by David Dick, Editor
How many of you use the Internet to order merchandise? Many consumers are choosing the Internet to order merchandise rather than brave the crowds and traffic snarls at shopping malls. I don’t know if you have noticed it, but the order process and ease of use varies from one web site to another. The often-confusing process is enough to make you bail out and shop elsewhere.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “E-tailers Try to Keep Shoppers From Bolting at Checkout Point,” (1) usability, technology, and e-commerce issues are stopping shoppers from completing their purchases. The article states that about 65% of shoppers bail out at the checkout point. Poor design has cost E-tailers over $6.1 billion in potential sales. Some of the issues mentioned include:
- Failure to indicate extra costs early in the buying process, such as taxes and shipping fees.
- Difficulty in deleting items from a shopping cart.
- Inability to find answers to shipping questions.
- Slow password reminders, which forced one shopper to cancel and call by telephone. In this case, a person had filled a cart and filled out information for shipping and had forgotten the password.
Although most web sites list the price of an item alongside the picture, few web sites list sales tax rates or reveal the shipping and handling charges until the very end. E-tailers have some ideas about how to resolve the problems, such as adding pre-recorded audio components to provide customer-service recording with information about personal shopping service or paying bills online.
Unfortunately, the solutions do not involve simplifying the order process (i.e., select, pay, and ship) and making data protection transparent to the customer. For customers, this means purchasing new components and upgrading software to support a web site’s gadgetry. I am not convinced that E-tailers understand the customer’s problems.
- First-time shoppers may become confused with the design of the site and user authentication, and bail out. Although online shopping supports familiar metaphors such as the checkout counter, shopping cart, and so on, the shopper is faced unfamiliar limitations as the article highlights.
- Experienced shoppers accept the endless user authentication and waiting time as consequence for the convenience of shopping on the Internet.
Let us assume that most E-tailers overlook usability because they don’t think it necessary or don’t understand the return on investment. They assume that shoppers will identify most problems and find a workaround. They assume that if anyone familiar with any brand of software can easily adapt to anything—never assume.
Online shopping doesn’t have workarounds as software does. Unlike software, when a shopper is faced with complex design, the easiest solution is to bail out and shop elsewhere. Eventually, the web site loses its customers, loses its market share, and disappears from the Internet.
What’s the solution? If you have a favorite web site from which you like to shop and have ideas to improve design and service, then share your knowledge of technical communication and usability. Write the E-tailer with your comments and suggestions for improvements. If you are happy with a web site’s design and product line, write the E-tailer and say so. Happy Shopping.
- Rewick, Jennifer, E-tailers Try to Keep Shoppers From Bolting at Checkout Point, Wall Street Journal, 9 October 2000