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Go to just about any eCommerce site and the homepage is nearly guaranteed to feature a carousel - an auto-rotating panel, usually with some sort of small navigation, usually highlighting new product releases, sales or offers.

Are there any studies out there that look into how effective carousels actually are in terms of conversions and as compared against other ways of displaying similar information? I have a hypothesis that they might be something of a UI cliche, partially supported by looking at click data from some of our own sites.

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I would love to upvote some of these answers, but none of them have cited any sources. –  zzzzBov Aug 22 '11 at 17:15
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@Alex G and zzzzBov - The type of client you refer to often needs to witness first hand the implications of their requirements or stubbornness on the site that they are responsible for. Sources and citations that contradict the norm or go against what the 'competition do' hold little weight. To disregard what is seen to be the norm is usually quite uncomfortable for the person who's career is directly related to the success of a product or service. Of course in some situations a carousel is exactly the right means to deliver content and so we need to try and importantly test every situation. –  Adam Fellowes Aug 23 '11 at 15:04
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This is a carrousel explaining why the answer is no, and cites several examples. shouldiuseacarousel.com –  user33560 Jul 14 '13 at 21:37
    
Someone, at some point, will have to make the distinction between a single item carousel and multi item one (such as that seen on Amazon's "Also Bought" pattern. I believe the latter should be termed collection scroller and I strongly suspect the two differ greatly in their usability. –  Izhaki Jan 9 at 23:13
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15 Answers 15

Almost all of the testing I've managed has proven that content delivered via carousels are missed by most users. Few interact with them and many comment that they look like adverts — we've witnessed the banner blindness concept in full effect.

In terms of space saving and content promotion, a lot of competing messages get delivered in a single position that can lead to focus being lost.

I'm quite certain that they are indeed a user-interface cliché borne out of their inclusion in wire-framing apps and being part of JavaScript frameworks.

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Thanks for your feedback, Adam. I always suspected they were born out of a mixture of easy implementation (jQuery) and clients still demanding that content be featured above the fold. –  Alex G Aug 22 '11 at 14:38
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I want to add that the data I have seen at my places of work came to the same conclusion. –  jonshariat Mar 26 '12 at 19:55
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Not many months ago all and every site proudly exhibited a tag cloud, remember? Now if you see one you guess that it's a seldom updated site. With carrousels it might happen the same, or not. We are in the process of finding out which is their possibly narrow application area. But indeed, much narrower than today. –  Juan Lanus Dec 26 '12 at 23:06

Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in marketing/senior management that their latest idea is now on the home page.

They are next to useless for users and often "skipped" because they look like advertisements. Hence they are a good technique for getting useless information on a home page (see first sentence of this post).

In summary, use them to put content that users will ignore on your home page. Or, if you prefer, don't use them. Ever.

By the way, these views are not my own, but are based upon observing thousands of tests with users.

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Haha, "scathing" is probably a good one word summary of your reply. Cheers, Lee. Agreed. –  Alex G Aug 22 '11 at 14:51
    
I don't 100% agree with this. In many cases, the way the carousel is implemented can be ignored - but, there are markets and applications which are effective and not overlooked. Examples of sites/apps which have a high clickthrough: Hulu.com, BuildwithBMC.com, Apple's App Store... –  Ariel Spaulding Jun 18 at 17:50

In all the testing I have done, home page carousels are completely ineffective.

For one, anything beyond the initial view has a huge decrease in visitor interaction. And two, the chances that the information being displayed in the carousel matches what the visitor is looking for is slim. So in that case the carousel becomes a very large banner that gets ignored. In test after test the first thing the visitor does when coming to a page with a large carousel is scroll right past it and start looking for triggers that will move them forward with their task.

The only exception I found was when testing around a holiday and the carousel spoke specifically to that holiday there was an increase in the amount of clicks a visitor had with the carousel.

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Another exception I have found: Carousels used on an intranet we have found to be quite well used (purely from looking at analytics data). I assume this is because the user of an intranet doesn't dismiss them as an advert as they know the intranet has no ads. –  benb Sep 14 '11 at 15:51

As a user I find carousels faintly annoying:

  1. Most have usability fail which I fall into the categories described in this article:

    5 Big Usability Mistakes Designers Make on Carousels

  2. No ability to bookmark a particular item on the carousel, for example take a look at the BBC News photo carousel they use: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14619799 There's no way for me to bookmark the sixth item and send a link.

  3. Carousels that don't allow me to right click on an item and "open in new tab/page" - flash carousels

  4. Carousels that have unpredictable non-intuitive navigation such as rotating content for no good reason just because you moved your mouse over it.

