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51pc of retailers say they conduct user research on mobile sites: report

As retail fawns over the flashier elements of user experience in the industry’s rapid adoption of omnichannel, a new report from UserTesting reminds ecommerce executives of the importance of an oft-overlooked requirement in the transition: user testing.

The fourth annual UX and User Research Industry Survey polled over 2,200 industry professionals across numerous fields on how their organizations are approaching user experience and conducting user research. The goal of the survey was to assess the level of consensus among those involved in mobile technology as to the role of user research and best practices in executing it.

“(Bricks-and-mortar isn’t experiencing) so much an atrophy as a changing mix,” said Michael Mace, vice president of product marketing at User Testing. “There’s still a role for bricks-and-mortar; human beings are tactile and like to touch things.

“But the journey is different, and to understand and optimize that journey we’ve got to get inside the heads of customers and understand what they’re thinking.” 

User Research
Most of the polling audience worked in tech and software, but a significant cohort were also reporting from the retail sector—unsurprising, considering how rapid the transition to omnichannel is occurring within the sector.

One insight gleaned from the report was that user testing is tending to happen earlier in the product development process than it has in previous years: 72 percent of respondents claimed to engage in user research before beginning any design or development, and 76 percent claimed that they undertook research during the design/prototyping phase.

Despite the purported importance of user research from brands, queries that dug deeper into employee roles proved user experience to still be a burgeoning field. 37 percent of respondents reported that only two to five people at their companies work on user experience, with only 11 percent reporting that they have between 11 and 25 employees in the department.

The relative scarcity of UX designers and researches may be due to the industry’s proximity to its coronation as one of the top priorities for any application, heralded by current king of UX design, Snapchat. The numbers may also be affected by the presence of sectors such as education, nonprofit and government in the survey, all of which tend to lag behind in mobile innovation, waiting on tried-and-true methods to emerge from more experimental applications.

Market progression
However, even if some industries do get a pass for lagging behind on UX research, a few of the polled responses are not encouraging when looking at the future of the market. 66 percent of respondents claimed that there was either no fixed budget for user research or they were not sure, and 31 percent claimed that their company’s user research budget stayed about the same from 2015 to 2016, despite increased consumer expectations for innovative user experience design.

UX designers and retailers alike will be keeping tabs on the future of user experience to see if the market at large will catch up. Surges in the development of online trends that many respondents think will affect the trajectory of the field include artificial intelligence (51 percent) and the Internet of Things (47 percent), and perhaps the flashiness of these trends will act as an anticoagulant for the discipline in the next five years.

“User research is critical in retail because retail is at the leading edge of the omnichannel transformation,” Mr. Mace said. “It’s going to affect all industries, but it’s happening in retail first because e-commerce blew up so fast on the web.

“Retail is a pioneer, not an exception.”