Statistics for e-Commerce can be split between two contrasting and not necessarily companion aspects. There are statistics of success in terms of market development, profile or response through hit or link ratings, and secondly there are statistics of sales or revenue. Dependant upon the purpose of a company’s e-commerce deployment one or other but rarely both of these statistics will seek to prove the status of the investment and allow informed strategic decision making.
According to the United Kingdoms Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2002 “e-commerce is likely to have a huge impact on the way we do business. It has the potential to lead to dramatic growth in trade, increase markets, improve efficiency, effectiveness and transform business processes”. This notion of increasing markets and improving efficiency and effectiveness through internet technology is underwritten in ‘Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy’. (Evens, 1997). Here the authors determine that three key factors create success in e-commerce businesses: reach, richness and affiliation.
- Reach indicates numbers of users interacting in e-commerce.
- Richness is the depth or quality of information user’s gain.
- Affiliation is a measure of correlation or affinity with users.
The internet’s ease of accessibility for consumers means there is a levelling of reach between small and larger enterprises. This is due to small companies being able to gain the sort of competitive advantage associated with advertising in other media such as newspapers or television. Richness or detail of information is also easier to provide online with multiple data sources, animations, video and databases linked to internet and extranet applications. Only affiliation with the customer is unchanged and this creates a greater effectiveness and success through tailored services such as the Amazon personal front page (Wolverton, 2000) by making a new store for each user. It is in an attempt to measure affiliation or user buy in, that many commercially based internet statistics are created. This pressure to create statistics often to prove the effectiveness of the method by companies with a vested interest renders many internet statistics unreliable . To quantify affiliation and supposedly shed light on the nature of business transformation, increased markets and improved efficiency of e-commerce as a marketing channel numerous calculation methods are in use.
Credibility and Trustworthiness
There are two distinct terms associated with the effectual usage and profitability of e-commerce, credibility and trustworthiness. James Rosenfields (2001) determined that much of the available internet statistics are “lies or damned lies”. This is because they are “an amalgam of guesswork, wishful thinking, pie-in-the-sky optimism, end-of-the-world pessimism and trivial commonplaces” (Rosenfields, 2001) and therefore lack credibility. Much of the underlying basis of e-commerce statistics are not transparent and in many cases appears to be clouded by commercial purpose. James Rosenfields further suggests that the longevity of the medium, newspaper being old verses the internet being new has a direct correlation in its perceived trustworthiness. This notion of trustworthiness is essential in developing business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce in a way that many companies are used to working by letters of agreement, tacit contracts or unsecured credit whereas consumers are not. There is a general perception by consumers that more credit fraud is created by unsecured internet connections than them not keeping a watchful eye on their credit cards in shops and bars. In fact 5% of all internet sales using credit cards are fraudulent and carried out by consumers against merchants (Sandoval, 2001). In consequence credibility and trustworthiness are often outside the experience of many web retailers and sets an environment of fear in e-commerce.
Given the commercial value of internet statistics governmental websites have been chosen as a prime source of information. While governmental statistics may be open to influences by national economic concerns, the first and most fundamental statistic of total population holds no specific national benefit so may be considered viable. The U.S Census Bureau issues world population data which has been factored to be 6,446,131,400 (U.S Census Bureau, 2004) at a mid point in the year of 2005. Conversely this data is used with an algorithm by David Levin from the University of North Carolina in his population clock which goes up three to four people per second. At 12.30pm 7th April 2005 the population stood at 6,511,632,444 (Levin, 0000). While this format of data presentation is quite compelling it is without consensus and as such flawed. If the population of the world is not an agreed figure it is therefore difficult, if not impossible to determine a percentage usage of the internet as a derivative of world population. Further more to calculate return on investment (ROI) in association with internet usage, sales figures and market penetration by population methods would also be impossibly flawed.
