10 Absentee UX Features on Top e-Commerce Sites

eCommerce sites may be missing a number of crucial opportunities to satisfy users and increase sales. Paul Bryan of Usography shares the findings of his recent study on online stores and explains how they're missing the mark.

These carts are broken.

The following are some notable missing UX features in most online shopping.

Credit: Mightyohm

eCommerce sites are competing for customer attention and loyalty. The user experience features included in a site are the focal points for engaging customers, and can make or break the purchase process.

Editor’s note: In the spirit of full disclosure, the author of this article is also the founder of Usography.

But UX features aren’t free. In some cases, they are very, very expensive. Selecting the right feature set is an exercise that should be as well-informed as possible, and should take into account available resources, industry best practices, and the competitive landscape.

Usography reviewed 100 top e-commerce sites for its recently published Retailer UX Audit. In the process of conducting the audit, we were surprised to discover the user experience features that were missing from top e-commerce sites, sites that receive millions of visitors per month, and earn millions of dollars in revenue.

Here we’ll take a look at ten UX features that were missing from 90 percent or more of the sites we reviewed for the Spring 2011 UX Audit. We selected these features (from the complete feature list) based on their infrequent occurrence on e-commerce sites, and on their potential to engage customers and increase sales. They are presented below in order of decreasing occurrence. In parentheses next to each feature is the number of sites we reviewed that had the feature in the Spring 2011 UX Audit.

Product Videos (9/100)

A minute of video is worth 1.8 million words, according to Dr. James McQuivey of Forrester, a leading technology research firm. Product videos engage attention and convey information in a way that doesn’t require much effort on the part of users. Videos bring a product to life more than static images. Because of their potential for increasing sales as well as improving search engine placement, product videos are likely to become a standard feature on e-commerce product pages in the near future.

However, retail sites have been slow to include them to date. Some e-commerce sites that do include them are Zappo’s (illustrated below), Patagonia, QVC and Burberry.

Zappos

Zappos, hitting a UX home run.

Order Online, Pickup in Store (9/100)

Walmart’s e-commerce site was in the news earlier this year for starting to offer “order online, pickup in store” functionality. Pairing the convenience of online shopping with the immediate access of a store location is a winning combination that less than 10% of the sites we reviewed had taken advantage of. Some of the sites we reviewed that did have this feature, in addition to Walmart, were Nordstrom (illustrated below), Sears, and Container Store.

Admittedly, supporting this feature requires substantial backend logistics. If someone purchases a product in the store, and someone is looking at the same item online, the store inventory has to let the online catalog know in real time that one fewer of that product is available. Keeping store inventory and online inventory in sync is a feat that not every retailer can manage with current technology, but it is a UX feature that customers are likely to look for in increasing numbers as more retailers offer it.

Nordstrom

Nordstrom’s Pickup option.

Price Drop Alert (5/100)

Price is a key determining factor for purchase decisions. Customers often hop from one site to the next to find the best price. It makes sense, then, to let customers know when the price of a product they have indicated an interest in drops. It’s an incentive to return and buy it. Customers have to surrender their email address to use this feature, so it’s a win-win situation.

Nevertheless, only 5 of 100 top e-retailers had this feature in Usography’s most recent UX Audit. Among them were Newegg (illustrated below), Tool King, and Rugs USA. Of the sites that did offer this feature, the most common UX design was a Price Alert link adjacent to the product price or Add to Cart button.

Newegg

Newegg’s price drop alert.

Customer Product Images (5/100)

Product catalog images are idealized views of a product, paired with idealized people. Customers’ homes and bodies are different. They realize that, and it causes hesitation when shopping online: What will that look like on me? Or in my house?

To deal with this objection head-on, some retailers are allowing customers to post their own image of a product they have purchased directly on that product’s detail page. There is a risk, of course, that a less than perfect image will break the sale. But retailers like Petco (illustrated below), Northern Tool, and Zales feel that the risk is outweighed by the persuasive power of customers who bought the item and liked it enough to return and post a picture. In Zales product reviews, customers upload images that show how diamond products look on their hands. In the Petco customer image below, a cute Chihuahua models a dress on the product’s detail page.

