One of my rather guilty secrets is that I like to window shop… online. I’m one of those terribly irritating users who goes onto websites just to look at the pretty pictures. The thing is, when you stop going onto a website with the sole purpose of not buying something, you start to notice the details about the site itself. Where the ‘buy’ buttons are, how clearly things are labelled, what the pack shot looks like, what the delivery policy is, and how easy it is to just ‘browse’ for random things.
So the other day, I was pondering somewhat, mainly because I’d seen an advert in a magazine for a new range of crockery, and it looked really rather nice. The only problem, is that the crockery was being sold in a rather large chain store that specialises in baking and home ware products (names witheld to protect my sanity). Anyway, I remembered the website and I shuddered. Why? well it’s not exactly known for its ability to ‘browse’ – in fact it’s a site that I would classify as an ‘anti-browse’ site. Navigation which makes you think about what you might want, and where it might be located (don’t get me started on taxonomy!). Why should I have to think about it? If I walked into their shop – I could just see it and walk up to it.
The ‘offline’ shopping experience can be one of pleasure (or of pain if you’re a man being dragged around by a woman – women, take heed – leave the men at home, shopping is far more fun!). You get in your car, you take a nice drive to a car park somewhere, you get out and then start wandering around these beautifully lit shops, with wonderful products, perhaps you can stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. OK, so the reality of the situation is, it’s pouring with rain, there’s always a queue of traffic, it takes half an hour to find a parking space, the charges are exorbitant, there are too many people, the sales staff are rude and the coffees are always over priced. Suddenly, staying at home and browsing using your laptop or iPad seems like a really nice idea – it’s warm inside, you don’t get wet and you get your coffee just how you like it (made by someone else).
The issue here, is that once you step foot over the door, and you’re in the shop, products are laid out in a way that allows you to drift from one item to the next. Colours are arranged together and you can see them – so you can zoom in on something that catches your eye. Products are lined up next to each other logically – trousers next to jeans, pots and pans next to bakeware, TVs next to DVD players – you get the point. You can drift from one item to the next, you can zig-zag around the shop, or loop from one display to another, and you can always go back really easily because you remember that those nice skinny jeans you liked were right next to those hideous red trousers. Your mind is a powerful thing when recalling positioning of items.
In the online world – this very rarely occurs. You ‘walk’ over the threshold and wow – you’ve got to think. What did you go there for? Oh yes, plates. Now – are they in the crockery section? nil points – there is no crockery section. Hmmmm… oooh I know, it’ll be in something to do with the ‘home’ section… no. hmmm… this is getting like the telegraph crossword with a clue that’s actually an anagram. Oh I give up – I’ll just search for it – oh damn, what do I search for? You know what – I think I’ll just go get wet and go to the shop… all my fun has now gone, and I’m not even sure I want those plates any more. The thing is – the above happens, all to frequently – but more and more of us just aren’t even venturing out to the shops.
My question that formed in my head, right about the time when I thought – those plates I’ve got already are OK, was ‘Are customers going to buy from an online store instead of the real store, just because of who the brand are?’ I’m sad to say that I suspect the answer to that is an emphatic ‘yes’. There are tons of reasons why, ease, no shop near, etc, etc, etc.. but should this really be an excuse for a poor experience?
When you have a real life presence in the form of a bricks and mortar store, and then you have an online presence, the two surely should be there to support one another, no? One should be an extension of the other, and vice versa. In fact, when they both work hand in hand they can save the company millions and increase profits. So why should it be so disappointing that when the store employs people who are specialists in psychology to present their store in such a way where customers are compelled to purchase, do they not do the same with their online store? More specifically, why aren’t these experts, working with their online equivalents (me incase you were wondering- yes, I know, shameless plug), to produce an experience that is pretty much identical?
It’s 2012 – the internet is not going away (well, unless there’s an unfortunate incident with something called Skynet – but that’s science fiction so I’ll move on), and if the high street is to survive, then surely having strategy that encompasses online and offline makes sense? I would love to go to a website and know that I’m going to get the same kind of experience as I would get when I walked through the doors of the store I like. User Experience might be considered ‘new’ to a lot of people – but it’s not – it’s been around for years. We (me especially) want to create an experience that the customer loves, because if they love it, well they’re more likely to buy something they never intended to.