an understanding of its organization or category wording. Therefore, it’s important to meet them where they are by mapping the words that users may type to describe products sought to the words a site uses to describe the categories and products that it carries.
Users conduct “Exact Searches” when they have a precise idea of what they’re seeking — for example, users who are comparison shoppers, big-ticket item researchers, or repeat purchasers.
Unlike shallow exploratory searches (e.g., “smart phones”), “Exact” queries are detailed, consisting of specific product titles or model numbers which are frequently copy-pasted from another source.
Many users will assume that the site does not carry a product when a relevant matching result for an “Exact Search” isn’t offered or isn’t highly placed in the search results, introducing the potential for abandonment.
Since users conducting “Exact Searches” may often be closer to making a purchase decision than casual product browsers, it’s crucial to remove friction at this stage.
Therefore, users who search for an existing product — and match the title of that product exactly in their query — should find the corresponding product at or very near the top of the search results list.
During testing, users often went through multiple iterations of search queries (2.2 iterations on average).
For example, changing an initial query of “laptop charger” to “laptop charger mac” after scanning the search results.
Clearing users’ search queries each time they are submitted makes it cumbersome to use the search feature, as it requires users to retype queries all over for each iteration.
As a result, it takes longer for users to use search to find products or other content, and may nudge some users to abandon using search as a product-finding strategy.
On mobile, users already have to grapple with small tap target sizes and numerous taps to backspace-delete a word (or words) before typing any new characters — both of which are already intricate interactions.
For users attempting to revise query text in the middle or beginning of search fields, the action of tapping into the precise position in the search field can make iterating a query even more tedious.
Further, these factors do not take into account the length of time it takes to type on mobile to begin with — which is typically longer than it takes on a physical keyboard. All of these aspects combined show the difficulties inherent in mobile typing.
On the other hand, during testing, when search queries were persisted, users made swift iterations by adding or removing a word or two from their original query, avoiding the “halt and retype” behavior that was necessary on sites that didn’t persist search queries.
Moreover, persisting the query helps relieve some of the strain on providing “perfect” filtering options for any given search query (as users can rapidly iterate their query instead, and “filter by searching”).
With a core base of phones, internet, and television products, Telco sites clearly share parallels with e-commerce electronics sites.
Surprisingly, when it comes to “Product Lists & Filtering”, every benchmarked site runs into significant issues (with the presentation of list items in particular), while 3 of the 5 sites can be considered outright broken.
With highly spec-driven products that feature various storage capacities, camera resolutions, processing speeds, and model numbers, Telco sites consistently fail to provide users with the necessary context to evaluate their product options based on their criteria.
5 usability issues contribute to this consistently poor product-browsing experience.
The product list is ultimately about enabling the user to evaluate the available products so they can decide which items are of relevance to them and which they can skip.
It’s important to choose the right product list layout (i.e., “Grid View” vs. “List View”) because the layout greatly influences the data presentation of each list item — which in turn influences the user’s ability to evaluate those items.
During multiple rounds of e-commerce testing we observed that different contexts call for different product list layouts — sometimes a “List View” is more appropriate, other times a “Grid View” is better.
Because spec-driven verticals like Telco typically have more vital product attributes that must be included in list items compared to visually driven ones, the list items tend to need extra vertical space to fit these attributes.
When displayed in a “Grid View”, these specs can cause the list items to grow very tall with long lists of specs, increasing users’ efforts to evaluate and compare products.
On the other hand, some sites leave out certain specs, forcing users to perform extensive pogo-sticking between product pages and the product list to get a full view of specifications.
Despite making it extremely difficult for users to accurately compare specifications of their various options, every Telco product list in our benchmark opted for a “Grid View”.
To avoid excessive pogo-sticking, a “List View” is more appropriate for spec-driven product verticals like Telco, as the extra width allows for both horizontal and vertical distribution of the specs in each list item — affording much-needed space and structure to the many product specifications.
This enables more specs to be displayed upfront, giving users a better foundation for determining which products are of relevance and which they should skip.
Making a decision on the usefulness of the product list depends on knowing how many items are in the current selection.
If the number of items is missing or is hard to see, users lack the information they need to take action on modifying the list.
During testing, some sites didn’t show the total number of items in the product list, and as a result users were unable to quickly make judgements on the extent of the list: “Are these results too broad? Or perhaps they’re overly narrow?”.
If the total number of items isn’t displayed, many users will skip or forget to make this initial judgement of the product list, often causing them to waste time on a product list that is overly narrow or excessively broad.
Another issue that arose during testing was that some users often overlooked the number of items displayed due to poor positioning or lack of prominence.
For example, if the number of items is placed too far away from the product list, or if the text is relatively small or styled such that it doesn’t stand out among other page elements , it can be easily missed by users who are quickly scanning the page.
Showing the number of items above the product list encourages users to think about whether the product list size is appropriate — or if they’re about to browse a potentially overwhelming list or just a few items.
Likewise, it’s helpful to users to have the list size repeated at the bottom of the page, so they are reminded of it before they decide whether to view additional products or try to narrow the list instead.
Moreover, size, placement, and styling of the number of items should make it easy to discern.
While there are a number of ways to load more products, testing has revealed significant issues with both the “Pagination” and “Endless Scrolling” methods that account for 100% of loading schemas in our Telco benchmark.
Throughout multiple rounds of e-commerce testing, users generally perceived pagination to be slow, and seeing more than a handful of pagination links would often discourage them from browsing the full product list.
Furthermore, especially on mobile sites, pagination links can be difficult to tap accurately, because they often have small hit areas and are closely spaced.
Meanwhile, on sites that employed “Endless Scrolling”, users were observed to scan more but focus less on individual items, experience severe difficulty accessing the footer, and become easily overwhelmed by the number of products being added.
“Load More” proved to be the loading schema that performed best across desktop and mobile e-commerce testing, for both category-based product lists and search results. Note: Implementing the “Load More” method requires a careful consideration of the “Back” button behavior (see #9 below).
The benefits of “Load More” — simplicity, being able to access all items that have been viewed on one page, and having the footer always available — make it the best method for adding items to product lists and search results.
If users have to constantly refind where they were in a product list after returning from a product page, they may not find products of interest again and will become annoyed at having to redo previous work, and could abandon.
During testing, when users scanning a product list found an item of interest, they would visit the product page for more details. Ho
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