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Weblog of Freelance Designer Steven Clark


Shopping Cart Tardus

Filed under: — 3:20 pm

This week I did a rough assessment of an acquaintance’s website and was left with the question - when does a shopping cart become a Tardus (as in Dr Who’s preferred mode of transport)?. This was one of the most ingloriously confusing mazes of unusable nonsense.

Every page on this site had a clickable shopping cart icon that lead on a dead trail requiring either full and detailed registration or login and password and which culminated in the affirmation that my shopping cart was empty. Umm yeh I kind of knew that so why put the icon everywhere if its always going to be bloody empty? A stream that’s a blind alley wastes my valuable time and nobody wins. The cart required JavaScript to be enabled so 10% or users weren’t able to access this right off the bat.

My next bet was a link on the homepage called ’shop’ which I thought might have something to buy. Unfortunately it was just a plain old disclaimer page that explained transport and return policies for the site. I noted this was the third navigation structure I’d found so far which was another major usability issue, consistency of navigation being an important aspect for designing user interfaces.

Third choice was to enter the galleries directly. Clicking a large slow loading thumbnail brought up a larger image (using JavaScript again) which contained the link to the real e-commerce stream that I’d assumed to exist on the site. On one occasion I couldn’t work out why the images wouldn’t work because just as pop-ups steal focus and confuse they can also be stuck behind the current browser window.

The gallery stream in fact led me to the same login and registration stream as the earlier unsuccessful shopping cart icon. My back was really up at this point and it had become really unpleasant as I went further in the cart process line. For one there were no indicators that said I was at step 2 of 6, for example. In fact in the end I was dumped at a screen that simply said your order has been made and you should post a cheque or money order to the named person’s home address??? Ummm why my detailed registration? Why don’t you want my money? Why stuff me around when you could have just given me your address on the contact page without the bloody shopping cart? Why why why?

The simple truth about this site is that questions weren’t asked about what would a user do and the architecture hadn’t been considered worthy of attention. By creating simple personas and doing use-case studies its possible to identify every single one of these problems including the one about no reason to be having a shopping cart in the first place. OK I’m probably overly critical but it was a long and frustrating journey to reach a pot of tar.

The case study in question is exactly the best example I’ve seen in a long time as to why businesses shouldn’t go for the cheapest solution in town, why documentation, testing, research and sound science should go into building a website. How valuable is an unusable shopping cart? How much is it worth to not only not get business but deter customers from giving you money? From a business perspective it was just a waste of time and resources to irritate the general public (pulls out hair in ranting gagging moment of angst).

Yet if the underlying information architecture had been assessed and proper investigative background study undertaken with user and technical testing this same site owner may well be some thousands of dollars richer already and the extra work would have probably paid for itself. Money saved not installing a cart (let alone an inferior one) and thinking about the sensible naming of links may have eased my experience entirely. From home page to checkout in the shortest route was about 8 or 9 clicks with a few extra and a form to fill in if you needed to register an account (an account for what by the way? and why did they want my address, phone number and email?).

OK that’s my rant and it also relates to the expectations of businesses to get the most for the least out of web developers. Basically you get what you pay for and $500 gets you about how many hours work, thought and meetings? The whole idea is we’re supposed to make you money goosey so invest in us, trust us to do the hard yards and pay us our dues. OK here’s a challenge - if I make you money then pay me more and if I don’t make you money then pay me less. Write it into the contract. Cos that’s my job - to make us both richer.