It’s How You Say It That Counts

It’s the holidays, so I’ll be short and to the point.

Black Friday (which is now a week long) just passed. So did Cyber Monday. And the buying season is still upon us. I suspect that web pages outlining store policies for refunds, returns, and exchanges are getting a lot of traffic these days. This is, in effect, simple information presentation. And it can affect whether or not a person is willing to purchase from a company.

A lot of our work as designers involves the presentation of information, which can have many purposes, including:

  • knowledge acquisition
  • persuasion
  • decision-making guidance
  • simple training

The usability of information is not just the facts presented, but how people perceive these facts.

It’s surprising the number of times our usability testing work uncovers a case where our client is providing the information but the user doesn’t understand it; or the user thinks they understand it but they don’t; or the user understands it, but gets the wrong impression about what it means.

This is why testing of information on a website needs to go beyond testing to learn if users find the information. It has to include how they perceive the information. Sometimes, the issue is just about how information is framed.

Consider the following example: I purchased an item from Store A. The item I ordered arrived defective. I contacted the store, told them the situation, and asked for an exchange. They told me they do not do exchanges. The customer service agent suggested I contact the manufacturer, since the product has a one-year warranty, but said the manufacturer would make me pay for shipping. Not wanting to pay for shipping, and thinking that this was the wrong solution on a product that was defective upon arrival, I asked if these were my only options. The agent responded by saying they would accept a return for a defective product and would even pay for its shipping.

Since this store also had the best price I could find, I told the agent I would be repurchasing the product. At this point, he kindly told me that if I ordered the product now, he would mail the new product along with a return shipping label. When the new item arrived, I could place the shipping label on the defective item and send it back to them. They would refund the charge for the defective item once it arrived.

Now consider this next example: I purchased a product from Store B. It also arrived defective. (No, this is not a pattern, but I do purchase lots of products.) I contacted Store B and asked them what I should do. The customer service agent told me they would send me a replacement item immediately and would include a shipping label to return the defective item. However, to ensure that I return the original item, they would put a charge on my account for the new item, which they would reverse as soon as the defective item arrived.

Store A doesn’t do exchanges. They say so on their website. Their employees say they don’t do exchanges. Store B does do exchanges. They say so on their website. Their staff explains the procedure of an exchange policy. But these two procedures, and the outcome they produce, are exactly the same. Maybe store A doesn’t want people to know they do exchanges. I suspect that’s not the case. I suspect it’s just in how they say it. A rose by any other name.

Happy holidays. And happy shopping.