Increase online sales using 5 UX principles applied by the inventor of eCommerce


ASOS improved its international website using design that made understanding USPs...

[dead easy]

“Mrs Jane Snowball was a grandmother, 72 years old and she had broken her hip. So they decided, ‘Let’s give Mrs Snowball a television (connected to a phone line) and let’s rope in some retailers (a supermarket, a pharmacy and a bakers) to provide the service.’

Her connection to the TV was a standard 1970s remote with an additional button which said ‘Phone’. She could sit in her armchair and order her groceries… it was dead easy.
— Michael Aldrich on the first B2C, online shopping transaction in 1984


“How easy is figuring out how to use your website, at a glance?”



When Aldrich invented online selling, he used a very simple interface. He took something familiar to Mrs Snowball (a TV remote) and augmented it using an icon for another object she was familiar with (a “Phone” button).

He expected a geriatric grandmother who’d never seen his invention to have no problems using it.

These days, we manage incredibly complex websites that are full of content and technical features – there are countless more opportunities for confusion

We copy competitors. We copy expert guides. But we rarely ask our users what they think – which is odd, because they’re the ones we’re trying to convince to buy from us.

If your website tangles users’ brains, they’ll slide over to a competitor and bury the memory of yours deep with other unpleasant memories – e.g. explosive episodes of food poisoning.


What can only users tell you about being “dead-easy”?

The core of learnability is making sure the meaning you attach to the elements of your site – icons, copy and navigation – is the same as the meaning users attach to them.

We often think our users and ourselves see things the same way, when we really don’t. And only users can tell you whether the words and visuals on your site convey the meanings you want them to.

There’s a concept in linguistics called “false friends”. False friends are words in two languages that look or sound familiar, but differ significantly in meaning.


For example, if I were to ask you what the word “sauce” means, you’d probably say something about a liquid condiment used to accompany food. Then I’d say, “Oh no, I was referring to the Spanish word, which means willow (a type of shrub).”


The most dangerous conversion killers could be hiding in the areas where you feel most confident. The words or visuals which have such clear meanings within your company, that you (wrongly) assume everyone else attaches the same meaning to them.

The areas where your website and its users are being false friends.


Case study:

ASOS case study: sometimes, an unusual approach is the one users find easiest

To illustrate this point, we’ll use those 3 special words the lucky among us have heard before – Free. Delivery. Worldwide. (Why would you think we’d say, “I love you”?)

Here they are on 3 popular eCommerce websites:




“Free delivery worldwide” isn’t a phrase you’d immediately expect to bring users heartache – on the contrary, it sounds like a unique selling point.

But as one of the above websites discovered, it was a silent killer.

ASOS improved international website

ASOS is an online fashion retailer – in case any of you are astronauts and have been chilling on Pluto for a few decades.

Being a mega-retailer, ASOS has customers all over the globe. It has international versions of its website and one way it gets a leg up on competitors is by offering free delivery worldwide.

ASOS ran UX tests with WhatUsersDo to see how well its international websites stacked up against the UK version.

Familiar but unintuitive vs. unfamiliar but intuitive

In the process of UX testing, ASOS uncovered issues on the UK site too. In particular, the fact that many users had issues with the meaning of “free delivery worldwide”.

This lady, whose first language doesn’t appear to be English, first says she thinks “free delivery worldwide” means she won’t have to pay anything to get her stuff:


Then when she clicks on the link, she concludes, “It’s not free delivery then?”

There she is again, at checkout, having trouble with the whole “free delivery worldwide” process:

Certain caveats applied to “free delivery worldwide ” in the context of ASOS’ business model.



This became a problem because the part of ASOS’ old homepage that said “Free delivery worldwide” said nothing else. At a glance, it looked like all it was supposed to do was tell you that ASOS would deliver anywhere in the world for free.

There was no asterisk to suggest certain terms applied. There was no call to action that said “Find out more”. People could just look at it and draw a flawed conclusion – which is what many did.

How did ASOS solve this problem?

Since the folks at ASOS tested with WhatUsersDo, they’ve added an asterisk after “free delivery worldwide” and a CTA that says “More info here”. You’ll notice these in the screenshots but not in the videos of users testing their old site.


 Before the change. (Need image)



Even if ASOS can’t convey all the details underlying the offer on the homepage, it can (at a glance) convey that you need to find out more information. That this offer might not mean what you think it does.

They’ve also made it so that when users click through, they go straight to a huge table with all the countries and their delivery options listed. This replaced the pretty, blue panels that you see in the UX testing videos.

This table isn’t the kind of thing you see on many eCommerce sites (unfamiliar) – not even the ones with a similar offer. But it lets users easily find the information they need (intuitive). People are used to tables – they can figure out how one works, at a glance.

What were the results of user experience testing?

We can’t put numbers to the improvements on (for confidentiality reasons), but this quote from the international manager should give you an idea of the results achieved:

“Overall, I think we were very happy with the testing and the insight we’ve achieved as a result of it. And obviously, the UK team were impressed enough to run their latest tests through you too!”

And who would’ve guessed that a unique selling point on the homepage could be something that confused users and sabotaged conversions down the road?

Guessing shouldn’t come into it – that’s why user experience testing exists.