Statistics of Success
There are many methods of statistical calculation in use on the internet e.g. click through rates (CTR) which are derived from using coded links which log activity and flow direction, website visitors which is an extrapolation of site hits, data requests and site session logs. However the underlying data is captured in only two arenas. Data is derived from either locally assessed user activity or remotely assessed communication packets or logging. These two data sources then form the basis of calculations in association with national and worldwide population statistics.
Activity statistics are derived through the use of pre-defined or targeted user groups surveys or reviews, cookies, banners, html email, adware and spyware.
Predefined groups are used by Nielson NetRatings to produce commercial guidelines for internet design. They include recommendation of functionality, content design and creation and accessibility. Commonly, internet experts are used to assess websites, they perform heuristic evaluations based upon defined criteria. This method is highly favoured in commercial arenas as it provides absolutes. An unfortunate aspect of this sort of evaluation is a level of condescension is required to dumb down the findings to allow for non technical usage of the internet. While this kind of study may produce insights into professional aspirations for internet usage it says very little about mass consumption. The motivation for this kind of study is consultancy or publication fees. The use of this sort of data to describe national or global interactions is highly suspect.
Targeted user group are used to perform ethnographic reviews commonly in users office or home that study interactions based upon goals, walkthroughs or scenarios. This type of study is highly effectual in producing notional interaction behaviour. Until recently the use ethnographic reviews has been associated with a response to an existing website rather than the underlying philosophy or ethos.
References (some links require fees)
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The following is a paper I wrote in 2005.
Converting browsers to buyers: exploring what drives consumer choice in internet e-commerce
Why do internet users behave as they do, are their activities solely determined by website design? Or do they create their own pathways as a response to designated systems. For many, internet design is about the imposition of schemas, predetermined flows and consumer motifs, allowing the shepherding of an understood and mapped user towards buying products and services. However if this were true then every browser would also be a buyer. The underlying concepts of current website design rely on a number of pretexts which, when reviewed in relation to human activity and interaction, become questionable in their veracity.
There is recognition  that there is limited information in the understanding of the reciprocity of attitudes and behaviour constituting the relationship between internet shoppers and e-commerce websites. This is in contrast to commercially driven usability and web metrics companies who assert their findings based upon activity patterns often using statistically small samples . Developing an understanding of the relationship between users and websites is key to determining patterns of interaction. Patterns of interaction are currently under investigation in two distinct ways, by using reflective and diagnostic methodologies. Reflection upon measurable activity, clicks, information foraging  and sales provide compelling insights for business metrics, can be limited by their subjective constituents. In turn diagnosis based on reviewers or heuristic interpretations with little user involvement  produce contentious results. This study will attempt to combine both forms of investigation with a large participant group study producing empirical data to be reviewed using both quantitative and qualitative approaches.
1.1 Research aims
The aims and objectives of the research can be summarised as follows:
- Why do internet users behave as they do, are their activities solely determined by website design? Or do they create their own pathways as a response to designated systems.
- List common behaviours and attributes to discern if there is a pattern that can be mapped and predicted.
These present some added details in comparison to the original project aims and objectives, described in the project proposal (appendix 6). Differences and the reasons for them are discussed in the final conclusions (chapter 6).
1.2 Conceptual investigation
- Technological Determinism
- How it came about
- Engineering to computing rather than social science to computing
- Boudieur absolutes – linking social theory with technology
- Statistical absolutes taken by industry
- Dialectic Computing
- Social Computing
- Tavistock Institute
- Human Computer Interaction
- Cultural Cognition
- Embodied Interaction
- Organic Systems
- Dialectic Interaction
- Investigation Methodologies
- Reflective methodologies
- Information Scent
- Internet Statistics
- Diagnostic methodologies
- Active Narrative
- Lexical Distribution of Activity
- Activity as a language
2. E-COMMERCE THEORETICAL UNDERPINNING
The main area of this research is to gain an understanding of how people use technology as an extension of their world , specifically in the mode of consumer e-commerce. This world view is augmented by a representation of social constructs by an evolutionary process of active agents of transformation  in technology and specifically the creation of an electronic media habitus. This constituency maintains its own cultural capital and produces a parallel distinctive counterpoint to popular and consumer cultures. The nature of human computer interactivity, it's cultural, educational and gender attributes has a key influence on the unification of money, knowledge and technological aspiration. These factors are also represented in technological deprivation and the personalised safety of internalised ignorance.
