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I've noticed that iTunes store is always slow, at first I thought it's just because iTunes is a bloatware (which it is, on both Mac and Windows.) However I started to wonder whether this is intentional -- to control the overall pace a user browses the store.

Imagine a brick & mortar store -- would the shop designer want shoppers to enter and walk as quickly as possible between shelves, or rather design the route so that shoppers are encouraged to stop, look, turn, discover... etc? IKEA is famously known for making all shoppers go through its designated route and hoping them to buy more than what they originally want.

Of course you risk the shopper leaving the site, but that's always a problem even if your site loads instantly. Obviously this is NOT a technical question. Assume the visitor is already interested in your products and want to find out more. Perhaps making them wait for a bit -- teasing them -- will make them want more?

Is there any study on this?


Additional Information (2012-3-7): the website I'm talking about is a website selling art. It is different to Amazon or grocery sites in a number of ways, e.g. each individual item has relatively high price tag, and you do wish the customers to take time to look at the art, rather than browsing through text description, reviews, related products etc.

I agree that the check-out process should definitely be as quick and smooth as possible once they've made the decision to buy. My original intention was to investigate the pace at which they move from one item to the next -- where pause is part of this overall sales presentation process.

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Supermarkets are certainly designed to make you walk past stuff you weren't intending to buy. –  PhillipW Mar 6 '12 at 11:55
    
I think the premise in your first paragraph is flawed. I assure you, if Apple could ensure that all page loads in their store were instant, they would. Furthermore, I don't find the experience of browsing the iTunes store particularly slow at all, but since it loads everything over the network (for obvious reasons) I could see how it might seem slow for some people. –  ghoppe Mar 6 '12 at 16:20
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+1 I love the unmasked cynicism of this question =D –  LordScree Mar 6 '12 at 18:23
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On Amazon, at least if you have Amazon Prime, the last thing to get loaded into the Add To Cart panel, by a LOT, is some content in the middle, that pushes things down so that when you thought you were pressing "Add to Wish List", you're actually pressing "Buy Now with One-Click". Intentional? Dunno. But it will certainly increase sales among easily persuaded people! –  Ed Staub Mar 6 '12 at 23:44
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Guess I'll need to conduct a study on how people feel when they see the spinning circle. –  ytk Mar 8 '12 at 6:25
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7 Answers

...would the shop designer want shoppers to enter and walk as quickly as possible between shelves, or rather design the route so that shoppers are encouraged to stop, look, turn, discover... etc?

Your analogy is flawed. Even if I walk slowly through a grocery store, my eyes are taking in thousands of pieces of information at a time.

  • I have a panoramic, 3D view of the store
  • I see aisle signs, areas with different products, sale markers, etc
  • On a given shelf, I visually scan hundreds of products to narrow down on what I want

The web version of this is a single 2D screen with very limited real estate, where every click means another page load. It's already slow. Rather than slowing it down, you should be making it faster.

  • Make it fast for me to move between categories, like I can glance up and walk to the next aisle.
  • Make it fast for me to compare products, like I can glance at a shelf full of jam, find blueberry, and find the cheapest one in a matter of seconds.
  • Make it fast for me to check out, like I can swipe my card and punch in my PIN.

If you make your site slow, people will leave. They will go to a faster competitor site.

A Better Idea

People have pointed out that grocery stores make you walk past items they want you to buy in order to get what you're after. (Notice they don't put lead boots on you, though.) That strategy actually reflects a limitation of a physical store: it has to be the same for everyone.

Online, you can do better than that by showing related products. You can rearrange your store instantly for any customer based on:

  • What they're looking at
  • What they've bought before
  • What they've searched for
  • What others like them have bought/searched for

You can say (in essence) "people who want to buy flashlights will find that aisle stocked with batteries too. If they also have tents, we'll put camping food on the next shelf."

