INTELLIGENT AGENTS AND SUPPORT FOR BROWSING AND NAVIGATION IN COMPLEX SHOPPING SCENARIOS

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1 ACTS GUIDELINE GAM-G7 INTELLIGENT AGENTS AND SUPPORT FOR BROWSING AND NAVIGATION IN COMPLEX SHOPPING SCENARIOS Editor: Martin G. Steer Contributors: TeleShoppe ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 1

2 Contents 1. Executive Summary 3 2. Introduction 4 3. Low Bandwidth Interfaces Virtual Mannequin Speech Driven Input Intelligent Browsing Assistance (Intelligent Agent part I) Virtual Persona with Text-to-speech Synthesis (Intelligent Agent part II) Animated Icons Medium Bandwidth D Virtual Shopping Mall Highest Bandwidth Video Shop Trial Shopping in a Populated Virtual Mall Video link to Call Centre Agent Collaborative Shared Space Shopping Summary and Conclusions 9 ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 2

3 1. Executive Summary The scope for electronic trade is greatly increased by the developments of European RTD in the broadband service arena. However, in the trade sectors addressing non-expert users in a residential setting (retail online) the absence of the traditional support mechanisms relied on by 'shoppers' may be the greatest barrier to uptake of electronic service delivery in this area. The end-user perspective concerning necessary support in the shopping scenario must be clearly characterised, and clear recommendations provided for solution approaches based on emerging RTD results. Furthermore, on-line shopping tasks utilising advanced communications facilities are only recently exemplified in current RTD and tend to be demonstrated in restricted application scenarios involving either one supplier or a restricted shopping domain. Future exploitation of this technology will offer access to multiple suppliers over a wide range of the possible retail domain. Since there is a general drive towards consistency and compatibility in advanced user interfaces, there is a clear requirement to develop strategies for commonality of approach, which nonetheless allow for product and supplier identity. It is necessary to promote a generic strategy for online browsing facilities responding to these diverse needs and taking full account of residential and public user issues. This guideline characterises the requirements for user support in on-line shopping (tele-retail), and recommends generic strategies for support of end-user browsing and navigation in complex shopping scenarios. It is aimed at designers and developers of complex on-line remote shopping services. This document, therefore, discusses key user interface issues, typically considered for deployment in sophisticated on-line shopping applications at varying bandwidths. A table of techniques and recommendations is given in section 6. ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 3

4 2. Introduction In this guideline we discuss the user interface issues presented with the deployment of a complex remote (on-line) shopping service and recommend strategies for maximising the user experience. The first section of this document discusses a number of user interface features that have been tested in trials at varying bandwidths of service delivery, and reports on their usability. The findings and recommendations are then summarised. The user interface features are characterised by bandwidth and user interface as follows:- Low Bandwidth: - Virtual Mannequin Speech Driven Input Intelligent Browsing Assistance (Intelligent Agent) Virtual Persona with Text-To-Speech Synthesis Animated Icons Medium Bandwidth: - 3D Virtual Shopping Mall Highest Bandwidth: - Video Shop Trial Shopping in a populated virtual mall Video link to call centre assistant Collaborative Shared Space Shopping 3. Low Bandwidth Interfaces 3.1. Virtual Mannequin A virtual mannequin interface was used to assess whether immediate visual feedback and relative resizing controls improves user confidence over a simpler forms based interface. Users' responses were measured after a series of random ordered tests to perform an objective assessment of their achieved accuracy in using the two types of control. A questionnaire was provided for subjective analysis. Overall, the forms based input for control of the mannequin was preferred and was the most accurate. It was noted, however, that the lack in standard definition in measurements by clothing manufacturers was identified as a contributing factor in the wide distribution of error in the measurement types Speech Driven Input A speech input (speech recogniser) interface was used to assess whether such an input device provides a usable interface to an on-line shopping service. Shopper s reactions to the speech interface were collected, as were qualitative data to identify any difficulty. ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 4