To relate instances of electronic media habitus a combination of activity biography ,  and negotiated conventions  enable the development of an activity definition index. The cultural disposition of technology, interactions and resultant pathways remain difficult to interpret without recourse to such a framework.
3. REFLECTIVE METHODOLOGY
Existing methodologies produce results that use complex mathematics to create algorithms , create subjective rules of design  or usability inspection tools . Which are normally only used with existing websites, only reflecting upon current interactions.
2.1 Information Scent
The cognitive walkthrough of the web has evolved based upon the notion that users decide on their course of action based upon cues, which derive behavioural patterns of interaction then form guide routes of information scent . Information scent has also been developed using aspects of information foraging both structured and unstructured . The Bloodhound project seeks to establish a clear method showing consistent, measurable elements that provide benefit in the design of websites. However there is contention in the effectiveness of this methodology  by commercially driven consultants.
2.2 Internet Statistics
There remains a problem with accessing "actionable statistics"  for businesses, and while their credibility and measurability remains opaque there will be a question regarding their veracity .
4. DIAGNOSTIC METHODOLOGY
The general interpretation of an open and untamed  source of information like the World Wide Web (WWW) requires a systematic review of actions. Actions and user activity  in relation to an observable world require a common representation to determine navigation and related target acquisition. Ethnographic studies related by an in-series testing system can reduce the anomalous results associated with subjective reflective data. Ultimately a lexical definition of activity is needed; in the interim the term narrative enables an interpolative review of data which will provide a clearer definition of activity.
The understanding of human interaction can be viewed as participation in the creation of personal historical elements, which allow dispersion in potential trajectories  evolving of a self imposed narrative. This narrative can be observed in linguistic and engendered functions which require definition and contextualisation. However to effectively map these functions a lexicon approach  as associated with endangered languages, would allow the use of rational linguistic dimensions including orthography, morphology, syntax and semantics. The creation of a lexical basis  makes individual actions communicable aspects of communities of actions with related compound, processed and adaptive meanings.
Several hypothetical goals, adaptations and conventions can be derived from this research which will further refine and delineate additional aspects of narrative behavior to produce foundational lexical and activity indices.
Goals can be a descriptor of predetermined final destinations which can subsequently be reduced to a form of knowledge morpheme. These inter-related sub-rationale units while distinct and finite offer an activity based response to catalytic impositions by addition and adaptation.
Adaptation allows the extension of narratives  creating alternative perspectives on the same object or situation. Further modifications can be made in a process of engagement, by determining the user's perceptions or discernment of active adversity which produces redirection.
Conventions allow the use of avatars  to create nodes within lexical frameworks, providing index points in a narrative activity. Agreement of conventions in social, emotional and commercial arenas for completion, enable a measurable resolution to tasks.
5. PROPOSED RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Data for this paper is being gathered through a three tiered research process. The target group for this research is consumers who purchase online, non-experienced WWW users based in the United Kingdom.
An initial pilot survey link has been introduced onto a number of United Kingdom based online shopping directories. Control questions have been used to define the target group and acquire basic demographic information. The survey consists of open ended questions with text areas to allow user to express their opinions on their online purchase experiences.
The main survey will be derived from the pilot by asking detailed questions related to the pilot results. This survey will use menu and dropdown tools with text areas to create both quantitative and qualitative primary data.
The final counterpoint survey will involve twelve participants (six consumers and six heuristic users) working on a series of scenario based activities derived from the main survey results. This ethnographic study will allow interactive testing and appraisal of user preferences, requirements and actual activity.