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Good points -- that BBC example is pretty grim. I realise this isn't answering the OP's question, but... Carousels are like scrollbars, only worse: you can't see how much content is available, you have to keep clicking to see more content (rather than dragging a slider), they all work slightly differently (and users struggle enough as it is, even with the most common and highly standardised interface elements) and all carousels seem to suffer glitches in terms of code and UI (the BBC Glow code has weird 'carousel-pad' items at the end of the carousel list, for example). –  Sam Dutton Aug 23 '11 at 13:39
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Your item #2 also applies to trying to direct a friend to the sixth paragraph of a news story. –  Erics Oct 20 '11 at 6:27
    
#3 is really a Flash problem, not specifically related to whether you're using a carousel or not. –  iconoclast Jul 21 at 15:28

I do not use or suggest the use of carousels. The changing of images can distract users when they read text on the page.

You might find some interesting information at http://digitaleskimo.tumblr.com/post/752912498/image-carousel-appropriateness

http://blinkux.com/insights/newsletter/usability-highlights-2008/ does not dispute the use or causeless, but offers some tips in the "Avoid giving users a confusing ride on your carousel" section.

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I'm going to give this post the bounty, even though it's an old post. This is because following the first link in your post led me to this: ojr.org/p1639 which is an actual study. Still not especially conclusive though, but interesting none-the-less. –  JonW Mar 29 '12 at 15:12
    
Shame the screenshots and live examples are offline in that article you linked; a good read though, nonetheless, @JonW –  kontur Feb 26 '13 at 8:20
    
Fixed @JonW's link thanks to Kathy E Gill on twitter Images are still broken but the article's titled "Taking a ride with carousels" and the text is all intact. –  Ben Brocka Jul 10 at 13:35

Some research into Carousels usage on University of Notre Dame website has some interesting findings:

Approximately 1% of visitors click on a feature. There was a total of 28,928 clicks on features for this time period. The feature was manually "switched/rotated" a total of 315,665 times. Of these clicks, 84% were on stories in position 1 with the rest split fairly evenly between the other four (~4% each)... ("Feature" refers to the individual calls-to-action that are either manually or automatically rototated in and out of view.)

The article also discusses the difference between Static carousels (i.e. ones that require manual use to scroll) and Auto-forwarding Carousels. Surprisingly the Auto Forwarding ones recieve the highest usage (8.8% of visitors clicked on the carousel - 40% of those clicks were for the item on the first slide). However the article also references the Nielsen group article stating that auto-forwarding carousels are not a good user experience)

For Static carousels the average click rate was between 1.7 - 2.3%, again with the first item in the carousel recieving significantly higher selection (48-62%).

The main article source for this content is from weedygarden.net

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We have built these for clients in the past with the main driving force being SEO. (Carousel images with text / links overlayed). They are a way to cram a lot of content onto the main homepage without looking like you are 'gaming' the search engines or keyword stuffing.

We do try to make them as efficient and usable as possible, but they are requested by the marketing people because they look 'modern' and provide the ability to increase the amount of copy on the homepage without bombarding the user with useless information.

They have also been used because different areas of the business don't want sites to give too much emphasis to 'X' product / service, so providing the master 'hero' image as a rotating image then various areas of the business can have their main product in the pride of place at the top of the homepage all at the same time.

So yes, in my experience they're primarily a marketing tool and not particulary built with the user in mind.

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Eeek, looks like the evidence is adding up. It seems criminal that such prime page real estate is used to such ill effect. –  Alex G Aug 22 '11 at 14:40
    
I'm happy someone finally mentioned the way carousels "look 'modern'". I have a theory that the way those big images look are definitely influencing people. That type of large, animated visual always tickles the emotions and leads people's guts to say "YES. That's great!" –  Adam Waselnuk Jun 6 '13 at 18:31

I think carousels can be effective as long as they give control to the user. That is, they can skip ahead, direct the flow, know where they are in the carousel, and turn off an auto-play function.

Here is more on this idea:

http://uxmovement.com/navigation/big-usability-mistakes-designers-make-on-carousels/

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Having designed a lot of ecommerce websites I would say that carousels are effective. Specifically in getting users to view more main promotions. They are fun for users to interact with and improve the likeliness promos will actually be read or make an impact.

I have used the free Professor Cloud javascript carousel successfully with features rotations as well. Just remember that everything doesn't need this functionality so use it sparingly or the rest of the content on your page will suffer.

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Could you please be more specific in explaining how you measured the effectiveness of a carousel. –  Denzo Mar 23 '12 at 1:13

What really fascinates me, is that even SlideDeck - provider of a wordpress plugin for carousels - uses a video instead of a carousel on their homepage. Seems like they also found out that carousels aren't so effective in terms of conversion optimization.

