How NOT to advertise your special offer by

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After poor signal coverage I’m leaving Orange soon. As I use a lot of data I thought I’d take a look at Three and their website confused me in less than ten seconds. I arrived on the site with a clear goal in my head, landed on the site and scrolled down to find what I wanted. I wanted to look at a SIM only plan but couldn’t click on the link. Hell, I couldn’t click on ANY of the links.

Because I spend most of my day trying to spot issues like this, I wondered incredulously about that special offer graphic at the top of the page, the one I’d scrolled past quickly because I’m a task-oriented user… could that be a lightbox advert on the page?

three's very dumb homepage advert

Oh. My. God!

I tune out special offers if I am on a website with a clearly defined goal. It’s not that you shouldn’t promote a special offer- but it should be aimed at users who are just browsing. This offer would have worked just as well as an ordinary graphic featured in a similar position on the homepage. Hijacking control in this way is actually even worse than the old popup browser window adverts because the user cannot ignore it- he has to close it before any other action can be performed in the current window.

The background is a very light grey, the lack of an obvious contrast left me scratching my head wondering why I couldn’t click around the rest of the site. The lack of an ‘X’ in the top right didn’t help either. I’d be very interested to know what happened to the bounce rate of the homepage for the duration of this unconventional (and frankly bonkers) approach.

E-commerce survey – Price vs Reputation

An interesting article caught my eye on Friday with a simple enough and important message “Price is important online. But not as important as reputation“.  Referencing a study by usability consultancy Webcredible, the results are used to suggest that “28% of the 1300 online shoppers polled are most likely to make a purchase based on the reputation of a website”.  This is an eye catching statistic and one that will almost certainly be repeated by agencies trying to convey the importance of creating trust in a brand and convey reassurance between a site and it’s users.

I immediately thought about a quote from film critic Dr Mark Kermode:  ‘believe the tale, not the teller.’   Would a customer be able to tell you exactly why he bought from a specific retailer?  Given the myriad of subtle persuasive techniques employed both offline and online, it would be a challenge for any customer to give an honest answer as to why they bought, because in a lot of instances they’ll be responding to psychological effects they may not be consciously aware of.

Secondly and much more importantly, while I broadly agree with the conclusions that ‘experience, trust and reliability matter’, I’m not convinced that too much can be read into the exact statistics quoted.  While the e-consultancy article refers to ‘1300 online shoppers’, a quick glance at the original Webcredible survey says:

‘The ecommerce persuasion research polled 1,382 visitors to the Webcredible website between April and June 2009.’

1300 visitors to a website specialising in web usability consultancy is hardly a random sample of users.  I can only hazard a guess as to the breakdown of survey respondants but I’d be more than willing to suggest that the type of individual looking for usability consultancy is very web-savvy and aware of the dangers of unsecure websites, and he’s also likely to be on a significantly higher salary than the national average.  This would probably decrease the price sensitivity of the user.

An interesting study and an area certainly worth further research, but let’s not be too eager to quote exact percentages based on what appears to be a very restricted demographic sample.

When is a shopping basket not a shopping basket?

I was reading through Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Prioritizing Web Usability’ recently and there is a brief discussion of a website called  Jakob is usually worth reading as a lot of web developers will tell you, but on this ocassion he made a very strange comment about use of the term ‘shopping basket.’

Nielsen prefers that they use ‘Shopping Cart’ instead as apparently most users look for the term ‘Cart’, not ‘Basket’.

Numerically, he may be correct, as I am certain that American users look for the term ‘Cart’ as they are used to that term.  In the UK however we are used to doing our weekly trip to Tesco and putting the products into a ‘shopping basket’, not a ‘cart’. The term ‘cart’ is very un-English and as (I strongly suspect) the target audience of is English – surely the visitors on that site are looking for the term ‘Basket’, not ‘Cart’.

Of course an argument could be made that the site in question might wish to export goods to America, even if that is the case I would still say that their primary market is the UK, otherwise surely they would be using a .com (global) web address and offering the option to display prices in US Dollars.

I’ve just had a look at their updated site and spotted that they haven’t taken any notice of Nielsen’s advice (I suspect they aren’t even aware of it), and have actually made certain things even worse by removing the textual link entirely and replacing it with just a very small basket icon.

Not often I disagree with Nielsen’s advice, but in this case – I feel he is very wrong!