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Shopping online – I love it. Be it for therapy, for fun or for gifts, it’s faster and cheaper than traipsing through towns and shopping centres. But it’s not without annoyances – in this post, I’m going to talk about what gets my goat when shopping online and how ecommerce sites can help their customers get to the checkout.
Warning: this post may make you angry.
Okay, pet peeve numero uno is a biggie. And it happens a lot: No mobile site. I have taken to buying stuff online with my phone more often than I do sat at a computer. I have a laptop, but somehow going upstairs to get it, turn it on and plug it in (if it needs some juice) all seems like an unjustifiable effort – especially when I’ve got a 1990’s supercomputer in my pocket. I can get myself online in a few seconds without having to leave the sofa – win! But that win quickly turns sour when you’re greeted with this:
Teeny tiny text. Massive images that take forever to load. An infinity of pinching to zoom, scrolling about, hitting the wrong button by mistake and tooth grinding. All I wanted was a Frisbee (possibly the world’s greatest Frisbee) and thought, “who better to buy it from than the manufacturer?!” (Amazon, as it turns out) – This should have been a 5 minute buy. But I left instead – for more reasons than the tiny text and all the scrolling around.
Clicking an image brings up a pop up window – fine, but the image is tiny. I can pinch to zoom, but it zooms into the top corner. And then I can’t zoom out to close it. So I click back on the phone’s browser. My search hasn’t been preserved – my teeth turn into millstones. I grind them. I start over.
Okay so I’ve found what I want and it’s in my basket – time to go pay. But this site doesn’t appear to want to take my money. Tiny radio buttons and text boxes are the precursor to all kinds of payment woes. Like the phone’s text keyboard being pulled up for numeric input. Like not being able to see the next field and skipping it accidentally, because it means scrolling about like a madman.
I couldn’t physically reach one of the radio buttons on the checkout at one stage – I’d scroll to it and the site would snap back to where I was. By this point, I’ve ground my teeth into a fine powder. If I was a little more animal and a little less man, I would’ve crushed the phone into “Will it Blend?” dust with my bare hands (but I’m pretty weak and smashing up an iPhone for the sake of emotional gratification just seems a little too decadent, if you know what I mean).
So I bailed out at the checkout stage. I’m not usually an impatient guy, but if you’re going to make the transaction as hard as you can, I’m not going to stick around – or go back to find out if you’ve fixed it. Trick me once…
Mobile optimisation isn’t just about making sure your site fits on a small screen, or loads fast. It needs to work more like an app than a website. It needs to prioritise certain elements in order to reduce the amount of actions required to do something. Mobile users are notoriously impatient. If something takes too long, they’re off. If it takes too much effort to do on a mobile phone, they’ll go elsewhere. So don’t force this torture upon them – give them what they need to make a purchase, not hurdles to jump over and hoops to jump through to buy something from you.
For mobile ecommerce sites, there are lots of places to draw inspiration from. The big American brand of brands Walmart (and by extension, ASDA and George) does mobile very well (thanks to @dannydenhard for showing this one to me).
The likes of Amazon and eBay deliver some of the most user friendly mobile ecommerce platforms under the sun. But you’d expect that from brands with that kind of clout, right? Yes! So, why are there still so many big brands getting it wrong? I guess that means the little guys can fill in the gap. Providing they’ve got the marketing behind them to be found of course!
The thing is, it’s not actually that hard to get it right. Responsive ecommerce sites are possible, they can be done right and they look great (thanks to @MUmar_Khan for that one). It’s easier for site owners too – one CMS, one platform, one solution. Responsive design is undoubtedly the way forward, provided it’s well thought out.
Mobile site failure is a massive gripe of mine, but it’s not the only thing that ruins an online shopping session for me. Have you ever been almost at the end of a purchase, only to find that the item is out of stock?
Website owners, do you think we like completing all the forms to be told we can’t have it for 4-6 weeks? A stock counter that reads zero is nothing to be ashamed of. Why not suggest similar items? Customers might appreciate that – or you can capture their email to remind them you still exist at a later point, with that thing they wanted back in stock.
Maybe they’ll remember how lovely and helpful you were and come back for that item or something else that you suggested. You can even offer stock level emails – so if they’re just browsing for something or saving up for later, you can let them know when they’re about to sell out.
Another detail that often gets overlooked is site search. Make it accessible anywhere. Make it obvious – and use the behaviour tab in analytics to see what they’re looking for. It’s not going to solve the great (not provided) crisis – but it might give you some ideas for hot products to make special offers with, or add to homepage banners for faster access.
Payment options should never be limited. A site that doesn’t accept PayPal is a bit like a high street shop that doesn’t accept cash. Similarly, I’ve seen sites that only accept PayPal, adding another process for people without a PayPal account.
Not accepting popular forms of online payment is just going to limit the amount of people that can buy from you. It doesn’t matter how awesome your site and products are if people can’t give their money to you. So cover all bases.
Provide a phone number on every page with someone who can take a payment over the phone (should it all get a bit much and they need some help). Have live chat enabled for any issues that users may face during their visit – these options help to instil a sense of confidence too. Cover all bases and leave nothing to chance.
The process should be as simple as; search, find, buy. But often, it’s a case of search, find, set up an account, fill out some forms, give away enough data to write a short (but insightful) book about you, buy.
Nobody ever had to take out a magazine subscription, fill out forms and get a loyalty card in a high street shop in order to buy something. So why make them do it online?
Econsultancy has a brilliant set of resources and research detailing why the process of registering to buy is flawed and outdated and how the checkout process can be swung in users’ (and by that, your) favour.
This post details 10 checkout login pages – some genius, some in need of a little work. Take a look and decide which one you prefer. Also, the basket/cart itself needs to be useful. Putting items in and taking them out, changing options, colours, sizes, quantity and so forth, should be easy and fast – and accessible from anywhere.
It should not do what the basket at EMP does – and end the session after half an hour. That’s a good way to upset our Laura who loves the aforementioned site, but hates the rubbish basket! Who wouldn’t? I’ve had it happen before too.
Why does this matter? Well, I’m like this: I might get on to a site at 7pm, browse and find the item I want, have it stuck in the basket at 7:05pm. Then I’ll get a message on Facebook or something, have a little chat on there, then see something funny in my news feed and go off on a bit of a tangent. Then maybe a snack. Cup of tea. Stick the telly on for a bit. 10pm rolls around and I’ll get a bit yawny, so I’ll go to shut the computer down, or set my phone’s alarm clock. Then up pops the browser and I see the checkout page I was on – nearly forgot about that! Only it’s timed out and my basket’s totally empty – you mean I’ve got to go round and pick all the stuff out again? Certainly not going to happen now, it’s sleepy time!
So keep in mind that users probably won’t mind if the session lasts 24hrs or more. If they’re anything like me, they’ll appreciate it. The faff can be further reduced by allowing card data to be stored and enabling autofill fields. All these little wins add up to a pleasant online shopping experience, especially for returning users.
Try the process out for yourself. Does it suck? It’s okay to hate your own site! Maybe it’s the best thing that can happen to you. It means that you recognise the flaws and gaps in your site. It means you’re willing to make the changes required to make your site great. Figuring out what it’s like to be one of your own customers is the first step to making them all happy with your site and your service.
So try it out, buy your own stuff. If you’re less than delighted – your customers probably will be too. So make it better – and please make sure your site works on mobiles – it’s nearly 2014!
As always, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below – bad online shopping experiences and great ones, or your favourite ecommerce sites to shop on and why. Let’s make the internet better!
Businessman in anger via BigStock
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.