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October 30th, 2007

Examples of Online Shopping Experience

Blog Post written by Cory Brunsel

We’ve been talking a lot about ideas. But ideas don’t always translate well without examples. Thankfully, the internet is replete with experiences great and poor.

The single most often-used benefit of the internet is information. Wikipedia, online newspapers, blogs, and all their associated links and RSS feeds. People tend to be more tolerant with information experiences (hey, you read my entries, don’t you?), but when money gets involved — people listen. And more importantly, they’ll turn away if they don’t like what they experience.

Two specific (and very different) examples to consider: Victoria’s Secret, and the International Standards Organization. Comparing apples to oranges? Only in product. When it comes to online shopping, it doesn’t matter if it’s underwear or a whitepaper — if you don’t get what you need, you’re not likely to happy about it.

Recently, for a globalization project we’re currently involved in, we had a need for a “definitive” list of countries, and a list of those countries’ administrative areas. We were working with a couple of other data sources that weren’t providing the consistency we needed, so our lead database developer suggested we purchase a database from the ISO — the International Standards Organization.

Given the ISO’s stature as a definitive source for standards and specifications, one would expect a certain amount of adherence to best practices. Especially when purchasing said standards through their online store.

Specific points where ISO’s online store fell short, or failed entirely:

  • Synonyms in the search system would help users find specific information. A search for “country region” for example, doesn’t produce the database I need. (Even just “country” didn’t help.)
  • The shopping car opens in a pop-up window, rather than updating in a session, or in a side panel. Pop-up windows rely on JavaScript (which might not be available) and pop-up blockers are commonplace.
  • Currency transactions are in Swiss Francs (CHF). It’s regionally-appropriate, but not for someone from the EU, Asia, or North America. If you’re not using a well-known currency, provide at least a quick reference to a currency conversion website (or use a web service — we are in the era of Web 2.0, after all).
  • If you provide items for download, they should be available the moment the transaction is verified. I had to send an email to the ISO so we could gain access to the data we’d purchased.

For the record, I don’t personally shop at Victoria’s Secret. (I find the styles a little restrictive on my body type.) My wife, however, is becoming a big fan. I should also point out that my wife’s tolerance of bad online experiences is very low — and I’m always the first to hear about it. (I think it’s something to do with me making websites for a living.) I did not hear a peep from my wife about her purchase. I considered that enough of a reason to look further.

But like I really need encouragement to review the Victoria’s Secret website

  • Navigation is well designed, providing the major top-level categories across the top. No drop-down menus, as the right-side menu provides the major sub-categories. Beyond that, specific items become selections in the page.
  • Search handles even the most generic request: “pink bra” pulls up everything pink that can function as a brassiere (even a camisole).
  • Large, high-quality photographs clearly detail the … uh … products in situ, so it’s easy to tell what you’re buying.
  • A shortcut to allow quick entry of catalogue items allows those more comfortable with the book-in-hand to order without having to search through the website to find what they want.
  • When you receive your order, it comes with a handy list of what you ordered, and a peel-and-stick mailing label. Just in case you need to send something back. (Which happened to my wife. Sadly, this process was so easy that she had already returned the item before I could get a picture of the form for this post.)

You don’t have to go far to find good and bad experiences. The key is that you can learn from all of them — what to do, and what to avoid.

What examples (good or bad) do you know of that aren’t the usual suspects (e.g. Amazon, eBay, Google)?