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Some Client Experiences

HFI has helped hundreds of organizations, large and small, improve the usability of their e-commerce sites, GUIs, Intranets, and other user interfaces. Here are a few case studies.

 E-Commerce Web Sites logo

Staples home page


The Challenge determined that the key to online success and increased market share was to make its e-commerce site as usable as possible. Staples wanted the site to be "customer-driven": to support customer needs in an easy-to-use, intuitive way.

The Approach
HFI and Staples spent hundreds of hours evaluating users' work environments, decision-support needs, and tendencies when browsing and buying office products and small business services through the Web. Methods included data gathering, heuristic evaluations, and usability testing.

The Outcome
The new site has increased usability, reduced clicks, time-saving navigational tools, and personalized time-saving features for quick access.

Specific site improvements include:

  • a streamlined, intuitive navigational framework for improved usability,
  • intuitive searching capabilities,
  • personalized shopping lists for frequently purchased items,
  • comparison charts,
  • persistently viewable shopping cart for ease in selecting and viewing items,
  • the option to securely store credit cards,
  • a dramatically shortened registration process,
  • an online Rebate Center for e-commerce, catalog and retail shoppers to print rebate forms and check the status of submitted rebates,
  • further improvements to be implemented soon.

"Partnering with HFI we are able to further evaluate our customers' online shopping experiences and needs, and translate them into significant site improvements," said Jeanne Lewis, president of

Performance Results
Since the May 2000 relaunch, metrics show:

67% more repeat customers  The independent research firm MediaMetrix found that the site had 300,000 repeat customers in the third quarter, as compared to 180,000 in the second quarter. "This 67% jump speaks to the increased stickiness of site and the positive experience of a customer the first time through," said Colin Hynes, Director of Site Usability at, who oversaw the usability effort and worked closely with the HFI team.

31-45% reduced dropoff rates's internal metrics show a 31% decrease in dropoff rate from the home page, and 45% decreased dropoff for SKU sets (lists of products that Web customers browse through the site).

10% better shopping experience  BizRate found that the Staples relaunch improved ease of placing orders, overall purchasing experience, and likelihood of purchasing again, each by about 10%.

80% increased traffic  MediaMetrix found that since the site relaunch, has ranked first in the office-supply industry in unique daily visitors. And when the Christmas shopping season began after Thanksgiving, 2000, had a 80% increase in unique daily visitors - twice the average increase for other sites, and the second best in the world for any category of site.

Increased revenue  It's hard to pinpoint cause and effect with certainty, but third-quarter 2000 sales were up 491% over the previous year and also increased over the second quarter.

Metrics aren't the only encouraging signs. The relaunched Staples site also recently won a prestigious award for best business-to-business site from MIMC, the Massachusetts Interactive Media Council. Says Hynes, "HFI's team of usability experts and customer-centric approach were key factors in winning this award. As with any good partnership, they share the vision of creating outstanding customer service through a great Web experience." logo home page


The Challenge
Dell Computer is a recognized leader in e-commerce. To achieve its ambitious growth objectives for the site, Dell concluded that the most important step was to increase site usability. The site had to be easy-to-use for customers of many types-business as well as consumer, relational as well as transactional.

The Approach

  • HFI began by observing users as they navigated the existing site. It counted the number of mouse clicks needed to perform an action, determined which actions were intuitive and which could be improved, then made recommendations.

  • HFI created a high-level architecture for the site. It also provided expert design reviews on prototype sites, and helped determine colors, fonts, and button locations.

  • In addition, HFI trained Dell's in-house and external Web designers and content developers on best practices for usable Web-site development and design, enabling Dell to continue to make use of HFI's principles.

The Outcome
"HFI's scientific approach to usability enabled us to make high-value improvements to our site," said Margo Winter, Senior Marketing Manager, Web Business Unit. "Having access to their knowledge of best practices in the way human beings react to Web sites was absolutely invaluable in helping us improve the usability of the site, increase customer satisfaction and consequently increase revenue."

 Informational Web Sites

Fed Stats logo


The Challenge
FedStats, launched in 1997, helps citizens find statistics from more than 100 agency Web sites. But because FedStats is a gateway, it is more complicated functionally than most Web sites; and the site provides access to an enormous amount of data. The interagency team that runs FedStats is therefore especially concerned that the site design and architecture be as intuitive as possible.

In 1999, the team felt it was time to take advantage of the latest advances in Web design principles. "The first-generation design of FedStats has been successful, but there was room for improvement," said John Weiner of the Energy Information Administration, and a member of the FedStats team.

The Approach
HFI began the project by conducting user testing. Through this research, HFI identified design and placement issues that could be corrected to improve the site's usability.

The Outcome
"HFI made recommendations that resulted in a cleaner site, through which people will be able to find what they need more quickly and easily," said Weiner.

"HFI is very good at working with users, quickly identifying areas needing improvement and adjusting test scenarios on the fly to isolate and probe further issues," he added. "They were very professional and effective in working with managers as well, and quickly guided discussions to a consensus that produced actionable results.

Avery Wizard logo  

The Challenge
Avery, the leading manufacturer of mailing labels, faced an unusual business problem. Most of its customers used Microsoft Word, but Word offers only limited format options for printing labels. Also, Word's mail-merge function was extremely hard to use for creating labels. Avery decided that it needed to provide a better solution.

The Approach
HFI's experts began by interviewing a large number of Avery users. Most said they wanted a simple way to format labels, but didn't want to buy another program to do that. HFI decided that the best solution would be a wizard within Word. It designed the wizard to reduce the most commonly performed tasks to a few simple steps.

The Outcome
User testing of the product showed dramatic results. While most people found it hard to perform tasks with the native MS Word features, every user succeeded easily with the new wizard.

The wizard now ships with every copy of Microsoft Office in the Value Pack. Before Microsoft released it on CD, the wizard was available on the Avery Web site, and when it was first posted 30- to 40,000 users downloaded it every month. It also made PC Computing's list of the 100 best utilities.


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