5 The speech interface was compared to the more familiar mouse and keyboard interface. These experiments showed that the usability of speech as an interface for shopping does not match user expectations and that shoppers felt the method of choosing a product with speech was too involved. Specific areas to address for this type of interface to be acceptable were improved visual feedback for nonhearing or mis-recognition events and the ability to interrupt the system whilst it was talking to them. However, as technology progresses and accuracy of speech recognition improves it may offer a more viable interface for such a service. Speech recognition does have its uses already in certain cases - the obvious ones being where the shopper does not have access to a keyboard. Such examples could include users with limited use of their arms / hands / fingers, or those accessing a terminal such as an interactive TV, which does not have the normal keyboard & mouse facilities associated with PCs Intelligent Browsing Assistance (Intelligent Agent part I) An intelligent agent was investigated to determine the feasibility of a dynamic user model based on purchase behaviour. The aim of this trial was to determine whether navigation guidance improves users attitudes towards the service and in turn whether guidance influences their choice of products. Subjects were asked to explore the store and purchase 3 items they might buy for themselves. The system then created a purchase behaviour model, and the system provided assistance for the purchase of additional items, based on their purchasing model. It was found that the model provides better than random method of suggesting brands to users, but is not able to predict how much a user might want to spend on a product. They also showed a highly significant correlation (p<0.01) between browsing a recommended option and a significant correlation (p<0.05) to buying it. However, it must be stated here that the subject used in the trial was only purchasing the item in a controlled trial, rather than having to part with their own money in real life Virtual Persona with Text-to-speech Synthesis (Intelligent Agent part II) An animated virtual persona was displayed on a screen to relay instructions to the shopper in order to determine the effect a virtual persona with lip synchronisation has on the speech and message perception of a text-to-speech synthesis quality voice prompt. In addition, the changing speech perception under different qualities of speech output was measured. Prompts were designed to produce information overload e.g. Choose the white shirt with the blue stripes and the green buttons from the red store. 3 levels of speech quality were used, low quality TTS, commercial quality TTS and recorded speech and groups were assessed with and without the virtual persona. It was found that the low quality TTS system resulted in lower ability to complete the task but there was no significance between the commercial quality TTS and the real (recorded) voice. The presence of the Virtual Persona did not degrade the users perception abilities of the synthesised speech, however it did not improve it also. ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 5

6 3.5. Animated Icons Animated icons were used in conjunction with static icons to determine the draw or pulling power of different types of animated 3D icons. Also investigated was whether the position of the icons affects the draw and how the subjects spatial and verbal awareness affects the time it takes to complete the tasks. This trial led to some interesting results, in particular: - Although the subjects did not think they were influenced by the enhanced 3D icons, they did in fact select enhanced icons more often than the plain ones. The horizontal or vertical positioning of the icon did not have a significant effect on its drawing power (which in itself is significant, as it means that animated icons do not have to be positioned centrally within the screen to have the same drawing power) The subject s spatial awareness had more effect than their verbal reasoning on completion time 4. Medium Bandwidth The medium bandwidth section addresses the immediate user friendliness of a 3D Shopping service including consumer reaction to the functionality available, navigation skills required and the look and feel of VRML 2.0 screen designs. It also measures the consumer s ability to intuitively navigate their way through proposed interactive shopping services in a 3D telepresence scenario - finding information, interacting with services or purchasing products whilst considering the effect of network bandwidth on usability and likely uptake of specific shopping services. To this end the trials were undertaken at five different bandwidth settings:- 33Kb/s, 64Kbps, 256Kb/s, 1Mb/s, 2 Mb/s and 8Mb/s D Virtual Shopping Mall Analysis of Likert questionnaires on the triallists shows that usability tended to increase with bandwidth. Results obtained show there was a significant difference in the increased usability figures between midhigh and low-mid bandwidths. A plot of usability versus bandwidth suggests that the end user bandwidth requirements of usable telepresence shopping must lie above 500Kbps, with a slow perceptible increase in usability as the bandwidth increases into the Mbps region. 5. Highest Bandwidth 5.1. Video Shop Trial A video-store where the shopper can view trailers for movies was used to provide an extension to the 3D shopping mall environment (described in 4.1 above), in order to evaluate the usability of the shopping service under constant higher bandwidth demands. This is in contrast to 4.1 where the available bandwidth related more to the latency in delivering a 3D scenario when moving from room to room. Bandwidth was artificially throttled to simulate real-life networks delivering between 1.6 and 10 Mb/s. The results show an increase in usability with bandwidth available, albeit with a small gradient of increase. ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 6

