Electronic commerce (EC) has allowed business organizations to enhance their economic growth, improve efficiency and effectiveness, keep inventories lean, and reduce cost. More and more companies go online to conduct business transactions using the Internet and Web technology. Research indicates that EC will continue to grow, and the number of Internet users worldwide reached over 1.57 billion as February 2009 (http://internetworldstats.com, 2009). Thus, more than one fifth of the total world population uses the Internet. And this penetration is rapidly increasing, with broadband connections having grown from 55% in early 2008 and 47% in 2007. Indeed, EC is now a reality of our daily lives. Intuitively, companies need to ensure that their Web presence is accessible and acceptable to this huge market to maintain future profitability.
Usability is one prominent measure of accessibility and acceptability. Usability has been studied extensively in both the human-computer interaction discipline (e.g., Palmer, 2002; Kepuska, Gurbuz, Rodriguez, Fiore, Carstens, Converse, & Metcalf, 2008) and in the electronic commerce area (Agarwal & Venkatesh, 2002; Eighmey & McCord, 1998; Massy, Khatri, & MontoyaWeiss, 2007; Nielsen, 2000; Palmer & Griffith, 1998; Venkatesh & Agarwal, 2006; Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, & Davis, 2003). Although the Web provides an opportunity for a firm to offer a unique and satisfying experience to its visitors, developing a user friendly Web site is not a simple task. One of the critical challenges facing businesses today is to develop a Web site that is not only compelling for the visitors, but is also able to serve the goals of the business as well. A major business goal of EC is Web site usage, which can be measured by number of visitors, time per visitor, and page views a site receives. None of the research on Web site usability has examined the relationship between what is deemed a usable site and usage of that site. The purpose of this research is to rate Fortune 500 retail Web sites' usability given previous guidelines, and then cross-reference whether the usability of the sites, as rated by survey respondents, correlates with usage of the sites. The research will present empirical usability results obtained from users of operating retail Web sites, and will compare that to Web site usage data from Nielsen Online.
Usability of a Web site is a characteristic business professional and academic researchers have long realized to be important (Agarwal & Venkatesh, 2002; Massy et al., 2007; Palmer, 2002; Post, Kagan, & Sigman, 2009; Venkatesh & Agarwal, 2006; Venkatesh & Ramesh, 2006). Usability has been conceptually defined and operationally measured in different ways. This paper adopts the ISO 9241 definition of usability - "The extent to which a product or a service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use." The purpose of usability research is to understand how to design and engineer more usable Web sites in an attempt to identify a set of principles and common practices that will ensure usability is an outcome of system design. In the context of Web site design, Nielsen (2000) claimed that usability engineering is the key to successfully conducting commercial Web site design and argued that a business firm that does not pay enough attention to this aspect is not likely to generate sustainable traffic to its Web site or, even if visitors stop by, the site will lack the crucial attribute of "stickiness", or usage, which often translates into customers.
Therefore, as mentioned, the topic of usability has been studied in both human computer interaction literature (e.g., Palmer, 2002) and information systems literature (e.g., Green & Pearson, 2009; Venkatesh & Agarwal, 2006) . Prior research has proposed multiple factors by which the usability of Web sites may be assessed. …