A recent IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index showed U.K. online retail sales via smartphones and tablets increased 138 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, with 82 percent of the sales attributable to tablets. This underscores a potentially massive problem for brands whose websites are under-performing for mobile visitors. For example, when a shopper’s online experience on a mobile device is underwhelming, they are much more likely to drop out of the shopping process or abandon a cart before checkout. This sends shivers down the spine of any customer experience professional.

There are many tools available to help you understand what is happening on your website. These tools might count the number clicks, length of stay, or total pages visited. Others will help you analyse these numbers and tell you which types of visitors are most likely to convert or recommend your site. These quantitative approaches are essential, but they overlook an innate skill we all have: the ability to watch and learn from the actions of others.

For those who want to augment their web analytics toolbox with a more visual approach, a technology called session replay is gaining popularity. For good reason: it’s engaging and stimulating, and offers actionable insights into customer behavior. Replaying an actual visitor’s session can deliver some striking benefits that no other customer experience analysis tool can offer. Among them:

  1. Get to know your customers’ behaviour. It’s hard to overstate this: sitting (virtually) beside your customers, and seeing how they interact with your website, while gaining a true appreciation of what they experience, is both illuminating and rewarding. You’ll want to give the task the time is deserves, and you’ll see exactly why you need to make the improvements that session replay so clearly highlights.
  2. See what doesn’t work. Playback gives you a real sense of what is frustrating your customer. Watch them jump between pages, scroll up and down, and click where they are not meant to click. You will soon discover the good, the bad and the terrible about your site’s design and functionality.
  3. Catch bugs. Filtering your web sessions, for example by customers that abandon by device, allows you to quickly determine whether or not your site functions correctly for those customers. Wondering why Android users check out at a lower rate? Now you’ll know why.
  4. Gain useful insights. Watching customers fill in forms can also be very revealing. Are there particular fields that are causing drop-off? Which fields take longer to complete? Is your field validation correct for the data customers are entering? You will find issues to investigate further.

If you’re considering session replay, or want to take advantage of free subscriptions that some firms offer, here are some tips to get you started.

  • Decide what to record. You don’t need to record every visitor to every page. Target the use of a session replay tool to the most high value areas of your website by recording specific pages like those involved in the checkout process.
  • Work out how much to record. Often a sample of the users interacting with your website will provide enough data to identify problems and issues so vary the volume of recorded activity in different areas of your website. For example, record a small % of users visiting non-transactional pages but a high % across the transactional page.
  • Select the right session to watch. Segment recordings using filters to make sure you are looking at what you want to understand. Filters allow you to focus on the sessions that matter to you. Maybe you just want to see long sessions; understand the behavior of tablet-toting users; look at those users with the latest version of IE; or see what’s happening on the payment page. These are just some examples – and of course you can combine selection criteria to slice and dice as you choose. Watch between 10 – 20 sessions to identify a pattern in user behaviour.
  • Advanced features. Finally, you can get the most from your playback tool by combining it with heatmaps and conversion funnels. Heatmaps aggregate data from multiple recordings so you can highlight how well the current page layout and design is working, what navigation, search or filtering tools and links are most commonly used on each page, and what content is actually being seen and used by visitors. Conversion funnels let you assess the performance of website processes like checkout. Use funnels to understand which pages cause customers to abandon and session replay to learn why.
  • Privacy – make sure you consider what fields you’re recording- should they be masked?

Session replay should be considered an essential tool by all businesses that are serious about the investment they have made in their website. It provides website owners with an unrivalled view of their customers’ online behaviour and that leads directly to improved customer experience – benefiting customer and business alike.

Kevin GodingsKevin Goodings is the founder and CEO of SessionCam, a SaaS-based session replay tool trusted by over 5,000 clients, including John Lewis, Sky and The Financial Times. Kevin has a deep understanding of website design, usability, conversion optimisation and analytics, built over a career working both client- and agency-side, developing online services for world-leading brands. Over the last decade, he has set up and grown his own web agency and customer experience company.

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