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Great explanation! –  dnbrv Mar 6 '12 at 15:07
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"You can rearrange your store instantly." - Amazon.com is a great example of this, with its "other users bought" and the recommendations sections on various screens. –  Shauna Mar 6 '12 at 17:39
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I disagree. If you take a shopping site like Play.com for example, where you have various offers dotted around the page peripherals, I can really see how slowing down the page interaction at certain points would have the user's eyes taking in the rest of the page while they wait for it to load. The number of times I've clicked something, then noticed something else and gone back to it... I can see this working. –  LordScree Mar 6 '12 at 18:26
    
@LordScree - you clicked something. That means you gave them more information: "this thing is interesting to me." If the page loaded instantly, wouldn't you now be looking at even better targeted offers than before? In any case, the bottom line is that research backs up the "faster is better" point of view. –  Nathan Long Mar 6 '12 at 20:28
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@NathanLong Imagine the owner of a camera shop says to you "I'll go and fetch the model you want from downstairs, meanwhile why don't you look at these accessories." -- Most people would at least take a glance at the accessories. What I'm trying to find out is whether "waiting" is always bad, and if you know what the customers are going through on their mind while waiting, you could potentially use it to your advantage. –  ytk Mar 7 '12 at 4:36
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I would like to address this issue from two different perspectives: User experience and ethics.

  1. User Experience - From a UX point of view, slow load times = bad user experience. Users get irritated if they have to wait more than they think necessary. More than 10 secs, and the user will most probably lose all patience and leave. Jakob Nielsen studied this for years and wrote about it in his AlertBox column. Kohavi and Longbotham (2007, link to PDF article) found that for every 100ms increase in loading time, Amazon's sales decrease in 1%. So all in all, slowing down the users hurts their experience, and therefore conversion rates. Apple might get away with it because of their captive audience, which leads me to the next point.
  2. Ethics - From my ethical perspective, slowing users down on purpose is a manipulative design pattern. If you're selling a good product or service, people will buy it. If you have to manipulate people into buying, then you're not selling a very wanted/needed product, aren't you?

If it's product discovery you aiming for, then there are better, more ethical ways to design for it.

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+1 for a great pair of links to actual studies. –  JonW Mar 6 '12 at 13:22
    
I doubt the OP was thinking of slowing down the site to 10 second loading time. –  dnbrv Mar 6 '12 at 15:07
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"slowing users down on purpose is a manipulative design pattern"... Supermarkets spend millions on layout design for the store for exactly this purpose (google.co.uk/…). It's not ethics, it's sales. I fail to see how ethics has anything to do with this question - people aren't being forced to shop at a particular online store –  LordScree Mar 6 '12 at 18:31
    
Ethics in capitalism is certainly a fuzzy term. However, it is a valid concern when the consumer becomes aware of underhanded techniques. Manipulating the customer will increase sales up to a point. But there will be a point where they catch on, and sales can as quickly drop. –  DA01 Mar 6 '12 at 18:35
    
In response to ethics -- sales IS manipulation, but it is not always bad. Even in workplace, how and when you sell an idea to your team requires careful thoughts on the choice of words and timing. –  ytk Mar 7 '12 at 5:14
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I would say no.

The slower a page is, the more efficiently I try to use it.

That means that for a slow page I do little to no exploring. Once I realize that the page is annoyingly slow, then I will actively avoid clicking on things that seem interesting unless I it seems really really really, really, interesting.

The faster the page is, the more enjoyable it is. On a fast page I would be much more likely to look at other things, even things that are only slightly interesting. I'll even allow myself to be sucked in by eye-catcing images and things I have no idea what are, purely out of curiosity, because I know it doesn't cost me anything to have a look.

Like Bart already said, the IKEA-comparison isn't a good fit. The brick-and-mortar version of a slow loading page is more like this: Every time you look at a product, you have to stand in one spot and wait for 30 seconds before you can start moving and looking elsewhere again.

Better have people moving fast through many products, than slow through just a few. Besides, the more products they are exposed to, the likelier they are to find something they didn't realize they needed.

