Four Seasons $18m Redesign Is Taking a Lot of Heat

Four Seasons recently launched a massive overhaul of their website(you can read the piece here).  E-consultancy readers everywhere immediately chipped in their critiques of the effectiveness of the $18m expenditure. Needless to say, there was a lot of cynicism.  Not content to let everyone else have all the fun, we asked one of our usability professionals for his take on the new Four Seasons website redesign.

Our Take

While the new look of the Four Seasons site is certainly polished with large, high resolution images of exotic destinations, it’s hard to believe a polished look was all they got for $18 million dollars. Yet, after going through the reservation process and reviewing the site at a cursory level, it seems functionality and intuitiveness took a backseat to flashiness.

Homepage Functionality

Starting with the homepage, it seems bothersome that you can’t hover over an image in the carousel to pause it, much less click it to view more information or begin the reservation process for that destination. The images are lovely and certainly draw users in, but with no controls or functionality, an immediate opportunity for conversion is lost.  Furthermore, there are several images in the carousel rotation, yet it is nearly impossible to tell how many. If there is a destination/image of particular interest, there is no way to click back to it for further studying. People like pictures and the images used here are top notch, which is why they are a prime area for additional interactions.

Map Features

Although the map feature for the regional options is commendable, the small map pins make it difficult to differentiate which location is a ‘hotel’, ‘resort’, or ‘coming soon’ (terms based on the key). Upon mouse-over of a pin, they all look the same. A more intuitive interaction would be for the enlarged pin (upon mouse-over) to represent the key icons as opposed to the current functionality.

Reservation Process

A positive feature of the reservation process is that the carousel images update to display those relevant to my selected destination. Again, the use of high quality images is a plus! The fact that the images continue to rotate in the background when the calendar light box appears is somewhat of a distraction. It would have been better served to pause the carousel rotation to allow customers to focus on the task at hand – selecting his/her desired reservation dates.

Once reservation dates are selected, the customer is then taken to a clean, yet standard room type selection page. The expand/collapse functionality for each room type is clean, but could be overlooked, as the ‘+’ icon is subtle. Another feature that could easily go unnoticed is the calculator icon next to the rate per night. There is no hover or change of the cursor upon mouse-over, making it easy to miss.  Luckily there is a ‘Convert Currency’ drop-down at the top of the list, but it too may go unnoticed because it is not within the primary area of the user’s attention. The ‘See More Information & Photos’ feature is disappointing. For the amount of money spent to revamp the site, one would think there would be additional images for each room type, and perhaps a 360⁰ viewer…no such luck.

How Do I Get Home?

There is no ‘Home’ button or noticeable icon/breadcrumbs to return to the homepage for the main Four Seasons site once in the reservation process, which is also user-unfriendly. Making the user hunt for a way to return home or utilize the browser ‘Back’ buttons is never a good thing.

Wrap Up

Overall, it’s hard to believe that $18 million dollars was spent to spruce up the site. While the visuals are attractive, the functionality and user friendliness of the site leaves something to be desired. One can’t help but to ask, how did Four Seasons spend so much money to upgrade a site, yet miss such obvious opportunities to improve the user experience?

Comment below and let us know your opinion of the Four Seasons website redesign.

Tony Moreno, Senior Usability Analyst


Tough Economic Times Call for Greater Localization of Website Content

For at least a decade, global companies have pursued online regionalization policies with varying degrees of commitment and enthusiasm.  Radical contraction in the world economy has injected a far greater sense of urgency into that pursuit, however, as global players rush to create content in local languages and build a user experience relevant to local cultures.  So why is localized content so much more important in tough economic times?

As spending tightens, decision-making – for consumers and commercial buyers alike – becomes more cautious.  Decisions take longer.  Managers of budgets – household or corporate – operate from within a siege mentality, parting with their cash or utilizing their credit reluctantly and with extreme discretion.  No-one can afford to make a poor decision, so it takes longer for each buyer to reach their own point of Certitude – defined as “freedom from doubt,” the point at which they can actually pull the trigger.

