People don’t like to wait. This is true in any situation you can think of. Be it in the line for the checkout, when counting down the days before a special event, or when loading a website – waiting requires patience, a goal worth waiting for, and the ability to distract ourselves.
Once we focus on the waiting itself, we start to keep track of the passing time by counting days, hours, minutes, or even seconds. The more conscious we experience waiting time, the longer it becomes. Think about it for a second. I bet you can come up with plenty of examples when a few seconds felt like forever.
In his article about The Psychology of Waiting Lines David Maister explains why perceived waiting time usually has little to do with the actual time. There are several factors that affect our perception of time, such as:
- Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time
- Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits
- Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits
- Anxiety makes a wait seem longer
- The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait
On the web, people have little patience – even less than in the real world. That is mainly because people get bored waiting, don’t know what to expect, or they get confused due to the lack of feedback. However, online – more than anywhere else – we want people to stick around as long as possible. We want our visitors to have a great experience.
Certainly the most effective way to offer visitors a sound experience is to not make them wait at all. However, that’s not always possible.
Here is what you can do to integrate waiting time into your website and turn it from a negative to a positive experience.
Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time
First of all, make sure your visitors don’t get bored while waiting. If we have to wait for something in the offline world, there are (1) a lot of things to distract us and (2) we usually wait long enough to have time for distraction. For example, people often wait for trains. Whilst waiting, they do a lot of different things, such as reading a book, calling someone, playing with their phones, talking to the person next to them, or simply observing people.
On the web, people usually don’t wait longer than a couple of seconds. Obviously that’s a good thing, because rationally 5 seconds is a lot less than 5 minutes. Yet, 5 unexpected seconds of doing nothing can be much more frustrating and disappointing than talking to a friend for 5 minutes.
You get the point. Never make your visitors wait without giving them any feedback. To ensure people don’t get bored while waiting for something to happen, offer them some distraction. This can be something fun, something unexpected, something beautiful – or anything else that catches your visitors’ attention long enough for your site to load.
Legwork Studio has a very visual and animated website. The site is very attractive and fun – once it has been fully loaded. This loading time could harm the overall experience – if it wasn’t for the funny and somehow provoking loading animations. There are three alternating animations that distract the visitor from the fact that they are waiting rather long for the actual site to show.
On Create a monster you can design your own monster. The site is very interactive and a nice time sink. However, the animations and configurator require quite some loading time. To keep people hooked, the loading indicator shows a preview of different monsters turning from grey to blue – bringing you closer to your very own monster.
Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits
It is much more bearable to wait for something if we know when it will happen. Imagine you wait for a phone call regarding a job interview for your dream job. Without any time indication you are likely to be much more nervous than you’d be with a clear indication of when to expect the call. That is because you can manage your time more efficient and with more confidence if you know the waiting time.
On the web, this means you should give your visitors a clear indication of how long they need to wait. Obviously, an absolute time would be most convenient. However, a percentage that indicates the loading process also does the job.
If we see that something is happening, it gives us a positive feeling, comforts us, and makes us more forgiving – even if the loading takes longer than expected. Besides, by keeping your visitors in the loop, you’re playing with your cards on the table and putting them in charge; It’s now their decision if they want to wait, or get a drink in the meanwhile.
The Dubbel Frisss website is very visual, colorful, and has lots of little animations. Therefore, the site needs to load much longer than a couple of static html pages would. To make this loading time more appealing – and at the same time increase curiosity – the visitor gets to see a bright green screen with a large number incrementing. This offers a clear indication of how much longer you have to wait before something happens.
Intacto has a website with a fun and interactive parallax scrolling effect. A long loading time therefore doesn’t come as a surprise. The fact that the loading time has been visually integrated in the overall experience of the site makes the waiting a lot less painful. More even, it invites you to stick around and find out what happens next.
Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits
Sometimes, people don’t mind a wait because they understand the reason behind the waiting time. For example, if they submitted a search request, they want to play a video, or they are already familiar with the loading time of a website. These are all situations that imply a given understanding and acceptance of long loading times.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time people are not so forgiving. They might be in a hurry, or maybe they have always had little patience, or they simply don’t understand the technical implications of what they see on the screen.
New web technologies and increasing design standards are causing websites to become more and more complex. Most of the time, the goal of those complex designs is a positive user experience. However, this experience can quickly turn negative if visitors don’t understand – or don’t want to accept – the increased loading times that come with it.
Make sure to keep your visitors both informed, and entertained whilst they wait for your site to load. This helps to increase their patience.
The website of the animated movie ParaNorman is – just like the movie itself – a piece of art. It is built up of lots of images and videos and it perfectly reflects the sphere from the movie. While loading, a little skeleton hand taps its fingers – waiting, just like the visitor. A simple line of text informs the visitor what they are waiting for.
Travel sites are probably among the top sites when it comes to long waiting times. Of course, most people have at least an idea of what it involved to search huge data sets for our dream vacation. Yet, waiting for the best offer to show up on our screen can take forever, and most of the time, it’s plain boring and annoying. Hipmunk has added a little fun element to make this waiting time more pleasant. Their little mascot plays airplane, while the dots of the “Searching…” indicate the ongoing search process.
Anxiety makes a wait seem longer
Whenever we wait for something, we have time to think. Once we start thinking, we easily start worrying. Do thoughts like “What if…”, “Am I doing the right thing here?”, or “Isn’t there a better way?” sound familiar? I bet they do, because they are a natural reaction to uncertain situations.
Ask yourself what customers might be worrying about (rationally or irrationally), and find ways to remove the worry. — David Maister
On the web, it’s the same thing. If you make your visitors wait too long, you might get them thinking about whether it’s worth the wait, or if they are even on the right site. Again, the problem is solved best by not making your visitors wait at all. However, when there is no way around it, ensure your customers don’t get worried. Rather, offer them some reassurance.
On the AHH Coca-Cola site, there is a lot to explore. However, the different AHH-sites and games require some loading time. To keep people hooked and reassure them they are still on the right site, the loading bar is a little spinning Coca-Cola bottle. This brand association is simple, yet powerful, promising the waiting visitor a fun experience.
The creative design studio Boy-Coy has a very creative website with engaging parallax scrolling effects. But, the site takes a few seconds to load. Instead of showing a boring, or sterile loading bar, the visitor jumps right into the site. The color is there, the logo is there, and they even have a floating UFO to give a sneak peak of both the style and the humor of the agency. This look & feel of the loading page is very reassuring that (1) the visitor is on the right site – or (2) at least it’s a site worth waiting for.
The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait
We perceive waiting as less frustrating if we believe that whatever we are waiting for will be worth it. Imagine you can choose between (1) your favorite restaurant, which is always busy and you need to wait half an hour before you can be seated and (2) a less popular restaurant with low quality food, but no waiting time. Chances are that you don’t mind waiting for a table at restaurant number one.
When making people wait online, keep in mind that their tolerance for loading time depends on the perceived value they get. For example, it might be ok to wait for a movie trailer to load, because we really want to watch that specific trailer. But when browsing the web for information or a certain product, long waiting times can be very critical. It’s just too easy to go look somewhere else.
Make sure you know your visitors and how much value your site or product has for them.
For example, Porsche is a luxury brand and if people could use waiting time as a currency, I’m sure there are lots of people who wouldn’t mind waiting for years. Yet, their car configurator makes waiting time almost a pleasant experience. The loading bar is the sketch of a Porsche, highlighting the creative freedom of configuring your own dream car. At the same time, all customization options are already visible, getting you started with the creation process right away.
NIKEiD allows customers to design their very own shoes. This experience of customization, and the idea of owning a personalised pair of shoes are very captivating and come with a high patience level. It’s totally understandable that an interactive configurator takes time to load and a simple loading bar next to the NIKEiD logo are enough to keep customers hooked.