Petco

Chihuahua model at Petco.com

Product Details in Spanish (4/100)

Given the census data regarding the growth of the hispanic population in the USA, it is astonishing that only 4 out of the 100 top retailers reviewed in the UX Audit include the option on product detail pages to view the page in Spanish. Granted, there is a substantial cost associated with translating a massive product catalog into another language. But having a product page that a percentage of your site visitors can’t read is a large, and growing, missed opportunity. A couple of sites that did include Spanish product pages were Victoria’s Secret (illustrated below) and Rooms To Go.

Victoria's Secret

Victoria’s Secret acknowledges their multilingual audience.

Customer Product Tagging (3/100)

Letting customers create their own tags for products keeps the taxonomy fresh and relevant. It also gets customers involved with products that they like. When a customer sees that another customer described a product in a certain way, it seems more authentic and natural than the terms marketers have devised to describe that same product. After all, they weren’t paid to say it.

Furthermore, customers typically have to log in in order to tag a product, which is a step that supports ongoing loyalty and self-investment. The three sites we reviewed that included this feature were Urban Outfitters (illustrated below), Amazon.com, and Zappo’s.

Urban Outfitters

Crowdsourced tagging at Urban Outfitters

Co-Shopping (2/100)

Co-shopping is UX feature that lets people in different locations view the same product page, and chat in a sidebar about the product. Usography has noted a decrease in the availability of this feature since Buy.com purchased DecisionStep, creators of the leading co-shopping solution called Shop Together.

The decrease in availability is unfortunate, because there are situations in which people who are not at the same location want to view products together, chat about them, navigate to other products, etc. People working for the same company who are located in different cities, or even spouses who are temporarily apart but need to make an online purchase decision, can use co-shopping to complete the transaction. At the time of our Spring 2011 UX Audit, the only retail sites we reviewed that offered the co-shopping feature were Buy.com and Dell.com (illustrated below).

Dell.com

Coshopping, alive and well at Dell.

BFF/Text Us (1/100)

Charlotte Russe was the only site we reviewed that had this feature. It makes sense that any retailer that sells to Millennials would set up a communication channel based on texting. But texting is not just for Millennials. SMS text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world, with over 2 billion active users! So why is Charlotte Russe (illustrated below) alone out there with this feature?

Charlotte Russe

Charlotte Russe sets up texting.

What Other Customers Are Viewing Now (1/100)

Customers looking for ideas or wanting to know what items are hot right now may like a window into what other customers are viewing at any given moment in time. Buy.com has an elegant feature that does just that. It’s hard to appreciate the impact of this UX feature in the static image below. It’s worth a look at it in action on Buy.com to see how such a feature could enhance browsing and serendipity.

Buy.com

Buy.com allows users to see who’s looking at what.

Virtual Try-On (0/100)

Well, none of the retailers we reviewed had this feature. At least not on the product detail page (if a feature is buried somewhere outside the main product catalog path, we didn’t count it.) Why do we include it here? Because it is arriving on the scene, and will usher in a more realistic form of online shopping that makes store visits less necessary for certain categories of merchandise. Virtual Try-On has recently made advances in consumer awareness through augmented reality apps that are appearing on the scene, such as Zugara (shown below as implemented on the Fashionista / Tobi site).

The feature isn’t limited to apparel shops, although that’s the product category that seems to garner the most attention. It could also show BMW customers what they would look like pulling that new metallic blue Series 7 into the driveway. Or, how your living room would look with different kinds of furniture and decor. The Virtual Try-On feature is so compelling for customer engagement that we’ll continue to include it in the UX Audit, even with a score of 0.

Zugara

Zugara helps users see possibilities, with a little help from augmented reality (AR).

Editor’s note: For more info about the technology behind augmented reality (which is needed for virtual try-ons), check out this explainer at How Stuff Works.

Onwards…

UX Features are focal points of attention on e-commerce site. Understanding how your customers shop for your products, and what competitors in that category offer in terms of features, are key building blocks in a winning UX strategy.