Whatever their country, culture, or condition, buyers don’t buy until they reach their own particular point of Certitude.  As buyers move through the decision-making process, they are making the climb toward Certitude.  That climb is much more difficult if the steps require the decision maker to evaluate an offering in a language not his own or through an online experience foreign to his way of looking at the world.  Global companies understand this, hence their rush to deploy global platforms versatile enough to deliver localized content.

Rushing, of course, carries its own risks, because international projects require different success criteria from domestic projects, no matter how complex those domestic projects may be.  Time after time, we see clients launch international projects without any idea of the pitfalls that await them and the additional costs they incur by falling into those pits.  Here are just a few examples.

  1. Timelines – quite apart from the difficulties of scheduling review sessions with constituencies in time zones as far apart as New Zealand and Poland, US-based  project managers rarely build in sufficient time for their overseas stakeholders to review materials with their own stakeholders, who may also be scattered across time zones, countries, and languages.  Whatever review period you envision, double it.  Your in-country team will need all that extra time.
  2. Translations – even if you use an “approved” translation company, have them submit three sample translations from three separate translators for a language.  Give those samples to the in-country experts and have them chose which translator best reflects their preferences.  No two individuals understand nor therefore translate text in exactly the same way.  Let your in-country stakeholders select up-front their preferred style.  Otherwise, there’s a risk they’ll feel compelled to nit-pick your translators’ work to death.
  3. Coordination — Never rely on your in-country resources to furnish you with customer lists or set up customer interviews or focus groups.  It’s not their job; it’s incredibly time-consuming; and it’s often done poorly.  You’ll likely end up having to use a third-party, in-country recruiting firm, so spend the money up-front and reduce the cost of rework and rescheduling that will otherwise occur.
  4.  Communication – Annotate deliverables heavily.   – The international team will almost always have its own in-country or in-region stakeholders.  Those team members need to be able to explain the deliverables to these stakeholders and then answer their questions without your being there.  This is much easier for them if the visual deliverables are fully annotated or if written deliverables have simple English annotations
  5. Politics — Understand that from a usability perspective you don’t need to test the wire-frames (the container) across a dozen countries.  From a political perspective, however, you may well need to test across many countries.  So the best use of your dollars or yen or deutschmarks would be to test wire-frames in a smaller group of countries; then test the beta site (the content) in as many as possible.

If, however, you are contemplating a global site redesign project, you would be wise to start with a global survey of the user experience.  Many US-based global corporations deploy websites with a hybrid localization architecture – they provide content in the local language down to the product page level, then switch the user back to the US site for detailed specifications and, especially, for support. The US site, of course, provides content only in US English.

This language switch occurs because it is cost-prohibitive for companies to provide and maintain content in multiple languages.  They know the cost “savings” of deploying this architecture; they have no idea, however, of the opportunity loss they incur by doing so.  Visit success (or satisfaction or purchase intent or brand affinity) scores for visitors forced to make the “transition” from content provided in their local language to content (especially technical content) delivered only in English run consistently and dramatically lower than the scores of those who do not have to make the transition.  That differential negatively impacts “conversion.”  The cumulative effects undermine revenue and retention.

Companies like HP have made enormous strides in moving content localization deeper and deeper into their country sites.  You can bet there is a sound ROI for doing so.


Roger Beynon

Remote Usability Testing – What, When, and How?

Situation: As a national leader in your field, you understand user experiences may vary based on their roles and functions of using the site or product. For better insight into the needs and pressure points of the site and gather ideas on how to address those concerns, you would like to do some usability testing in California , Texas, and New York but as usual, you have a strict budget and a short time frame to complete a study. What should you do? 
In the past, companies have had very few options that would answer these questions and allow them to coordinate a study of this size quickly or frugally, outside of the standard usability test or web analytics study. However in recent years, usability professionals have utilized web conferencing software and a host of communication devices to develop remote usability testing as an alternative to conducting standard “on location” usability tests.
When is remote testing appropriate?  