7 5.2. Shopping in a Populated Virtual Mall The aim was to assess user attitudes and responses to the presence of automated shoppers cohabiting a 3D mall environment. The trial was intended to determine whether the presence and behaviour of the shoppers influenced the behaviour of the users and to collect general usability data regarding both populated and non-populated malls. Each user was asked to visit the mall three times; once with no virtual shoppers present, once with virtual shoppers present which walk from shop to shop independently of one another, and once with virtual shoppers present which walk from shop to shop and congregate around certain shops. Overall, the results here show that, for this implementation of a populated virtual shopping mall, the presence and behaviour of virtual shoppers does not significantly influence the browsing behaviour of users. The precise reason for this result is unclear and warrants further investigation; in particular, further testing should be done on malls populated with different implementations of virtual shoppers. Investigating the following comparisons would be worthwhile, with respect to both usability and influence on user behaviour: low-detail shoppers vs. high-detail shoppers; few shoppers vs. many shoppers; various proportions of time spent walking vs. time spent standing outside hot shops and the use of automated shoppers vs. other real users in a multi-user Web-based shopping service Video link to Call Centre Agent The trial investigated user attitudes to a real human shopping assistant who appeared in a video window within the browser of the remote shopper, whilst they were taking part in collaborative shopping trials (see section 5.4). During a shopping session, the collaborating shoppers had access to a Customer Service Assistant who could be called by means of a button on the computer screen and would appear within a video window in the top left corner of the screen (via real-time network audio-video software). The purpose of the Assistant was to provide further information on products and to offer special discounts on items of interest. Participants were specifically asked to negotiate with the Assistant to obtain discount vouchers. The benefit of the Customer Service Assistant was seeing a real person which provided a more personal and human touch and made the group feel like they were not dealing with a computer. However, it took too long to get a response when she had been called. As it was necessary to repeat the problem to the advisor and the sound/lips mismatch seemed unnatural, combined with a blocky image, the users concluded it was difficult to communicate in this manner. The image in the corner of the screen was the right size, although the group would have liked to see more of the face and less of the shoulders 5.4. Collaborative Shared Space Shopping The purpose here was to investigate the usability of a virtual reality and multimedia-based multi-user (shared space) teleshopping service when experienced by a number of participant groups. As well as assessing general usability, particular emphasis was placed on the effectiveness of collaboration of participants within each group and their resultant ability to complete set tasks satisfactorily. The experiment consisted of a set of three tasks to be performed by each participant group in a shopping scenario within a three-dimensional virtual environment. Each group consisted of three people who could be described as friends prior to the trial. The three participants within each group cohabited the mall simultaneously but in separate locations, being able to see one another as 'avatar' representations within the ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 7

8 virtual environment and communicating via real-time audio multicasting software. Each group completed the three tasks in a random order. The scenario presented to the trial participants was that of a 'virtual reality department store where threedimensional graphics and spatial audio were used to give the consumer a feeling of presence within the virtual environment an environment which would also be simultaneously inhabited by other consumers. The participants were asked to complete tasks which necessarily involved co-operation with the other members of the group. The avatars were rated by the participants as being very effective, although the ability to gesture would have been beneficial. Having the names suspended over the figures made it easy to recognise friends and seeing where friends were standing helped to clarify which goods were in the different areas. Other shoppers in the store would be acceptable but not if they blocked their view, and only if they could be turned off. ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 8

9 6. Summary and Conclusions This section provides an easy-to-use summary of the various techniques discussed in this document, when the techniques are appropriate and what the implementers should consider prior to deployment. Service technique When to use? What to be aware of? Additional comments Virtual Mannequin To provide a visual feedback to the shopper to assist with size selection The ease of setting the mannequin s size Simple forms based entry was found to be preferable Speech Input (Speech recognition) To provide an alternative input mechanism over the keyboard mouse Accuracy, complexity of dialogue, feedback on failure techniques. Probably only worth considering when it is impossible or impractical to use a regular mouse and keyboard Intelligent browsing assistance To provide the user with help in choosing an item, based on their previous purchasing behaviour Successful technique in trials. Awaiting more substantial reallife feedback Does require the shopper to have purchased several items previously to build up the shopper s model. So not applicable to the first time user Virtual Persona & text to speech synthesis In conjunction with the intelligent browsing assistance to guide users through their shopping experience Awaiting further data Commercial quality text- to speech synthesis was measure to be as easily understood as pre-recorded speech. This therefore has potential ease of construction and lower bandwidth benefits over prerecorded speech. ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 9

10 Service technique When to use? What to be aware of? Additional comments Animated Icons To guide the user to the retailers preferred choice! Over-use would negate the effect of the animated icon. Slightly increased download time and more complex to construct initially The icons were equally effective wherever they were placed on the screen. 3D Virtual Shopping Mall To provide a more compelling user experience than traditional 2D shopping environments Requires a minimum of 0.5Mb/s bandwidth to be acceptable. Use of video streaming within a shopping environment To provide the user with entertainment or additional information prior to a purchase decision. A small, but measurable increase in usability was noted as bandwidth increases from 1 to 10 Mb/s Populating a virtual shopping mall with computer generated shoppers. To provide the user with a richer shopping experience. To influence users browsing behaviour Our trials did not suggest users browsing behaviour was modified by the presence of pseudoshoppers. Requires further investigation. Video link to call centre agent To provide additional information to potential customers Speed of connection to a shopping advisor. Quality of sound image. Synchronization between sound and image. Further research is required. Collaborative Shared Space Shopping To provide the users with a richer shopping experience, more akin to traditional shopping behaviour. The ability of the users to easily and effectively interact. The use of a 3D shared space shopping environment assumes the minimum bandwidth requirements identified above ACTS Guideline GAM-G7 Page 10

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