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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Car Dealer Websites - What Not to Do

I'm a big picture guy by nature. I could be doing the most mundane task and I'm usually thinking of how it relates to other industries, or what the implications are from different angles. This week I was Christmas shopping online as millions of others do. I'm involved in development of car dealer websites, so I consider myself somewhat of a usability expert when it comes to web design.

When someone is visiting/using a website, they expect certain things. They have expectations for a lot of things including where to find things on the site and how certain things work. For example, I was shopping for a new Pandora bracelet for my girlfriend. Of course the first place I went to research was the official Pandora site. At first it was like any other website...decent looking and seemingly functional. Click on "explore" and navigate to the bracelet section...easy enough. OK, I know she wants a bracelet, I know she likes silver...click and click. Hold on, now they want to know what color. What color? I thought it was just a silver bracelet. OK, let's pick a random color and see what happens. How about orange? That's her favorite color. Now they want a price range. I just want to see the damn things that are available so I click on "show all". Finally, some results for me to check out. They have 10 different bracelets to choose from? Well I guess I'll start with the one that I think she'll like best. I click on it which produces...nothing. I click again and then realize the image isn't even linked. No way to get a closer look at the bracelet. I'm just stuck looking at a low-resolution image of the bracelet. It could be a circular ring of speaker wire for all I know.

Whatever, I'll just have to trust that this is the one she'll like. OK, time to put it in my cart and find some charms to go with it. I don't see how to put it in my cart, so now what? Oh well, I guess I'll just remember which one it is and find the charms. They have over 600 different charms you can purchase. For the average guy, this is a little overwhelming but I manage to find a few that I know she'll like. Good, I'll just add them to my cart and checkout. Wait a minute, where's that cart I put the bracelet in? Oh yeah, there wasn't one. All I can do is put everything in my "wish list".

My biggest gripe with this process is that I'm a guy and they don't make it easy for us. I'm not just a "clueless when it comes to buying jewelry" kind of guy, but as many would translate that title, I'm your "average" guy. The Pandora website is not the easiest or most intuitive design for someone like me, so I can only imagine what it's like for someone with fewer internet skills. It took me at least a half hour to figure out what to buy. The biggest surprise once I found all that stuff? You can't even purchase anything on the site other than a gift card! I know that if I go to my nearest jeweler who carries the Pandora brand that they're not going to have all 600+ charms in stock. Also, I've since discovered that there are a multitude of sizes for the bracelets themselves. What guy knows the size of his girlfriend's or wife's wrist? I ran across 7 different sizes available, and guessing which one will fit properly doesn't seem to have good odds.

At the end of the day I decided to get a different gift. If the Pandora site had been designed without some fundamental flaws, I would have dropped quite a bit of money on their overpriced items. Instead, I became aggravated and even after spending quite a bit of time looking at their stuff I decided to abandon the idea. Think about who you're designing your website for. In the case of Pandora, I'd have to believe a significant percentage of shoppers are men buying gifts. The site isn't geared toward men buying gifts though, it's geared toward people researching the brand. Pandora has some really strong aspects of their business model (e.g. securing long-term business through repeat customers) but this lack of e-commerce and non male-friendly site seems like a horrible marketing move if you ask me.

We have auto dealer clients from time to time who ask for off-the-wall features on their websites. Music playing on the homepage or some other novelty which was cool in the early 1990's for example. I encourage every website owner to think about who their audience is before designing a site. Sure, if you can dream it you can build it, but is "it" what your customers are looking for, or is it what you want?