Remote usability testing is a methodology that allows moderators to gather feedback about a website, software product, or wire frame via an online meeting space or web conference forum. Remote usability testing is most beneficial to clients who:

  • Are interested in multi-market studies
  • Have a tight deadline
  • Have user groups that are more difficult to schedule
  • Limited budget

It has been our experience that remote usability testing is currently the most cost efficient alternative to standard usability testing as it allows clients more flexibility in project scheduling, access to geographically dispersed users groups, and is recourse to replace or schedule difficult user profiles. Using the scenario above, this article will compare remote usability to a standard domestic usability study that includes one or all of the factors above. Please see International Testing Volume 46 for remote testing considerations specific to international testing.


What are the advantages of Remote Testing? 

  • Cost Savings: Typically, in addition to the standard cost of a usability test, multi-market tests require facility rental fees ranging from $1200-$1800 per day and travel expenses of the moderator(s), often including airfare, car rental, food, and hotel expenses. In a remote usability experience, moderators conduct the study in house and eliminate facility rental and travel expenses.
  • Shortened project timeline: When conducting a multi city study, a large percentage of time is spent coordinating facility reservations and traveling between locations, increasing the standard 3 week life cycle of a project upwards of 4 or 5 weeks (partly dependent upon the number of locations tested). By conducting the sessions remotely, there is no need to coordinate with facility schedules or allocate additional time to travel between testing sites. Moderators will usually host and conduct the sessions from their own usability labs, and again, eliminate the need to rent a space or make travel arrangements.
  • Geographically dispersed user groups: There are a number of companies who have developed websites and products for a smaller population of people who are usually not centrally located. As previously discussed, trying to conduct usability testing in all locations is expensive, time consuming and not often possible.  Through the use of web conferencing software, moderators are able to circumvent the need to get all the participants in one location. So as in the case of the previous example, instead of scheduling facilities in 3 states over the course of two weeks to assess the needs of 3 different markets, 12 participants can be tested in the span of a week, remotely to gather a fuller representation of the each user group.


Disadvantages of remote testing:

  • When viewing a video of participant reaction is important:  While remote viewing software will capture the desktop activity, clients are not able to see a capture of the participants.  To alleviate this as an issue, consider requiring participants to own and have the ability to operate a webcam to use during the session.  However, keep in mind this may require more setup/prep time with each user and slightly longer sessions are in order.
  • When secure content is of high concern:  Though remote sessions are conducted in private online meeting spaces, moderators are unable to guarantee users are viewing the session without observers in the room.

Decision: Remote usability testing, when executed correctly, provides companies a cost-effective and time-efficient alternative to get valid user feedback without the added burden of travelling to multiple locations, renting additional facilities or dealing with recruiting challenges. For these reasons, an increasing number of companies in recent months are opting to conduct remote usability testing in lieu of the standard usability test.
For more information about usability testing and other solutions, please visit

Listen To Your Website Visitors 24/7

A survey that offers continuous, real-time customer comments is a very valuable resource. 

Companies who deploy a site intercept survey on their website and collect survey data for an extended time find this affords them extensive opportunities to improve their site.

Rather than trying to understand what your site visitors want, need or expect from your site within the confines of a brief window of time, consider tracking their responses over a full year of data collection.

The benefits of such a program?

