On-line marketplace is an entirely new phenomenon only mere two decades old on the outside. When a new culture such as this rises suddenly, technologists who design and execute the system configurations get to control the every aspects of the system. Unlike the storefront where sales clerks deal with customers in person, on-line system must deal with customers through the step-by-step method to guide them to purchase what they want. The User Experience (UX) that I have been writing about exists in both cases: in- store and on-line. In general if any customer encounters less than satisfactory experience in store, usually it is limited to clerk’s attitude problem. Either, rudeness, inattentiveness, lack of knowledge, too aggressive salesmanship and/or all of the above, customers seldom leave the store frustrated. UX in case of on-line, the types and magnitude of customer frustration are much more complex in multitude ways.
Let us look at the process of purchase at a store. Let us discuss two cases. Case 1 the customer knows what to buy – say, a book. Case 2 the customer wants to buy a color printer, so-called, all in one model.
In Case 1, the customer wants to buy a specific book. The customer walks into the store, and finds the book and takes it to the cashier. He/she pays for it with a credit card, and that ends the process.
It is also similar in case of on-line purchase. He/she opens the website, and goes to the specific area of books (it isn’t that easy, though. The websites are usually very crowded with all sorts of merchandise and various offers, and he/she must work in the so-called high visual noise environment.) Then the customer is led to “shopping cart” where clicking it would tally the purchase.
Here the customer must carefully look for the shipping/handling cost item, which is often added to the cost when he/she originally thought that was free. This is because places like Amazon are acting as agent for the third party vendors, and the actual shipping/handling expenses are often tacked on to the item price if you don’t carefully examine the itemized breakdown. Many consumers end up paying more than what he/she thought would pay because these hidden items are printed in a microscopic font.
However, one way or the other, the consumer would end up successfully purchasing the book. He/she would see the package in a few days. The main reason is that buyng a book is a simple process.
Now Case 2 Buying a Printer.
The entire process of purchase is shown in the diagram FIG 1. The main difference between Case 1 and 2 is that the printer is a complex product with multitude of specification items. The major and lengthy step in the decision process is to find out if the printer meets the customer’s desire, or specifications. In store one can ask sales clerk any question regarding the product, and even see the actual demonstration. You can touch and feel the product, and see the various details of the features to your satisfaction.
This entire process is missing from the on-line purchase. In the on-line purchase process, any consumer thinking of buying a complex product such as an all-in-one printer would have strong anxiety about correctness of his/her decision. If one makes an error in choosing, the product needs to be shipped back with restocking charges, return freight charges and other inconveniences. So, massive number of consumers have moved on to avoid this inconvenience by first visiting stores carrying the merchandise, and then after determining that the product fits their needs, they would look for bargain through on-line merchandisers.
Obviously the stores, now that they are quickly becoming s show place for the on-line consumers, are now fighting back. Best Buy, Staples, other Department Stores are all urging consumers to go and buy from their own on-line sites. This is simply because the current on-line process of choosing merchandise just can’t match the accuracy and comfort of visiting stores and looking over the products in person. Isn’t this a grand waste? In order to sell on-line, we have to have stores as showcase?
So, my readers must now be wondering why I am writing about this issue, known to everyone shopping on-line. My point is that the standard way of describing products on-line is so crude, primitive and one-dimensional that really demonstrates the lack of attention to that area of UX. On-line UX must be drastically improved – a quantum jump to respond to the needs of 21st Century. If you have better ideas about significantly improving the on-line experience, please get in touch with me. The whole nation would benefit.