Today marked a relatively new occasion on America’s event calendar, an event labeled in the lexicon as “Cyber Monday.” This is the day that online retailers, or the digital counterparts to physical stores, lure holiday shoppers in to spending their post-Thanksgiving dollars online with offers of free shipping, special discounts and the like. If you ask me, the deals are there to be had whether online or in stores regardless of specific days – it’s more a matter of whether you want to actually go get overwhelmed and fight the crowds or surf in the comfort of your own home. There are even mega shopping aggregators that tell you (via mobile apps now also) who has the best deal on an item, and online coupon code sites that save you the trouble of trying to find the catalog number or physical coupon in order to get the discount.
It’s all for naught, though, if the shopper can’t take the action that rings your cash register once they find your digital home and make their way to the goods or services they’re seeking – so I thought I’d share a couple of recent examples of where this can go awry.
My oldest son is in graduate school 1000 miles away, and he requested a couple of pair of specific boots from online retailers. He gave me the URL to the sites that carried them and supplied me with his color choices and size preference, after having gone to the store in the state where he’s residing to try them on. Sounded like an easy gig on my end – click on the URL, add the item to the cart, check out. It didn’t prove to be that simple.
Turned out the website for this retailer was beautiful - lots of Flash animation teasing me with all of their newest offerings and specials, categories laid out and offering me different roads to follow. But I knew exactly what I was after, and when I bypassed all of the hoopla and added the items to the cart, I couldn’t get the cart to turn over to the checkout page no matter how hard I tried. I kept getting re-routed back to the lovely, Flash-driven home page, where I could see the number of items in my cart tabbed out on the top of the window but, as they say Down East, “I couldn’t get thar from here.” Several attempts later, I resorted to the old-fashioned way and called the 800 number to ask a live person to help me. She was lovely and helpful, and my experience with the checkout cart didn’t seem unusual to her. The irony was that she even plugged in a coupon code from retailmenot.com for me and saved me 17 dollars on the purchase! Rather than call her, though, I might just as easily have gone to Dealcatcher or MySimon and purchased this brand name product from any number of other retailers. So what good was all that Flash?
Then, in the very same week, I was asked by a client for whom I’m doing some contract work to chase down research done by business partners in the past in order to add it to an online knowledge base. Again, I knew the names and companies of the intended targets, but in as much as everyone in the organization I’m representing is relatively new to their position, I was lacking contact information. The solution would seem to be an easy one – find the companies’ websites, see if they list their staff online, or at the very least find the central phone numbers and call and inquire. What I found out is that a lot of companies that are dependent upon building client relationships seem to have laid off their receptionists, because several central voice-mail systems offered me alphabetic directories that, when the intended person’s name was not listed in them, sent me back through an endless loop with no information or live person to whom I could inquire about next appropriate contact etc.
Other companies went so far as to have fancy Flash animations with all of the faces of their staff members flowing nicely by like a river of smiling faces. Click on one of the faces and you get their bio but, alas, in every case that I tried, absolutely no contact information! Even the owner of a consulting company failed to have her business email or phone number listed on the same page as her bio. What good is the bio if I can’t follow up and give you my business? Is there some inherent fear that disaster will come from contact made using one’s business lines of communication these days? If so, then why bother with a website?
I suppose I could have gone to any number of social directories (actually I did in a few cases) and found the desired information a back way, but the point is this:
- Make it easy!
- easy to find you
- easy to contact you once I find you
- easy to take the action that brings money to your coffers in the form of goods sold or services rendered once I do find you
No amount of Flash or cuteness can compensate for the sale you are going to lose when I can’t check out with your products or contact your representatives with potential new business.
Lots of web designers recommend the book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. I purchased it a while back from an Amazon reseller, and perhaps Cyber Monday is a good day to go back and revisit it with these recent experiences in mind.
What transactional barriers have you encountered due to bad web design?