  • Allows you to determine if your online business site has seasonal aspects, and if so, when they occur. For ecommerce/retail sites this allows you to know around which holidays your site visits spike, and which ones are, in effect, duds. For travel/lodging sites you can see if your heaviest visit numbers come two months ahead of the summer vacation period, or at some other time. In both of these cases; you can plan online incentives, promotions and sales to match appropriate ‘seasons’.
  • Enhances a Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) of your website by offering visitor suggestions about your website on a daily basis. These small, individual suggestions from your own customers can be evaluated and, if appropriate, implemented very quickly to improve your website.
  • Enables you to present results to your marketing, sales and executive teams on a frequent basis in the form of ‘dashboards’. Interactive dashboards allow you to select a group of visitors who came to your site with a specific purpose and determine how successful they were in their visit. Perhaps more important, if your survey includes open text options, you can learn why in their own words certain visitors failed. It’s very empowering information!
  • Frees you from your calendar. You are not tied to a specific, limited time period like a few weeks to gather input on how to improve your site. You can have your data 24/7. You can schedule your IT team to assist in regular/frequent upgrades through the year.
  • Allows you to prioritize suggested ‘tweaks’ to your site. If you find that visitors are vociferous in their complaints about your login requirements, but complain not nearly as often about your checkout process, you can determine which improvement to place at the top of your ‘to do’ list.

Think of your site visitor’s comments and responses to your survey questions as raisins in a loaf of raisin bread. One slice of the bread will give you several raisins, yes, just as will a briefly presented online survey, but those raisins (and that particular survey) may not bring you all the information you need to make a business decision about your company website. It takes the entire loaf, and optimally an entire year of data collection to get the whole story…

A Time to Share

In these competitive times of the online world, optimizing web pages for Google and other search engines is often not enough.  Many sites have already added another successful tool to their online marketing toolbox – and it has to do with something we (or most of us) learned to do as children – sharing with others.

Commonly, we see ‘Email’ and ‘Print’ options on web pages, but ‘Share’ icons are gaining popularity on a variety of site types.  By providing ‘Share’ icons, site visitors can link the content within the page to their social networking page on sites such as Facebook, Digg, and Twitter (just to name a few).  This is an effective and easy way for visitors to share content with others and as a result, increase the chance that your site will be visited by a greater audience.

News-related sites were some of the first to offer ‘Share’ icons, but we have begun to see them on all types of sites, as well as in email advertisements.  Figure 1 below is an example of an email sales announcement from Gymboree, a children’s clothing store, and it includes options for customers to share the information via a number of social sites.  The social site icons are referenced with ‘Share with your friends!’ and display near the bottom of the email.

Figure 1 – Gymboree Email Sales Advertisement with ‘Share’ Icons

In the usability studies we have conducted with sites that offer ‘Share’ icons, it is typically those users who are members of one or more social sites that quickly understand how to use the icons.  However, they can be foreign and unknown to visitors who do not participate in social sites, and therefore should be defined, at least subtly.  In Figure 2 below, provides a discreet ‘What’s This’ link directly beneath the ‘Share’ icons.  By clicking the ‘What’s This’ link, a small pop-up window displays and provides a brief explanation of the icons; therefore, users can learn about the icons and how they work if they so choose.

Figure 2 – News Article on with ‘What’s This’ link

Some best practices for presenting ‘Share’ icons on a web page are demonstrated in Figure 3 and Figure 4 below:

  • Do not devote prime screen real estate to the icons or allow the icons to get in the way of what the user is trying to accomplish.  Placing the ‘Share’ icons on the right side of the content or directly below the content will ensure users are not hindered by their presence.
  • Provide the icons in context, such as on an article or announcement page.  Displaying them on your Homepage is not necessarily appropriate.  For example, a real estate company’s website might use ‘Share’ icons on a Property Listing page or a hospital might provide ‘Share’ icons on Birth Announcement pages.
  • Do not overwhelm your visitors with too many icons.  As the number of social sites continues to increase, it is becoming more common (and necessary even) to place all of these icons behind a single ‘Share’ link to avoid icon overload.  If you’d like to provide more than 5 social networking site icons, consider using a single ‘Share’ or even ‘Bookmark & Share’ icon and upon mouse roll-over, display a fly-out box with all the community icons.
  • Finally, place the ‘Share’ icons in close proximity to the ‘Email’ and ‘Print’ links or combine all of them into a single ‘Share’ link as previously recommended.

