Online stores not meeting customer needs
March 1, 1999
by David Needle
(IDG) -- Some of the most popular online stores have a lot to learn about creating an effective Web site for consumers, according to a new research report.
In fact, they could learn from brick-and-mortar retailers, says Shelley Taylor, president of Taylor & Associates. Web shops would do well to apply traditional retail knowledge to their sites, she says.
"I found there is a real disconnect between the physical and the virtual store experience," Taylor says. The research firm evaluated 50 online stores representing a cross section of technology, books and music, entertainment, apparel, sporting goods, travel, and leisure.
"A lot of sites look like they were developed by people with a great understanding of technology, but not of user interface," says Taylor. Her firm evaluated each site using 175 criteria. "We think there is too high a focus on animation and high-end browsers that most users don't need. Also, there is very little help for new visitors."
Only 2 of the 50 company sites provides a reduced-bandwidth or text-only option, Taylor notes.
Sites ranking highest in terms of content and store features are CDNow, Barnes and Noble, Brainplay, Lands' End, and Blockbuster. Sites from some well-known companies, such as Apple Computer, were dinged for things like burying navigation below the screen so the user must scroll down to find it. Also, it can be difficult to find all the e-commerce components of some sites, Taylor's researchers note. They found this especially true for very full sites, such as Disney, which features myriad content as well as products and services for sale.
Other findings of frequent foibles included:
Better shopping cart
One staple of popular shopping sites is the shopping cart, but vendors could improve it, says information architect Harry Max, who contributed to the research report. Users should be able to see their shopping cart and the items in it on every page they visit on a Web site, Max says.
Among his other recommendations for shopping carts, already found on some sites:
What's in a URL?
Lack of recognizable URLs is another barrier to greater consumer acceptance of online shopping, the study found. The vast majority of the 50 sites studied have a recognizable URL.
But not all vendors have the luxury of a URL that precisely matches their company name. For example, the pioneering Virtual Vineyards wine and gift-buying site actually is only accessible at www.virtualvineyard.com and www.virtualvin.com. An unrelated search engine company owns the Web address www.virtualvineyards.com, so someone looking for wine there faces immediate confusion.
Similarly, getting to the Vitamin Shoppe (www.vitaminshoppe.com) requires you to know how to spell it. Contrary to its name, www.vitaminshop.com takes you to an Internet domain-naming site.
Billion here, trillion there
Many analysts believe e-commerce is the "killer app" that will drive Internet use to many times what it is today. But Taylor warns that e-commerce sites must improve their features and accessibility. Otherwise, Web surfers will migrate to the biggest brand-name sites and smaller players will lose out.
Whichever sites end up as the winners and losers, a big disparity exists among e-commerce revenue projections. E-commerce revenues will reach the tidy sum of $349 billion by 2002, according to Taylor. Earlier this week, Intel officials predicted that annual e-commerce revenues would top one trillion dollars for the same year.
Microsoft opens doors on online shopping site
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Shelley Taylor & Associates
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