Design over Function

I went to a favorite brand’s website recently to do some holiday shopping, and discovered that they had a new website since I had last visited. It’s a beautiful website, with lots of great photos and some interesting animation, which I always appreciate. The layouts on every page were sophisticated and elegant. I could see their products fitting my lifestyle and my personal aesthetic.

I was ready to buy.

The website had essentially made the sale, so it was good marketing as well as good looking. Up to that point. Then I tried to find the items I wanted. That didn’t work so well.

Navigation

The navigation offered me things for the home, things for travel, and things for personal use, but that really just described the sales copy at the top of the page. Most of the words on each of those pages were the same. 

There were a few products on each page…the same three on each of those pages. 

This was basically fake navigation. They probably felt that a word like “Shop” or “Store” wouldn’t be elegant enough for their main navigation. Whatever the reason, they didn’t include it in their navigation anywhere.

One of the three products featured on every single page was “Holiday Gift Guide.” True, this meant that each page only showed two products — the same two products, you may remember. But it did seem like a possible next step. 

The Holiday Gift Guide had several categories:

  • For your new Tesla (not handy, since nobody on my gift list has a new Tesla; my sister’s is a year old)
  • For Him or Her (not “For Him” and “For Her” — just stuff that either men or women might like)
  • For Life on the Go (just what we need during the pandemic)

Browsing these categories wasn’t doing it for me. Some of the categories had just a couple of items, and the sorting was pretty random.

Search

There is a search function at the website. Searching is not the same as browsing, so it was frustrating to be forced to search when I wanted to browse. But I could still search…as long as I knew what the site owner was using to name items. When the search engine found nothing, it just showed a blank screen – no suggestions.

I was not having fun any more. 

The first few items I clicked on were out of stock. I know that it’s possible to show out of stock on product grids, but I guess it wouldn’t have looked as good.

Shopping

At this point I was feeling frustrated. But it was too close to the holidays to give up. I persevered. I even got an item in my cart. 

Here’s what I didn’t get: 

  • Suggestions of similar items I might like.
  • An easy way to get back to the product grid I had so much trouble finding in the first place. The “continue shopping” button took me to the homepage, which has no products on it
  • Since I was 10 cents short of free shipping, suggestions of low-priced items to reach the threshold. There was no way to search for items by price, either. Searches like “stocking stuffers” turned up blank.

By the time I made it to check out, I was able to use Apple Pay to check out quickly. It may be an unfair reaction, but it actually made me feel worse about the experience. I felt like the site owner was willing to make it easy for them to get their payment — but not willing to make the effort to give me a good shopping experience. 

They were also willing to put a lot of effort into making themselves look good, but not to help me find what I wanted.

Takeaways

Okay, it’s a stressful time, so maybe I was overreacting when I decided this company was selfish and didn’t love me enough. But how many potential shoppers gave up at their website while I was struggling through the shopping process?

How many abandoned carts do they get? How many potential shoppers never even get as far as the shopping cart?

They put identical content on main pages below the fold. They insisted on design so minimalist that it’s hard to find their products. They didn’t offer the common, simple helpful features that we expect from ecommerce nowadays.

Did they do that because they were focused so much on their branding and their aesthetic that they didn’t think about their customers? That’s how it comes across. They put design over function, and created a bad user experience.

Check out your website. Does it make it easy for visitors to do what they want? Does it even make it easy for visitors to do what you want them to do? Don’t get so dazzled by your photos or your color scheme that you overlook that. 

Do some testing and some strategic thinking. Your website shouldn’t be just a pretty face. Or a fashion accessory. It should be a hard-working member of your team. Contact us if you need help with that.

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