It’s time to get some user feedback on these big retail sites we all use during the holiday season. Every year more people buy goods online. More than $18.7 billion has been spent online during November, representing a 15 percent increase over the same period in 2010. With the holiday shopping season upon us, we decided to test eight big online retailers in the lead up to Black Friday. Online retailers need to provide a pleasurable online customer experience by embracing the importance of usability and a good User Experience (UX). This gives us an opportunity to look at the similarities and differences of a large number of retail sites that all offer the same kind of service.
We chose big retailers that we are all familiar with: Abercrombie & Fitch, Amazon, BestBuy, Etsy, Modcloth, ToysRus, Victoria’s Secret, and Zappos. We asked 480 people to voice their opinion on the homepages and product pages of these retailers, and asked them to carry out small tasks.
Highlights of the report
Retail sites mix usability and persuasion
The priority of online retailers is to sell goods and services to people. A site that is fast, clear, enticing, well designed, sticky, and easy to navigate tends to sell well. But, an online retail site that incorporates different, clever persuasive techniques can sell even more. This often results in a balancing act where the user is presented with a site that is fast and easy to use, but easier to get lost on than one might think.
Differences between different retail sectors
Retail sites that sell soft goods—like clothing and lingerie—often have a beautiful site that is easy on the eyes. However, they often address users in a way that is confusing to them. They see an image of a panda during Christmas time, or a male torso with the word “Fierce” next to it, and don’t know what to make of it.
Sites that sell hard goods like Amazon and BestBuy use transparent language and promote their products in a clear way. However, these retailers often have sites that are completely crammed with products, banners, offers, text links, testimonials, and other elements—all of which also lack visual hierarchy. A retailing site should be easy on the eyes to be usable. A little serendipity can be great, but making a site near impossible to navigate is terrible.
Advertising is often loud and hinders the shopping experience on the pages we tested. Despite practices like targeted advertising, it often distracts from the other elements while being relevant only a small percentage of the time. This is even more pronounced with the holidays upon us. Retail sites see this as an excuse to litter the site with many, even louder advertisements. Etsy shows that there are many more elegant ways of setting a festive mood. Their advertising is used sparingly and is easily recognizable as such, and they have items among the other products that remind one of the holiday season in an original way, like old fashioned candy canes.
Retail sites are perceived as credible and trustworthy
All of the sites we tested put a lot of effort in coming across as credible and trustworthy. This is really important on a site where people spend their money. Testimonials, easily available contact options, a good design, and review mechanisms are all in place. Nowadays, we think that people already trust sites in this category, and every big retail site is a trusted brand in and of itself.
Sex Always Sells—or Does It?
While the use of sexy models on the site of Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch serves a purpose, it also distracts a lot of users. The so called vampire effect is very real: revealing too much skin defeats the purpose and can lead to people forgetting what the site is about. The use of too many sexy images sucks attention away from brand recognition and prevents people from actually buying something.
Download the full report
Remember, the full report is available for download (PDF, 3.1 MB).