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A slow UI = more time to receive each page --> will frustrate users and encourage them to find a faster site. [ 1 ] [ 2 ]

If you want an "Ikea" experience, what you want is to add intermediate stages throughout which you offer users additional products. I have seen many e-commerce sites that do this.
Here too you must make sure that the user doesn't get frustrated since a happy customer is much more likely to return.

Edit: Added references (thanks to Bart Gijssens):

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"A slow UI = more time to receive each page --> will frustrate users and encourage them to find a faster site." Although this seems an obvious statement to make it could well just be an assumption. Can you provide any references to back this up? –  JonW Mar 6 '12 at 13:23
    
I once read a research paper that explained that users only want to wait for x seconds before they loose their interest and go to another site. I don't remember the amount of x, and I am looking for finding back that article... –  Bart Gijssens Mar 6 '12 at 13:51
    
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The "Ikea" experience has reduce the number of times we visit Ikea! –  Ian Mar 6 '12 at 14:39
    
Good references, thanks for updating the post! –  JonW Mar 6 '12 at 15:42
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I'm surprised no one has posted this article yet : http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/11/speed-still-matters.html

The answer ? Bad idea. Any slowness, even the tinyest amount of delay bring down user satisfaction and with it, revenue.

It's a very well written article by Jeff Atwood that talks about why speed matters on any website.

Quote from the article talking about Amazon :

In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.

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+1, I was looking for this in the top answers –  aitchnyu Mar 7 '12 at 5:00
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Answer: no.

As far as the IKEA concept is concerned: They do not try to slow you down. They try to make you follow their route so that you are forced to look at everything. The reason why you buy stuff you didn't need is not only a consequence of that. It's foremost the way they market their stuff along that designated path.

In fact, research (*) shows that customer that know the shortcuts in the IKEA stores prefer to follow the long route instead of taking those shortcuts. Because they enjoy the experience. The fact that you are advancing slow in the IKEA store is not a purpose by itself, it is as much an annoyance to the customer as slow loading speeds of an online store. IT is a byproduct of the huge success that Ikea has.

I think you have to look at your goal first: make users spend as much time as possible in the online store in order for them to spend as much money as possible.

Then you need to look at the best way to achieve that goal: slow loading speeds is not one of them. You need a whole different set of tools for that. Attractive design, displaying new items, marketing the goods, giving correct information,... and so many more things. If loading speed is something you want to take into consideration: make it a fast loading time.

(*) www.spacesyntax.tudelft.nl/media/Long papers I/alan penn.pdf

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"research shows that customer that know the shortcuts in the IKEA stores prefer to follow the long route" are you able to provide a link to this research? Although not directly UX relevant it's preferable to cite research where appropriate, it increases the overall credibility of your answer. –  JonW Mar 6 '12 at 13:25
    
I'd be interested in seeing the study as well; and wonder if they're actually selecting for a certain type of customer. "We'll force the customer to roam all over the store in the hope of getting an impulse sale before they find what they came for" is the main reason why I try to avoid brick and mortar retail shopping whenever possible. –  Dan Neely Mar 6 '12 at 13:36
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It is said by Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment (connected to the Univercitycollege of Londen). It's in this article, but ubnfortunaltely it is not in English: standaard.be/artikel/detail.aspx?artikelid=DMF20110124_070 and it is based on this study: www.spacesyntax.tudelft.nl/media/Long papers I/alan penn.pdf –  Bart Gijssens Mar 6 '12 at 13:44
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Response time is not the same as effectiveness to task or user satisfaction.

For e-commerce, designing accurately to the task is more important, I would say. This is a little old, but Jared Spool ran tests on this a while back: http://www.uie.com/events/roadshow/articles/download_time/

Fast(er) loading pages won't help if those pages don't take users closer to their goal. However if 1 of 2 sites with the same task model generally loads faster, then you can guess which would win. Difference being, very few sites model tasks well. (And that includes Amazon these days!)

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