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Case Study: Big Wins from a Small Usability Test

06-22-22 Julie Young

Usability testing just five users identified actionable ways to improve customer satisfaction and alleviate frustrating usability problems, while also increasing the team’s empathy for users.

In 2020, Sparkbox worked with a casual restaurant chain that has 500 restaurants in the midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions with a well-established carry-out business. Their website offers online ordering for pickup and delivery.

The existing online ordering system enabled them to respond quickly to the changes in the marketplace caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, they knew the mobile menu and checkout user experience could be further optimized to enhance customer satisfaction and boost revenue, especially during a time of increased online demand.

The Challenge

In addition to increasing satisfaction and resolving usability issues, our client hoped to benefit from usability testing in other ways. First, by helping the web team stay more connected with online customers. Second, by including an investigation of similar restaurant online ordering sites to see if they would inspire new features or ways of presenting information.

We started with a moderated usability test of five users from a single audience—busy parents ordering a family meal. According to a legendary UX rule of thumb, testing just five users detects 85% of the usability problems encountered by 31–100% of users for a given set of tasks. In our case, the task was to use their smartphone to order dinner for their family from the nearest restaurant location.

Improving Understanding

Our usability test uncovered several issues in the ordering process that, upon correction, significantly decreased order abandonment and alleviated user frustration. We also found a few places where simple content changes could make a big difference in how the users navigated the menu. Some of these usability findings were quick wins that content creators could make immediately, while others required development work.

The competitor sites revealed a few interesting ideas for the future and helped set the goalpost for our client’s online ordering experience.

Yet the usability study had more lasting effects than a list of website improvements. Because the web team watched videos of the customers placing their orders on all of the websites, they saw first-hand the impact their design and development choices had on the customer, for better and for worse. While the restaurant’s front-of-house staff encounter customers every day, those on the web team don’t have the same opportunity to build empathy and see the impact their work makes for customers using the website.


A modest investment in one targeted round of moderated usability testing rewarded our client because it uncovered a few simple tweaks that would reduce online ordering friction for their customers. Plus, looking at the online ordering application from the customer’s point of view built empathy and shifted the perspective of the client’s internal team.

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