Biometrics has traditionally lived in the silos of physiological psychology departments, neuroscience classrooms, and in UX/UI circles.
However, companies like Expedia are realizing the wealth of information that biometrics can produce, and they’re pairing this data with website usability tests to deliver troves of information, that, quite literally, have kept the company as a major player in the extremely competitive online travel website business.
Bloomberg did a recent profile of how Expedia is using biometrics in their usability lab to learn how people’s psyches play into their travel booking patterns. Namely, what excites them? Planning a vacation is an imaginative experience, replete with visions of sitting on a beach sipping a Mai Tai, yet a website’s configuration, search process, and booking process can quickly stifle these visions of tropical grandeur. Instead of simply clicking to book, people get kicked off of screens and redirected to mind-numbing task pages where they’re required to search for the optimal number, and, ultimately, pre-pay for said experience.
So, Expedia is seeking to retain that emotional high that captures people prior to booking a trip and learn how they can maintain it throughout the checkout experience. And they’re doing it with biometrics.
Whoa, back up there. Biometrics?
Many of us associate biometrics with our company’s health screening day. The biometrics we’re talking about here are slightly different.
In market research, here’s the gist of how it works:
Sample is recruited and brought to a focus group facility or market research setting
The participant is asked to don galvanic skin response sensors on one hand
They’re then asked to surf through a site. They may be sitting next to a researcher, who asks them questions, or they may be self-directed so that the research team can see how they naturally navigate through their experience
Depending on the technology employed, they will either have face sensors attached or their responses and eye tracking is captured through video
That’s it. Pretty painless if you’re a participant in the study. A thorough market research company will then interview the participant and go through a debriefing session to capture the experience in the subject’s own words. The final results are added to the data pile, which will later be sorted and analyzed by the firm commissioning the study.
So let’s not downplay what a market research firm learns through biometrics
Although the study may seem simple in terms of the steps required, the data that the qualitative research biometrics produce is anything but simple. The research team is given reams of data points that pinpoint electrodermal activity (which is widely used to measure changes in autonomic sympathetic arousal that are integrated with emotional and cognitive states indicating stress responses); facial expression emotion analysis; heat mapping; and eye tracking. Once analyzed, the data points show how people react, on a physiological level, to website content, layout, and specific tasks or experiences that they’re asked to do. It’s fascinating and gives amazing insight into the emotional landscape that drives what people click on, navigate to, and are pulled in by.
Since we’re in-person researchers, here at InterQ, our task is to take this technology and overlay it with qualitative research as much as we can. Biometric UX testing produces beautiful spreadsheet data, but our real question is what is the thinking behind those emotions-spelled-out-through-numbers? How was the person processing the experience during the task? Do their self-reported insights match up to what we see in the physiological markers? What is the story behind these numbers, and how can that translate into measurably improving the website, content, or user journey?
Combining these insights is where the real magic happens, and it’s a game changer in terms of how it affects outputs in design, be it on a website, app, or software program. Expedia has learned the power of it, and it’s helped them stay on top of the game in the online travel website industry.
InterQ Research LLC
- San Francisco, California
- Headquartered in Silicon Valley, InterQ delivers innovative market research for the tech industry, including qualitative, quantitative, and UX.