Category Archives: Online Shopping

Get the picture?

A little bug bear of mine is ‘help yourself’ software for getting photos printed. I am a freelance photographer in my spare time and so I regularly encounter either in shop or web based programs along these lines and, as yet, I haven’t found one which is 100% usable. This last week  I have encountered two very different versions of this, with varying success so thought today I would do a little review of them;

On Friday came the turn of Jessops, with their in store photo service. You would  expect Jessops, being a photo specialist, to have a pretty good service and I have to say credit where credit is due, it was largely very good. They use a touch screen interface and managed to avoid the usual problems of having to press the screen so hard for it to register your touch that your fingers go numb. The workflow design is quite clear and straight forward, even if they do drag it out a bit, but by and large it was a success. However, one thing that annoyed me intensely is that I had some old printed photos to scan in and get re-printed and some on a  memory stick. I proceeded to scan my images in and then, when prompted, indicated that I wanted to add more images via different media. I did that and then proceeded through the workflow to finalise the order. To my dismay the machine seemed to have completely forgotten my scanned images so having completed the order I then had to go back and scan the pictures again and go through the whole rigmarole. Oh well Jessops, so close to a home run, but fell at the final hurdle (to mix some sporting analogies).

So on to the weekend and the experience of using Tesco Direct’s online photo gift service. I have to confess that I am actually quite a fan of Tesco. Global dominating local shop destroyer aside, I think Tesco is  good thing and I quite like going to one place to get a lot of what I need. They also provide a lot of online services that are really good. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of them. The first problem was that when you select your photo product, in this case a photo mug for my mother, you can’t actually upload your photos from the same area of the site. Instead you have to go to a different area in the navigation, upload your photos, and then go back to the photo gifts bit to do the next bit. The image upload interface was a bit clunky and clearly designed for PC rather than MAC (which I own) but still worked. I will gloss over the use of Flash as a technology (really Tesco? get with the times) and say that it was relatively easy to use, albeit rather clunky. So having done this I went back and selected the mug I wanted and the photo I wanted. Then came problem number two. The photo I wanted was not the exact same size as the photo area on the mug. Tesco provide a little photo position and editing function but this didn’t actually seem to allow anything except sideways movement and it had zoomed in on my image as well so that I was losing most of the image. So it was back to the other area of the site to upload and try and different picture and try again (by this time I was already rather exasperated by the whole experience). The other thing Tesco didn’t seem to get right was that i didn’t want to create an account and they offer a ‘purchase without logging in’ option. However, having completed the mug order I then wanted to add another product and without being logged in it threw an authentication error when I tried to add the second product, only putting its toys back in the pram when I finally relented and created an account.

Two very different experiences, both rather frustrating considering how easy it could be to create these experiences. What is rather annoying about this is the blatant lack of though put into the general user experience in both cases, much of which could have been ironed out by some simple user testing prior to launch. Tesco, in particular, fail spectacularly in making a user go to a completely different section to upload images and if I hadn’t already been halfway through a bottle of wine and a week before Christmas then I would have gone elsewhere by that point. Jessops have created a good experience but it falls down on something significant but simple to solve.

The shame of this is that much work has been done on the UX of online shopping experiences in recent years. Particularly, checkout experiences have been significantly improved and people have accepted there is a best practice (and more importantly a list of no no’s) for creating these. It is such a shame therefore that these people have spent a lot of money to develop something that isn’t quite good enough. There is still a lot of work to be done in ‘help yourself’ online experiences. Come on chaps, stand up to the challenge and get it right!

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Customer service is the best advert for online shopping

I am not someone who particularly enjoys the high street shopping experience. I find nothing more annoying than having to dodge around people who walk at a snails pace,  getting in the way and preventing me from getting in, buying what I want and getting out again as quickly as I possibly can. Despite this though, over the last couple of weeks I have ventured into town to visit both a leading high street sports shop and a well known electricals store and in both cases the till service has been diabolical. In the case of the sports shop there wasn’t a member of staff anywhere to be seen for at least 5 minutes, resulting in an angry queue of people. When one did appear he served at an incredibly slow rate and it took 3 customers before light dawned and he signaled for another staff member to come and help. I consigned this experience to bad luck and moved on, so it was to my dismay that I had pretty much exactly the same experience a week later in the electrical store. And this is a trend that seems to be fast becoming the norm in high street stores.

The reality is that high street shopping has become an experience that is highly irritating and that stores, presumably due to these cash strapped times, are not employing the staff (either the number or standard) required to make the experience any better. Mix that with the archaic practice a lot of stores still use of moving products around to encourage browsing and cross sell opportunities and it is not surprising that people are often seen storming from the premises, steam almost literally coming out of their ears.

This is why I prefer online shopping. There are few occasions now when I actually require contact with a person to purchase what I need and most places deliver next day. Online shopping sites are usually laid out well with a good search facility, so that I can find exactly what I want within seconds, rather than wondering aimlessly around a store for hours on end like a wally without a clue. Better yet, the best shops (Amazon is a good example) even give me useful alternative or additional product options based on things that are relevant, rather than some idiot on a till trying to sell me whatever is left in stock. The clue why it is still in stock is because no one wants it!

The best advert for online shopping at the moment is the low customer service provided in the majority of high street stores today. The challenge for us as digital practitioners is to make sure our online experience maximizes on this opportunity and gives users simple, intuitive, attractive interfaces mixed with streamlined processes. If we do this, then it surely won’t be long before a lot of shopping will be exclusively online and only stores with good customer service will be on the high street. Either way, the end result is good for us all.