The Last Mile

Started as an opinion in the late 1990’s, my belief is that the majority of web applications have under-served their users by not putting enough emphasis on ease-of-use.

Today the technology has become a commodity. Flavors change (Ajax, PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc) work gets shipped offshore and more companies try to push more info through the lower cost channel of a web browser. But the vast majority of “technology” companies still don’t value the Last Mile enough to make it actually work for the end users. Very few companies have studied the costs associated with NOT making a preferred interface.

Content from 2003 Opinion – Last Mile is the Interface

During the telecom build out, many access-providers estimated the huge cost of building out fiber to the end user, commonly called the ‘last mile’. Specifically the last mile of fiber to our houses was estimated to be exponentially more costly than the corporate build out that was well underway. Today fiber is currently available in many downtown locations, but is generally less available to other customer locations because of this cost. see article

Many ‘last mile’ projects went unfinished with the collapse of the dot-com boom, but more of the general population has Internet access today than ever before. Internet usage is now approximately 59% of the American adult population and has not been severely hindered by the lack of fiber to our homes. (Pew Internet & American Life Project – Pew Internet

It is the rare consumer today who can imagine a world without Ebay or Amazon. Cisco and Dell have sold billions of dollars of their gear through their web sites and without the intervention of any salesperson. And the medium is truly still developing.

Entire markets have been changed and retail may never be the same again. Who hasn’t comparison shopped online this holiday season? Houses, automobiles, electronics, and many more luxury items can all be researched and purchased online. And as a result, corporations continue to spend on developing next generation Internet applications. Internet developers are still spending billions (or trying to save them using offshore development teams) to improve their features and functionality.

But, there is a tremendous disconnect as companies try to enhance their online offerings without real customer inputs. Internet technology cannot magically make these companies better. Customer inputs can. The ‘Last Mile’ of successful Internet development is not broadband or fiber access – it is applications that work the way customers expect them to.

User-focused development means connecting business goals and user needs into a cohesive easy-to-understand solution that simplifies transactions for online users. This process also happens to give the highest return on investment for corporate clients.

According to Jakob Nielsen, “on average across many test tasks, users fail 35% of the time when using web sites.” Nielsen article His data shows that users accessing web applications only succeeded 45% of the time. And the holy grail of online goals, shopping on e-commerce sites, was only 56% successful. These are failing grades for any business and those types of results are costing companies billions of dollars in lost online sales.

Forrester Research showed where positive online experience leads to loyalty in their June 2001 report. “Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that 42% of US Web buying consumers made their most recent online purchase because of a previous good experience with the retailer.”

It makes sense. Do you return to stores where you get poor service? The Internet is a medium capable of serving our needs immediately (with a slight lag for shipping). Successful e-commerce sites take customers completely across the advertising spectrum from awareness to preference to purchase in a seamless manner. The smoother that process, the more online sales result.

Research from various sources has shown that simply by providing sufficient product information at the right time, you can dramatically increase online sales. UI Engineering did a study in 2001 that showed a 225% increase in online sales as a result of this tactic UI Enginerring

As your company evolves your online applications, focus on the “Last Mile” and ask the hard questions. How can we make this easier for our customers to do business with us? Customer-focused answers will amaze even the most frugal technology planners as they watch their investments start to pay off.

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