Wednesday, July 25, 2007

just-a-little-extra-thought-required practice

I'm registered to receive the newsletter [BCTips, you should sign up] which raises issues about web site design.

I really liked this one, so I thought I'd add my comment.
The site in question is for German central heating system supplier Saunier Duval who have translated their site into a number of languages, including - to their credit - Chinese.

Problem is, the picture used on the 'Chinese' web site is of a western family. Harrumph.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

poor verbal-domain-name practice

As readers of some of my other stuff [not least, domain names - a marketer's perspective] will already know, I have always considered the choice and use of domain names to be greatly under-valued.

In my writing on the subject I warn about careful consideration when communication domains in a verbal medium. This example comes from the radio. As with most [all?] counties and regions of the UK, County Durham is trying to generate income through tourism. Their radio ad featured all the expected promotional content then ended with a sentence that went 'for more information, visit County Durham online'.

As I once was involved in a project to develop 'virtual communities' based on the counties of the UK - and was one of the domains we had - this took my attention, and I went to that domain. sadly, I got a 'domain for sale' sign.

The problem? The web site being featured on the radio ad was actually - but the inflection in the voice-over didn't make that clear. A simple change to something like 'go to our web site [pause]' or even say 'www' before the domain name [kind of redundant these days, but in this cases it might be worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I-know-what-I mean-so-you-must-do-as-well practice

Sorry Barclays, but you are up again. Just a small thing - but its another one of those 'you wouldn't do something like this offline, so why is it acceptable online?' issues. I had conducted a transaction and wanted to print the page for my records - and the instruction read:-
Yes, I suppose most of use have a print icon to print - but not everyone. 'Use your computer's print facility... ' might be more generic. Oh, and while I think about it, I know what a 'browser' is [I write about e-commerce] my wife does not. She would ask me what the instruction meant. She is far from stupid, she is simply an online newbie.

And in the same vein, this instructio
n was on another one of their pages:-Again, I know what it means - would every customer? If the answer to this is not 'yes absolutely' then it is not good usability practice.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

don't-blame-me practice

I've said before that in general I am satisfied by the service offered by the online banking service offered by Barclays. However, for the last couple of days I've been trying to transfer some money from one account to another, but clicking on the relevant link just leaves the page 'hanging' - you know, just an egg timer going round and round. This goes on for so long that, eventually, the page 'times out'. And there's today's problem - the [obvious] issue with the web page is one thing - but look at the message that comes up:
Yep - not their fault at all. Amazing how I managed to 'click twice' or use the back button when I was working on the other side of my desk whilst waiting for the page to download.

I was going send a message through the 'contact' form simply asking if there was a problem and were they aware of it, but the form would have taken more time than it is worth. Why no 'web site problem' direct email contact?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

website-over-engineering practice

I noticed in this morning's paper that VW are launching a new car, the Tiguan. As I like to know exactly what I will buy when my premium bond comes up, I keep track of new cars that interest me. So I put 'VW Tiguan' in a search engine and followed a link to the VW 'mini-site' for the car. Then I did some work on my next book while it downloaded. Then I made a cup of coffee. Then I did some more work - and I was still looking at the page shown below.
Now I have broadband at home. How fast? I don't know, but I've never had problems with websites downloading before - and given what I do, I look at a lot of sites. Eventually, repeated clicking on the 'skip' button took me to a registration page. So I registered. And tried again to look at the new car. I clicked on the '360 degree' view. And again, got on with something else while the page downloaded. Well at least I think I was waiting for it to download. I tried clicking on anything and everything to get the page to rotate around the car. Eventually - of its own accord - the picture of the car 'jerked' to a different view. I then tried 'gallery' and got a series of pictures of the car in different colours - but no interior shots.

Now here's the thing. I know it is a hooby-horse of mine, and I appreciate design technology has a place, but I went to that site to find out about the car - and yes I teach marketing strategy, I am aware of the process of new car launch promotion - but I came away with nothing more than I had learned from the Sunday Times article.

I do not know:
  • What the interior is like
  • What size engines are available
  • What emissions the engines have [unlike many, I'm not big on green issues, but in the UK car taxes are determined by emissions]
  • When the car will be available
  • Any specifications at all eg available in automatic
  • Any idea of the price range
So, [a] maybe VW don't want to tell me ths information - if this is the case, why have the mini-site - what are its objectives?, and [b] everything I wanted to know could have been presented on a web site written in plain html with clear pictures and well written text.

In the car industry there is an issue called 'over-engineering'. This is where a car costs more in development and building costs than the target market is willing to pay. In this case the website was over-engineered - and the 'cost' of its development [my time] was more than I was willing to pay.

Because I have already told you, you know I cannot afford one of these cars. But - and it is a big but - whoever signed off on that web site does not. Tomorrow morning, I could be off to the nearest Nissan dealers to pay cash for a new Quashqai, and that website gave me no reason to stop off at the VW dealers on the way.

For all its fancy design work, that website is not helping to sell VW Tiguans. So why does it exist? And here's a twist. Its cost [part of the car's marketing cost] will be included in the price customers pay for the car. Sorry VW, I like your cars, but I don't like your online marketing.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

poor tool-hire practice

As my wife has decided another section of our lawn is to convert to 'border' - and that when I did the other side [manually] it nearly killed me - I was looking online for a machine I could hire to do the job. One local hire company is Lord Hire. On their website they divide the tools into sections [eg 'gardening equipment'] which is good - but each section had no 'html' content - only a link to a pdf file, as shown below:
OK, include a pdf for folk to print off if they wish - but pdf files are designed to read offline, not online. And the web is for web pages, not print-outs.

I should also add at this point that maybe all hire companies could take a look at the usability of their websites. Common errors on the sites I visited included that their database-driven sites only worked in IE [I use Firefox] - and why have a database-driven site when you only have a few dozen products on hire? What's wrong with good old html and well constructed navigation? But the most common fault was that any search facility expected me to know what the searched-for tool was called. I didn't even know that a 'turf cutter' existed, never mind what it was called - 'machine for digging up grass' didn't work in any of the searches.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

me-too wannabee-practice

July 07 saw a number of press reports - like this one from the Sunday Times - telling how grocery retailer Waitrose were re-launching their web site with a new social networking facility dubbed a "facebook for foodies".

Now here's my thought on the subject: The site is reputed to have cost one million pounds plus, so where is the ROI? Even if the social element works - a £M1 return? And will it work? One of the things about social networks is that they should develop organically. By making it part of an organization's web presence - and presumably driving customers to it - the ethos of the site is starting with a potentially fatal flaw. Visitors, probably. Visitors trading recipes, sure. Visitors using it as an online store for their recipes, hmmm. A new facebook? Naaa.

Or maybe I'm just an old cynic?