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I am working for a quite large online store. We want to start user tests inhouse. As far as I know you can test functionalities with user tests. But our brand is a way of life and many of our customers identify theirselves with our brand.

How can we test if certain designs and functionalities work without a conversion rate loss?

We can give our testers exercises á la "Buy a blue shirt" or "Find information about our cloth quality". But how can we design a test to figure out if we have a good mixture between brand transportation and conversion rate optimization?

Or is this only possible with mass tests via Google Analytics and thousands of users?

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A/B testing is designed to answer exactly this question. Establish a baseline (perhaps your current conversion rate given the current design), then show a percentage of your users the new design and evaluate the results.

The most meaningful results would be from a large number of users so any hasty generalizations are avoided, but perhaps you could still gain some insight from just watching your users interact with your design. There's nothing more painful than watching a user struggle to do something you felt was incredibly obvious.

Good luck!

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Analytics + User Testing = The bigger picture

Analytics will show you the events that are happening in the wild: abandons, clicks, content interactions, conversions, etc.

User testing allows you to hear why users are initiating those events: motivations, expectations, confusion, frustration, delight, indifference.

Analytics falls short because it requires you to make inferences.
User testing falls short because the context isn't completely natural.
Either one on it's own is insufficient to answer the bigger picture.

The secret sauce

Put the two together,
run an endless barrage of A/B and/or multivariate tests,
and iterate until your last breath.

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