Customer-Compatible Staff

Updated · Jun 21, 2001

Many factors come into play when gauging the staying power of an e-tailing venture – though not usually given its due, usability plays a significant role.

Creating an online environment where it’s easy for notoriously hesitant online consumers to spend their dollars is key to making it in the e-tailing environment. A usable customer interface is therefore critical in this regard since it not only makes customers feel at home, but it facilitates quick and easy transactions.

Amazon, though lagging behind in the profitability department, is sure to be a fixture on the e-tailing landscape for years to come. What’s earned them their keep is unquestionably user-friendliness. Although competitors like CDNow are on par with Amazon in terms of selection (especially in the music department), they tend to loose out on buyers due to glacially slow interfaces and abandoned shopping carts that expire rather too quickly for user comfort. Not only can Amazon’s customers return to a shopping cart that’s been abandoned for months, but they are ensured of a speedy and supportive experience.

Amazon, however, isn’t the be-all and end-all of user-friendliness and at the close of last year Forrester Research nabbed the site for its vague inventory information and hard-to-find customer service phone number. The same survey criticized other e-tailers like for featuring totally irrelevant ‘may we suggest…’ product lists in their shopping carts. Forrester also critiqued other sites for lengthy registration processes and the lack of efficient express checkout procedures (particularly for return customers).

In March this year Consumer Reports Online survey conducted a survey of e-tailers specializing in office supplies. Having searched for specific items and placed orders, researchers critiqued the various e-tailers on the clarity and quality of site design, as well as content and policies (including security, privacy, shipping and handling, returns, and customer service). Most of the sites surveyed were praised for their large selections. Some, however, came up short in the policies department whilst others were found to have various niggling defects that slowed down the buying process significantly.
All the sites, however, shared a common defect: usability.

“All of these sites could improve their e-Ratings evaluations by improving their usability,” concluded Helen Popkin, Web associate editor of Consumer Reports Online.

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