About the Author

Paul Bryan

Paul Bryan is a user experience strategist and researcher who started designing e-commerce web sites in 1995 in Barcelona. Since founding Usography in 2002, his consulting clients have included some of the most successful corporations in the world, including: The Home Depot, Coca-Cola, SAP, Delta Air Lines, Philips, Macy's and Bloomingdales, Cox, and GE. Follow him on Twitter!

Related Articles

44 Comments

  • Vicky Reply

    Bit of a mixed bag here. Some are obviously useful in the future (video, pick up at store, trying something on, customer images) and others shocking (the lack of Spanish options), but ones like co-view seem like real power user options (and they may get around it by using Skype screenshare). Interesting chance to see potential trendsetters though.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Vicky: Thanks for commenting. I agree it’s a mixed bag. These are just fell out of the bottom of the audit. I was very surprised at the Spanish result as well. About co-shopping, I don’t agree. I think when more Millennials have careers and disposable income they will use this type of feature extensively. Ad Age just published a stat that 68% of Millennials ask friends before choosing a restaurant. However, I expect Facebook to come up with a killer co-shopping app that trumps retailer efforts, the virtual version of friends going shopping together in a mall.

  • David Hamill Reply

    This blog is missing a feature where my thoughts are transposed into the comments at the bottom without my needing to type.

    I’m not sure what this post is trying to say. It’s an interesting observation but are you trying to imply that these sites are failing users because they don’t have cool new features?

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      David: Thanks for your comments. I wasn’t trying to say that all sites need all these features. Victoria’s Secret should not do the customer photo upload feature. Restoration Hardware should not do the price drop alert. Amazon should not do the pickup in store option. UX strategists and designers need to understand the mental model of people purchasing on their sites and offer features that are currently missing. The features listed above are provided to highlight e-commerce UX trends and potential gaps. Not for coolness, for conversion.

    • Michael Reply

      I’m not sure – Victoria’s Secret may generate significant traffic if they had customer uploaded images.

  • Peter Osborne Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly on the video aspect. Shirts or pants are relatively easy to see with just photos, but if you are selling a guitar or backpack or camera system, videos are a great idea.

    I think the tags are a good one and the price drop alert is good, but to be honest, I am not sure I would even notice the one in the sample you used. I think a good idea for price drops is to do it via abandoned cart reminders. Then you are sending them a note about a product they at least pondered buying and letting them know it is available cheaper. Plus by using email, it is probably going to someone who is actually a customer and not some goofy UX designer looking at how you do your product detail… just as a random example.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Peter: Thanks for commenting. I’m really surprised that videos haven’t launched on more sites yet (9 in the Spring audit, 14 in the Summer audit we just finished). The price drop alert feature described in the article is very targeted. A customer has viewed the product in detail, has indicated interest in knowing when the price has dropped, and has given you their email address. In the abandoned cart scenario you describe, you are only able to contact customers who were signed in when they abandoned (25-30% in sites I’m familiar with), you have no idea why they added to cart and then abandoned, and they didn’t give you permission to contact them. Kind of like a Nordstrom salesperson using your credit card data to visit your house the week after you left the store, holding the jacket you were looking at, and saying “You sure you don’t want this?”

  • Lee Kennedy Reply

    Some good observations. Online video will be very powerful especially for products which standard imagery does not do justice.

    Click-and-collect will heavily depend upon the retailer, how many stores they have and the area they cover. Large companies like Walmart and Apple could offer such functionality but its unrealistic for most retailers. Also the operational considerations and commitment to fulfilling such orders is great.

    Customer product images is another good one, but again depends on the retailer – I’v seen this work particularly well for online gadgets e.g. Firebox.com.

    Overall, there are some good insights but suggesting that retailers need these options to be successful is incorrect, it will heavily depend on the products and brand.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Agreed. The features listed above are provided to highlight e-commerce UX trends and potential gaps. It’s up to the UX strategists and designers to map features to their particular customer segments and shopping behaviors.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Sree: Thanks for your kind remarks. The list of 100 retailers is in the audit summary at http://www.usography.com/audit. H&M was not in the list but definitely will be next time. I always think of them as a Swedish retailer, but their presence is growing in the USA and they are serious about digital commerce. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Matthew Szymczyk Reply

    Paul,

    Very insightful article and I’m 100% behind you on the lack of online/interactive product videos being used in e-commerce right now. I personally feel this is an area that retailers need to spend more budget against.