Figure 3 – News Article on with ‘Share’ Icon Collapsed

Figure 4 – News Article on with ‘Share’ Icon Expanded

As social sites continue to gain popularity and more sites adopt the use of ‘Share’ icons, they will become as common and as well understood as a ‘Home’ link.  In fact, according to a survey by the Pew Internet Project (August 2011), 65 percent of Internet users in the United States aged 18 or over now use at least one online social network.   So, it may very well be time to invoke your site’s good manners and share!

Best Practices for Mobile Site Checkout

With the constant evolution of smart phones and mobile devices, users are expecting more efficient and intuitive functionality from mobile websites. This is especially true for those mobile sites designed for touch screen devices.

According to a 2009 whitepaper from Gomez, Inc., almost 75% of mobile web users expect to complete a simple transaction in a minute or less before giving up and exiting the site. This is due to a variety of reasons such as interruptions from everyday life, incoming phone calls, and changing network strength when on the move.

Customers are continually frustrated when attempting to make a purchase on a mobile website, especially when they invest a lot of time and energy researching to find the perfect item, only to struggle when going through the checkout process. Sometimes their frustration stems from a number of factors, and other times it is something as simple as not having a guest checkout option. So, how can mobile site managers make the customer experience of their mobile checkout process more intuitive and enjoyable? We conducted an internal study of mobile websites to find out.

We looked at the mobile websites for,,, and with a focus on their Add to Cart and Checkout processes. Users were asked to search for and purchase a DVD of their choice on some of the most commonly used smartphones, such as the iPhone 3Gs/4G, Android (Droid X/Evo), and Blackberry Curve. From this study we have compiled what we consider to be some of the most important factors to consider when improving the checkout process on your mobile site.

  • Provide an ‘Add to Cart’ option from the Search Results.
    A Search feature is often paramount on mobile retail websites as several users prefer to search for products instead of clicking through various product-related pages. Also, the ability to add an item to the cart from the search results, instead of only the product page, saves users a click and an additional page load.
  • Place a ‘Checkout’ button at the top of the screen, as well as at the bottom.
    Placing a ‘Checkout’ button at the top of the screen expedites users’ ability to dive into the checkout process as it is easily accessible. Additionally, a button at the bottom of the screen saves users from having to scroll back to the top of the page to checkout if they have multiple items in their cart.
  • Allow users the ability to checkout as a ‘Guest’.
    Customers do not like being forced to register with the site in order to purchase an item. We have heard some customers say they would simply discontinue the transaction or drive to a store to find the same item, simply because they are being asked to register at the beginning of the checkout process. However, it is worth providing users with an option to create an account at the end of the transaction as they have already entered their information. If you offer users the option to create an account at the end of the process, ensure the benefits of registering are displayed.
  • Provide a step/progress indicator throughout the entire checkout process.
    This feature helps manage users’ expectations and lets them know where they are in the process. Customers like knowing where they are and how much further they have to go before completing their checkout process. Lack of communicating the progress may ultimately hurt conversion if users encounter issues during checkout.
  • Provide a field-sensitive on-screen keyboard.
    When clicking in alpha-fields (i.e. First Name, Last Name), display an alpha keyboard. When clicking in numeric fields (i.e. Zip Code and Phone Number), display a numeric keyboard. Email fields should have <.com> and <@> keys. Also, in an address field, begin with a numeric keyboard for the street number and switch to an alpha keyboard after a space is entered to enter the street name. See the examples below:

  • Default shipping address to billing address or vice-versa.
    Regardless of which address information you ask your customers for first, ensure the same address is reflecting on the following step for shipping/billing. Also, ensure a method for editing the address or entering a new address is also present in cases where the billing and shipping addresses differ.