Edit: I just found some really interesting research from Nielsen about the topic.

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It may be worth including a short summary about what the Nielsen research contains. –  Brendon May 18 '13 at 12:00
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Welcome to the site @amannnn! Can you please edit your post to include a summary of the relevant information from the article you link? For an explanation of why just including links without summarizing their content is problematic, see the SO discussion on link-only answers. Also, I've edited out the part of your post that said everything was already said elsewhere. Generally, if everything has already been said elsewhere, it's not a good idea to post a new answer of your own. –  3nafish May 18 '13 at 13:11

From my own experience in looking at the analytics data of sites I've created, I can say that most users don't interact with a carousel, much less convert from one.

I have noticed recently that a number of sites that used to have carousels no longer have them and are instead showing just one "panel" (if you look at the HTML, there's still remnants of a previous carousel in some cases). Microsoft is probably the most noteworthy example (http://www.microsoft.com/) another is BYU's site (http://home.byu.edu/home/). Google analytic's site (http://www.google.com/analytics/) I think used to have one but no longer do.

While that doesn't directly answer your question (others have already done that well), I think its interesting to note that large organizations like Microsoft (who I'm pretty confident look at and analyze conversion data) have decided to ditch the carousel, probably in favor of faster load times.

Interesting sidenote: I think NNG's website (http://www.nngroup.com/) provides a good alternative for a site that wants to get rid of a carousel/hero image altogether. I've seen tons of sites with the exact same layout except for a carousel between the company description and the three blocks with images. Note how on NNG's site, you don't really miss having a carousel between those two page elements. In fact it's better without.

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I've also been struggling with the marketing team, that wanted on the one hand optimize the homepage load speed, and on the other - put a carousel with huge images "showcasing the amazing experience." And in this particular case it proved totally ineffective.

Here are some interesting finding on the topic: http://conversionxl.com/dont-use-automatic-image-sliders-or-carousels-ignore-the-fad/

In short - most conversion experts are against rotating banners and carousels and if you do need to take care on conversions, you'd better think of other options to "showcase experience" :)

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Most carousels have pagination arrows and dots. Users aren't drawn to this. They're drawn to text labels.

Why Users Aren’t Clicking Your Home Page Carousel

To summarize:

Labels are informative, meaningful and describe what users want. Labeling each slide incentivizes them to click because the labels tell them what they’ll get. Users are more likely to click on something that looks informative to them.

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Here's an article that cites a couple semi-recent studies at Notre Dame and Nielsen/Norman. It might be relevant to the discussion.

To summarize:

  1. Arrows are distracting!
  2. Don’t use web carousels for showcasing products
  3. Do use web carousels to brand your site or offering
  4. Web carousels are not ideal for desktop websites
  5. Web carousels get very significant taps on mobile!
  6. Limit your mobile carousel to 4 panels
  7. Limit each panel to one product or image

(Note: I hate the things, but this article seems to have come to peace with them and talks about how to use them the best way, if you must use them.)

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That article, while interesting, doesn't really add anything to the 'are they effective or not' debate. It's just an opinion piece on how and when to use them if you are going to (also lacking any real evidence as to why they're suggesting what they do). Interesting read though. –  JonW Jun 18 at 14:38

I think the carousel has its use in e-commerce depending on the type (actually the size) of website that you deal with.

For example if you deal with a website that has the size of e-bay there should be a carousel there in order to announce deals, new products and other type of information that otherwise would not reach the final consumer. I guess there is a study on this too but it is common sense to channel the user to something unless you already know something about his browsing preferences (ex: the case when you use cookies or he already has an account).

On the other side if you deal with a website where you have a very small range of products, there is no need for carousel (example: http://www.hardgraft.com/) and it is more than obvious that one of these tools would definitely disturb users.

A good exercise would be for someone to imagine getting to target.com for the first time and not having a carusel ... where would he go, what would be the bounce rate for the homepage etc.

Also there are examples of carousels on homepage on very small websites (http://cleaneverything.com/) but in my opinion on this example the carusel is useless.

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You've sort of outlined a theoretical business case for using a carousel (such as on ebay) "there should be a carousel there in order to announce deals..." but not the user case. If there is one on eBay and the like do users actually use them? Do they even notice them? Just because the business may want to put one on the site for whatever reason doesn't mean it's actually going to provide them any benefit. –  JonW Nov 15 '13 at 11:49
    
I think the reason why large websites such as ebay have is some kind of testing like A/B testing in Google. I strongly believe that they use carousels not because they are big and always right but because they make big money and certainly know how to do it. –  user12573 Nov 17 '13 at 11:31

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