By: George Patrick Xavier
What makes an e-commerce website like Amazon (amazon.ca) that started off as a simple online book selling business, one of the biggest retail giants of today? Strongly expanding their catalog of products from books, music/movies, clothes, electronics, household goods, kid’s products and their own production of television series and movies. The answer to the question asked above is without a doubt the billions of customers that amazon has been able to please and retain with their impeccable customer services. Each and every need of the people found at one domain, spreading across various parts of the globe, delivering products at customer’s doorsteps. The main question we need to ask now is “How well does the Amazon website fare in terms of usability standards today?”
In this post I perform a heuristic evaluation on their online retail website. We see a detailed analysis using Nielsen’s 1994 heuristic(Nielsen's 1994)
USABILITY ISSUES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Filter Section on Search Page
When navigating through the website looking for different products be it as simple as searching for a product or trying to look through products in various categories that amazon offers. The search result page has a side filter menu (Fig 1.a) that lists a lot of options such as categories; sub-categories; sub-sub-categories of items related to the list of product being viewed.The following issues can be observed here:
- Options such as brands; type; discounts; price range; which could be relevant to a user looking to find a product is placed way below in the lower-left section of the webpage.
- These options have small fonts, with a large selection of filters for users to choose from. This confuses the user rather than help them narrow down to the product they are looking to find.
- Each time the user selects a filter option the page refreshes. Now the issue with this is that the website does not let you make multiple filter selections at once and then refresh the page. When you are at the bottom of the page viewing the various products in a category, you decide to see a different filter option you have to scroll all the way back to where that particular option is and then select it.
- Each time you select a filter the page refreshes and take you to the top of the page, causing users to scroll back to that section and chose the next filter and repeat this process till they reach what they are looking for.
These defects do not comply with the usability standards such as flexibility and efficiency. Also, it restricts user control and freedom.
Fig 1.a: Search result page
The possible solution for this problem are as follows:
- The filter options section should be dynamic and move along with the page, it should not be static and stay in one section causing users to go back and find the option they want to choose. As the user scrolls down viewing different products available the filter section of the page, have this section move along with the page as the user scrolls down to the bottom of the page, this allows the user to choose different filter options from the same location on the page rather than have to go scroll back up to the top to view all the options and find the relevant one.
- Give the user an option to select all the options they wish to and then search for it, rather than the page refreshing on its own after each selection. This will give control to the user to decide if he or she wants to look for any additional option or move straight to the options that they want to access.
2. Product information
The website mainly focuses on the cross-sell of products (Fig 2.b) which are similar to the ones you are searching for (Fig 2.a) or any product that can be bought along with the current item. These are given priority and placed on the at the top of the page and seen initially on the first view of the page.
Some of the usability issues here are as follows:
- The list of products along with some advertisements displayed in the product view page as seen in figure(Fig 2.a), results in relevant information that a user may be interested in regarding the particular product to be pushed to the very bottom of the page. This forces the user to look at all the advertisements and options before they can actually read more information and reviews about the item actually came to the page to view.
- The user is forced to scroll up to the top of the page view the product price and basic shipping and delivery information and then scroll all the way back down as they want to view the reviews and other relevant description and information or ask any questions regarding the product.
- The user has to go through various other product listings seen in above figure(Fig 2.b) to reach the product description section seen in figure (Fig 2.c) below:
- We can see more sponsored products figure(Fig 2.d) as we scroll down.
- Finally, we reach the product reviews section at the bottom of the page (Fig 2.e)
The few ways this usability issue can be overcome are as follows:
- First, place the relevant information about the products to the top of the page along with the initial description of the product and move the cross sell items to the lower section of the page, thus giving the user the freedom to view these if they are not satisfied with the current product they are looking at.
- Move the advertisements to the side of the page and not occupy the main area of the webpage. Users can be given an option to close this section if they are not interested in viewing them.
- Place shortcut buttons on the webpage in a more visible manner, using bigger text, font and try to make it stand out on the page. This allows the user to navigate freely to the review section of the page or the product description section of the page quickly and head back to the top of the page by clicking these shortcut buttons. This gives user control over the content they wish to view and navigate through the webpage freely.
The "Wish List" (Fig 3.a) is one of the attractive features that the website offers, allowing users to maintain a list of different products that they like, when browsing through different categories of products in the website. This gives the users an option to save the products they are interested in and wish to purchase at a later time when required
Some of the issues identified here are give below:
- “Add a friend or family” with whom you would like to share the wish list with or receive the wish list from. This option give you two choices, one to search the person by name and the other by email id. The first option does not provide appropriate results most of the time as it suggests too many people with the same name and confuses the user. The user eventually has to search the person by email id.
- Now when the user shares a particular wish list with that person, there is no email or webpage notification received by the recipient of this request. This leave the recipient unaware of such a share request, in order to accept the invitation to remember and add the wish list of the sender.
- Forcing the user to manually search for this person and accept the wish list being shared does not comply with the heuristics such as flexibility and efficiency of use, as well as recognition rather than recall.
A notification on the home page when the user logs in would be good way to start, for example a pop-up on the wish list short cut in the home page seen in figure (Fig 3.a) to help users be aware and respond to such requests. The user can be given an option to accept or ignore this request.
4. Edit Payment Method at Checkout
This usability issues occurs in the proceed to purchase page. Where the user is not allowed to edit the payment method that has already been saved once you add your card. There is no option provided to edit the card details once it has been added to the users profile during the checkout process of the website. This issue forces the user to do the following:
- The user will have to cancel the payment and exit the checkout, to go back to the account settings in order to find the option to edit the credit card that has been added to the account.
- This does not comply with the principles of heuristics like provide feedback to the user with the necessary information regarding how to edit the credit card information once it is added to the user’s profile.
- It require the user to depend on their memory to find this option and also affects the efficiency, flexibility of the user on the website.
Fig 4.a: Payment Method
Provide user the option to edit the credit card details once it has been entered, it can be in any of the following ways:
- First, an information pop up on the page giving users directions to the edit payment method page.
- Second, it can be and edit button on the page once the credit card details have been added along with the option to remove cards on the “payment options” page as it is more convenient for them to take out expired or lost credit cards.
This helps the user have a better experience and efficiently work around the payment method options while not having to waste time trying to find the edit option.
Amazon web interface will be able to provide users with more simplified look, giving users a better experience as they navigate through the website. The website having millions of customers on a daily basis will be able to enhance the user experience by fixing some of the identified issues.