  • Provide the shipping options on the shipping address page.
    Consolidating these related steps into one page equals one less step in the overall checkout process, expediting the transaction time.



  • Automatically save the cart contents.
    On return to the mobile site, items added to the cart should persist, regardless of whether or not the user has signed in. If the user is signed in and items are added on the mobile site, allow items to carry over to the html website’s shopping cart, should the user choose to complete the transaction later from their home.



Implementing these best practices within the checkout process of your mobile website will help to ensure that customers have any easy and enjoyable purchasing experience.

Author: Tony Moreno, Usability Analyst
Contributors: Jeff Schueler, President & CEO
Jason Vasilas, Senior Usability Specialist

A Wrap Up on Gift Checkout

“Is the sweater I’m sending my daughter going to arrive in a gift box? I have no way of knowing what the gift-wrap looks like.”

“If I want to send 3 items to my dad, is each item going to be individually gift-wrapped?”

“It’s not clear how I can add a personal note to go along with the gift to my mom.”

“I don’t want the invoice to show pricing on it when my friend gets the gift. But there’s nothing on the site to tell me how that would work.”

“Would a gift receipt be included with the shipment?”

“I don’t want to give my credit card info before I know what options are available on the site for me to send a gift to my wife.”

The questions and comments above capture some of the uncertainties that site visitors encounter while shopping online to send items as gifts to family and friends. This underscores the importance for retail sites to assess if their checkout process is optimized for gift checkout. To that end, our focus in this article is to examine best practices as they relate to the following:

  1. Availability of gift box/wrap options
  2. Options to add gift messaging
  3. Details about invoicing and gift receipts
  4. Presenting gift options prior to collecting credit card info

Availability of Gift Box/Wrap Options

Ensure site visitors are provided an option to select a gift wrap. An optimal way of incorporating this into the checkout process is to include a ‘gift wrap’ option on the order summary because the summary lists all items ordered, making it easy for users to select gift options for each individual item. Additionally, providing it in the order summary makes it early enough in the process for users to know at the outset of the checkout process that the site offers gift options. An example of how the gift box/wrap options can be presented in the order summary is illustrated by the red highlighted box in the screenshot below from a major retail site:


Once visitors click on the ‘gift wrap’ option, provide them the ability to view the types of gift wrap offered and ability to specify gift wrap options for each item in their order summary.

This is illustrated below by the red highlighted boxes. The site presents visitors a visual of the gift wrap options and fields to decline or specify gift wrap options for each item in the order summary.



Options to Add Gift Messaging

Users interested in sending gifts expect the ability to add a gift message along with their gifts. Below is an example from a site that gives visitors the choice of selecting either a complimentary basic message to be included on the packing label, or a personalized greeting card to be included for an additional charge.


When visitors click on the ‘Sample’ link (see red highlighted box above), a pop-up of a sample package label message is displayed, as illustrated below:


Additionally, those who opt to add a personalized message are given the option to select a greeting card and a field to include a personal message:

Details about Invoicing and Gift Receipts

Visitors often are concerned that the gift package that is sent out to their friends or family may contain a bill with pricing on it. Visitors expect to see a statement letting them know about the site policy regarding invoicing and gift receipts. It is a best practice to ensure that once visitors are done with selecting their gift wrapping and personal message option, they are presented with a statement informing them that the invoice sent along with the gift package will not include any pricing. Additionally, if business policies allow, consider including a gift receipt with the package and ensure visitors are informed of this in an additional statement.

Present Gift Option Selections Prior to Collecting Credit Card Information

Users want to know what types of gift options are available to them prior to entering their credit card info. Hence, ensure options pertaining to the gifts are presented at the beginning stages of the checkout process. As noted in the first example in this newsletter, a good stage in the checkout process for introducing the gift options feature is the order summary because it is early enough in the process for users to know that the site offers gift options.