    As for Virtual Try-On – thanks for the plug. We developed Fashionista quite awhile ago (in web years) and have just started launching our iteration on a few sites. Bananaflame.com just recently launched with our new UX/UI and we’ll be launching a few others in the next few weeks. Preliminary feedback has been great and we expect virtual try-on to become a standard feature of e-commerce sites in the very near future.

    Take care,
    Matt
    CEO
    Zugara

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Matt: Thanks for joining the conversation. I’m very excited about Zugara’s potential for customer experience. We have a large audience of millennial participants who would love to be part of the testing. ;)

  • Siniša Reply

    Great advices, I will try to implement as many of these on my clients sites.

  • Erik Reply

    Good article, though I am not sure if everything is as needed as you suggest. I see a risk of overkill when (too) much features are applied.
    As you said it, “we were surprised to discover the user experience features that were missing from top e-commerce sites, sites that receive millions of visitors per month, and earn millions of dollars in revenue.”
    Maybe they earn millions of dollars in revenue because they don’t have an overkill on features but focus on the product? I know Amazon and others spend a lot of time and money on optimizing the site and getting more from it.
    I think it would be most effective to focus on the things that are most important for a given specific e-commerce website, more than trying to implement everything.

  • Fraser Deans Reply

    Leading on from your point about in-store pickup, in the UK we are now getting easy same day delivery options through a company called Shutl (http://www.shutl.co.uk) (note I work for them).

    Shutl can delivery the items to our customers usually within 90 minutes. We currently offer the service with Argos and the Aurora fashion group and are expanding each month!

    • Fraser Deans Reply

      Yep our sales guys are talking to what seems like everyone these days!

  • Theresa Reply

    Thanks for the interesting breakdown.

    Any notes on how many of these retailers have a:
    -mobile optimized web site
    -mobile app
    -tablet optimized web site
    -tablet app

    I know biggies like Amazon and eBay have all four, but are mobile shopping options catching on with other retailers?

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Theresa: Thanks for your comments. We’re reviewing these one at a time. It is a very slow process, and the apps change all the time. And it’s an apples to avocados comparison. But I agree it’s interesting to do something similar for mobile.

    • Kristina Bjoran Reply

      That’s a really interesting question I’d like to see researched as well, Theresa. I imagine there’s a certain size a business must be before mobile and tablet apps are viable, but I suppose it would also vary by the type of merchandise? Don’t know, but it would be an incredibly valuable bit of information to have, I’d bet.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      That’s a good one, and there are a few more with glasses. I think it makes sense for more categories.

  • Avangelist Reply

    It’s a little subjective, I wouldn’t say shared shopping is a ‘missing’ UX technique, it’s a feature that is somewhat niche.

    Most people are quite capable of sending one another links to store pages.

    Does provide some inspiration though.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      The co-shopping feature is useful in particular circumstances, like college students shopping with their parents at a distance, and people involved in a work purchase who are in different buildings or cities. The feature for these niche cases is much more useful than sending links to pages.

  • Helen Reply

    First things first – Thanks for posting this awesome set. I am a big fan of product videos. I was a project manager of a t-shirts online store. We were searching for ways to improve conversion rate. The first step was product video implementation. We were conducting test for about two months. Result – 4.5% increase in sales.
    Thanks,

    Helen

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Helen. I’m a big fan of product videos as well, because they offer more substantial engagement with a product, with no additional effort on the part of the customer.

  • Richard Hill Reply

    Facinating insight into what’s going on that’s given me a couple of ideas for clients – which has go to be good. Good point in the comments about mobile.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Thanks for your comments, Richard. You hit the point of the article, to give people some quick, intensive ideas about what’s at the UX feature forefront for large retailers.

  • Marco Reply

    Thanks for your interesting post.
    Concerning the videos, do you have any metrics ou data than can actually confirm the effect on sales ? I also guess i will be important in the future, but from what i see in the travel industry, it isn’t the case yet.
    By the way, the Text Us functionality : i loved it !

