GAO recommends usability improvements for saferproducts.gov

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission uses a variety of outreach channels to bring visitors to saferproducts.gov, but hasn't done enough to assess who users are and how best to serve them, finds a Government Accountability Office report (.pdf) published March 11.  

The website, which serves as a hub for reporting product safety issues and provides a searchable database for recalls, doesn't ask visitors for demographic data because designers don't want to overburden users. However, with scarce data on users, CPSC cannot make targeted site improvements and improve outreach efforts, say report authors.

The commission has no strategy for tracking its efforts to publicize the website. It would have a better sense of which outreach methods have the greatest return if it added a drop-down menu for users to specify how they learned about the site, suggest report authors.  

The commission collects data on the number of visitors, most popular pages and the number of reports received. The website also asks report submitters to state their relationship to incident victims--such as "self" or "parent"--says GAO. However, many submitters opt not to specify a relationship.

Users' desire to remain anonymous also surfaced when auditors conducted website usability tests. Fifteen of 37 consumers in test sessions expressed concern about needing to register in order to submit a report.

According to auditors, the website was likely not clear enough that users could continue without registering. Registering allows users to save reports and receive status updates on reports. One-third of testers said they would not be inclined to register.

"In one session, seven of nine consumers said they would not be inclined to register and thought that having to register was a deterrent to completing a report," write report authors.

Beyond registration, testers said the reporting pages contained too many questions. Testers said the submission process could be cumbersome for busy individuals, such as parents, says GAO.

Searching for information on the site was generally less challenging for users than submitting reports. Most visitors were able to find recalled products using basic key words, but those relying on an advanced search function to narrow results, posed challenges, write report authors.

Report authors recommend the commission establish metrics to assess the public's awareness of and use of the website, expand website engagement analytics in a cost-effective manner, and find an inexpensive way to improve site usability. In a written response to the report, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenebaum agreed with all three of GAO's recommendations.

For more:
- download the report,  GAO-13-306 (.pdf)
- go to saferproducts.gov

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