While this paper seeks to review and define the boundaries of an ongoing associated data gathering exercise it has also produced a number of testable hypotheses to be reviewed after data acquisition.
The linking of action cues with ethnographics has the potential to define activity components, constituents, usage and compound derivatives which will allow measurable patterns of formation and defendable narrative component interpretation.
The use of lexical representations will provide a framework for the indexing of interconnected activity components which currently operate under diverse notations.
The ability to interpret interaction will form the basis of other studies to better understand and design e-commerce sites based on human interpretive activity.
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In recent years the flaws in user experience design (UX) based in wireframe exercises have become more evident to professional IT people as the business has become flooded with unqualified people.
User experience is the interior designer of the computing world
I recently heard from a Bank that they wanted people with less fluffy thinking, there is a certain perception that user experience design is the interior designer of the computing world. Designers don't need analytics (engineering principals), computer languages (material science), usability testing experience (ergonomics), user research experience (anthropometrics, human behavioural science), business management, project management all they need is colour theory and basic graphics.
Clients should expect measurable proof (KPI's) before development
Because user experience appears to afford a rapid project method, the point is being missed on many expensive projects "diagrams are not proof of delivery", solid KPI's showing the process to form them, what they deliver, how and when they can be measured and what the success criteria is should be required for investment. Businesses rightly need to show that they are not wasting money to shareholders and the public (in the case of publicly owned or supported) but for the most part UX is not based on research but uses design patterns. The problem with design patterns is that there are huge risks associated with using them without doing any primary research. Such research would also provide UX KPI's for businesses.
Who is qualified in UX?
This is a difficult question to answer as no professional body currently represents user experience at a professional level, so in effect anyone can call themselves a user experience designer, architect or consultant. I know a lot of employment agencies get burned by people who can't do the job and digital agencies go through a string of low paid, no experience people. In one case I reviewed an in house UX person's work after the digital agency called me in to smooth out a relationship with a major brand client who said they "would not pay for this crap". The UX person's work was rubbish, wireframe notation non-existent and no functional specification how they expected to pass it to a developer I have no idea. Verbal communication is a key aspect of the job and this person was very shy. From my side I have an MSc in Computer Science and a BA in Design, plus professional qualifications.
Characteristics of UX people
When I interview UX people I look for great communicators who can not only talk about the subject but also about themselves with confidence, who have a wide experience in usability, research and computing (I always use control questions as well, where I know the best practice answer). I look for opinionated people who can back up their views, passionate people (but not falling into the advocacy fight user vs. business) who are balanced and know what to fight for at the right point in a project. I look for logical thinkers and while this might sound easy it’s one of the hardest skills to find. I will usually ask the person to describe an interactive system they have designed as it shows the logic model used and dependencies they have recognised. I also look for professional people, UX people are not rock stars they are service providers. I expect them to be respectful of people and their time, attend planned / booked meetings and advise or change meetings if they are running late. I also expect them to have professional indemnity insurance, why would they not, if they are professionals?
Formal scientific methods, rather than the pseudo science used in marketing
Beyond the above UX people need formal scientific methods, rather than the pseudo science used in marketing that is leaking into UX at the moment. Business people need proof they can show the board of directors sometime just to release the funding more often to show them they are competent. I was heartened recently when a VP from a major consultancy mentioned the use of Ethnographics, I think he was shocked to find out I created the method in 2002 for usability studies as a digital enactment method based upon ethnography. Someone has always created methods (I have created six and defined four key concepts in research) so be careful when you talk about them as you may be talking to their creators.
The proof of the pudding or just a guess and can the business afford the risk?
Scientific methods create repeatable (rigorous; extremely thorough, exhaustive and accurate) results that can be used as the bases of complex interactive systems design without these types of methods is just a guess. In previous years it has been the domain of Managing Directors and Heads of Department to go with their gut feeling about how their customers and clients want to interact with them, now it's UX people. Can businesses really afford to risk so much on the guess of a UX person or would they rather mitigate the risk with some research and KPI's first?