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Thanks for your positive comments, Marco. Helen (above) reported empirical lift of 4.5%. I will be doing some secondary research on this topic for a follow-up article, so stay tuned!

  • Ed Everett Reply

    I’m not sure I like the concept of a “user experience feature” – aren’t they just features? Does putting UX in front add anything useful? How do we know a UX feature from an ordinary one?

    For example, calling entering your mobile number to be alerted to discounts a “UX feature” seems a bit arbitrary, really it’s just like signing up for email alert – are emailling lists a “UX feature”? Or content in Spanish – presenting your site in the language of large audience groups makes sense and can be important, but does calling it a “UX feature” add anything? At what point does any design or marketing decision stop being about a UX feature?

    This article has a lot to offer in terms of interesting features being used by ecommerce sites and could stand alone on that. However I think the using the idea/jargon of a “UX feature” is unnecessary and complicates the message, while diluting the meaning of UX. (UX is rapidly becoming the new DHTML, AJAX, Web2.0 – so over used and miss-used that it becomes meaningless)

    (I don’t like leaving negative comments, so I tweeted it instead ;-) and Paul asked me to repost here. This is the expanded, less terse variation.)

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Thanks for posting your comment, Ed. I used the terminology “UX features” because in a large e-commerce site like those represented in the UX Audit, the features that are determined to be in scope are described in a business requirements (BR) document that can be anywhere from 100 to 250 pages long, depending on the nature of the release. The features that get included in this table are requested by various groups involved in the site, including marketing, merchandising, IT, user experience, fulfillment, analytics, business strategy, and more. Each group submits their features and advocates their prioritization over other features that are not important to them.

      The UX team is invited to submit, prioritize, and argue for the relevance and impact of features that are involved in the shopping experience, i.e. components that shoppers will interact with and notice as being important to their experience on the site. Customers won’t notice e-commerce features like the ability to set up business rules to swap out promotions based on hourly performance, or the ability to do statistics on pre-determined conversion paths, and the UX team typically doesn’t get to weigh in on them.

      For the large e-commerce sites I’m familiar with, about 25% of the site’s features involve UX, and are features that impact the shopper’s experience on the site. All of the features described in this article, and in the UX Audit (www.usography.com/audit) are of this latter type, and that’s why I labeled them UX features.

  • Ed Everett Reply

    Hi Paul, Interesting reply and not one I was expecting. I working in the UX team on the large ecommerce site of big corporate (well over 10 million visitors a month) so what you are talking about makes a lot of sense. Within this context the idea of a UX feature makes sense (in contrast to purely functional features).

    I’d think most people don’t work or think in this way though, so I’d still resist the idea being used in a wider context. (Enough quibbling about semantics of the phrase “UX” though, it’s interesting article and audit in it’s own right.)

  • Benoit | Info-ecommerce Reply

    Hi, very intresting !
    I would like to translate this post in french onto my french e-commerce blog. Could you please tell me if you agree with that ? Of course I will indicate you as the original content producer.

    • Paul Bryan Reply

      Mais certainement, de mon part, si on cite l’auteur et le journal (UX Booth). UX Booth needs to give their permission as well.

    • Kristina Bjoran Reply

      Hi Benoit,

      Although typically we ask that only excerpts are published off-site, the translation is a clear exception. As long as UX Booth is clearly indicated, we’d love to see this in French! And please, send a link our way (either by this comment board or to kristina (at) uxbooth (dot) com) so we can let readers know the translation exists :)

      Thanks for checking!

  • Razibul Hassan Reply

    The idea of “pick-up in store, Virtual Try-on and What’s other are viewing now” are three features I have rarely noticed on ecommerce sites. But in my opinion those three can be a strong tool to boost up the sells.

    Thanks for the innovative ideas and lists.

  • conversioncamel Reply

    great article and some really strange comments – of course each feature depends on the situation duh! these are obvious things that may if not definitely increase conversions if applied correctly, thanks Paul

  • Consumer Reviews Reply

    quite useful hints Appreciate your guidance.One great way to start your online business is to have your own site.How will you make it?Simply,ecommerce software will help you set up everything to get started.

Leave a Comment on This Article