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How to shop this site

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Monday May 28, 2007 )

With online stores becoming increasingly complex and feature ladened, it’s possible that customers are either not taking advantage of the shopping options available to them; resulting in missed sales, or – and particularly in the case of those new to online shopping – being scared off altogether.

I was just visiting a site and noticed a “how to shop” link. Their store wasn’t really all their complex, but I’ve been shopping online since the late 90’s; so I take my familiarity with ecommerce very much for granted. When you think about most of the tasks you’re familiar with, it’s hard to imagine a time when you didn’t know how to do them.

The document was an image rich PDF presentation that took the customer by the hand and provided step by step instructions on how to purchase an item and explained the security features they had in place to protect the customer’s details. It also provided information on how use the advanced features of the cart along the way to help them improve their shopping experience and locate items faster; all in a single, simple, logically structured document. I imagine it would be a very helpful guide for some – they’ll know exactly what to expect as they go through the shopping process.

I then visited some major online retailers, with very complex stores – one had the standard “help” link with a long list of topics, but not in logical sequence; and certainly nothing that stood out as being “how to shop this store” instructions. Another big online retailer had their complex help linked from what I feel was non-relevant text.

To most of us, online shopping isn’t a big deal and we might think it’s a no-brainer; but imagine your store is the first ecommerce enabled site that somebody who has never purchased before lands on after a relevant search engine query. They want to buy from you, but are nervous. Sure, they can follow your on screen prompts and be reassured along the way; but each page or step will still be a suprise and something new to them.

While many people have purchased online before, the exercise isn’t instinctive in our species.. yet ;). I think a “new to online shopping?” guide or “how to shop this store” instructions could be a great addition to many ecommerce sites; especially those that carry many items and options. I’m not suggesting this should replace instructions you provide on the various cart and checkout pages; as those details are very important – but to implement this as a highly visible adjunct. A few hours work on such a guide might bring good dividends over the long term.

If you’re considering doing this, throw a coupon code or special offer into the instructions as well as an extra incentive for these newbie shoppers to take the plunge and purchase. It will also help give you an idea of the effectiveness of the strategy.

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3 comments for How to shop this site
  1. Michael,

    I agree that designers grossly overestimate the computer skill level of their browsers. Things that we think are obvious; such as drop down menu’s, often cause confusion for computer illiterate browsers.

    But unless your ‘how to order’ page gives instructions for ordering via snail mail – I think such a page is completely extraneous. If an unsavvy person can’t figure out your checkout process or navigation; than you have a usability problem, not an educational problem. Hence, I think the site design needs to be revisited.

    Comment by victor — May 28, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

  2. What is the name of the website with the “how to buy” that was so organized?

    Comment by Jay — June 5, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Victor.

    Jay, good point – unfortunately I didn’t keep the URL or the pdf file, so I couldn’t tell you which site it was :(

    Comment by Michael Bloch — June 5, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

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