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Why Ecommerce is Not Ready for My Daughter or Me
By Kim Krause 2004-01-13

As the mother of a teenage clothing fanatic I'm often at my local mall. It occurred to me that the shopping experience for my daughter is attractive to her not because she wants to spend my money, but because the experience of buying itself is so rich to the senses.

For example, when we enter her favorite stores the first thing that hits me is the music. If it's her kind of music, we're in the right place for her. If the signs near the front of the store have sale prices and notices about markdowns, we're in the right place for me. Immediately there are two user needs met. Mother's and daughter's.

Next, for me, is how products are displayed. I look for orderliness and logical groupings such as jeans in one place, the teeny tiny things she calls shirts in another place, "hoodies" in every possible color in another section. I also look for clean dressing rooms and clues as to how many items she can load up on before she meets their limit. Meanwhile, she's looking at colors, sizes, textures, and styles. She glides along in her beat up sneakers touching the items as she passes by. Her hands drift along piles of sweaters as if walking through a field of daisies. A certain texture will stop her dead in her tracks and I'll get that "Mom, look!" expression from her.

It strikes me that some of the stores she insists we stop into don't offer much for me to do or look at. The décor is dark, black, and limited to a few racks mixed with hanging things on the walls separated by posters of half naked teenagers standing next to cars they can't possibly afford to buy. Clothing prices are hidden inside sleeves. Sale signs are taboo. But the music is hip, the salespersons are scary-looking and the smell of leather mixed with hair gel is making my wallet itch. Their website, I bet, has but one click-path designed for teens and their parents must be blindfolded so as not to read the content before handing over their credit card.

Finally in a store where I feel welcome, my daughter is admiring the merchandise and starting to find what she likes in her size. I'm avoiding the mirrors and marveling at the sales personnel with their size 3 bodies, smudged eyeliner and 35 bracelets on each wrist. For my daughter, who looks just like them, this is confirmation she's in the right store. I, on the other hand, will stop holding in my stomach when we get back out to the parking lot, or when we grab our lattés in Starbucks on the first floor.

While other mothers and myself are holding piles of clothes in our arms, or running back and forth to get something in different sizes, my mind drifts to all the ecommerce websites I find in search engines, but don't purchase from. For starters, most of them think I'm going to read 35 links in their navigation, plus their ads, before deciding which is the right path to follow. Some of them will tell me about one sale, but if I want to know more, I have to figure out where they stuck that stuff. There's nothing I can physically touch and the images are usually tiny. Sure, I can click to enlarge but how many times have I done that only to find a bigger view of the same boring, unattractive picture?

Most shopping carts don't give me shipping dates or availability information as I make my selections. (Just recently I ordered something, only to hear from the merchant via email that their software wasn't working and the color and size wasn't recorded, so they had to contact me for that information.)

We assume ecommerce have functional websites. We assume incorrectly. We assume they built them for many types of customers, but again, we've assumed wrong. We assume that the top 20 sites in search engine results are the best of the best based on our search keywords. That, I'm afraid, is the saddest shock of all. Top rank doesn't equal the best online experience once you click into that website.

That part of usability wasn't tested for you by the search engine or directory. That's not their job.

My daughter looks good in everything. So did I when I was a teenager. If I still had that body I could order from any lingerie site on the Internet and feel quite sure I'd look as fantastic and sexy as their starving models do. But, I never buy sexy lingerie on the Internet because quite frankly, they're not selling it to me. One look at their models, their poses, their ages and their airbrushed faces tells me their target market is men who dream of making their women look like that too, if they just buy that lacey thing for them.

Fortunately I have a levelheaded daughter who loves to hunt for bargains. The last time we shopped at the Mall together was because I wanted to get her a gift for making the Distinguished Honor Roll that marking period in school. She found something at her favorite teen store for under $20. We splurged at Starbucks on our favorite chocolate coffee fixes, which was the logical choice after doing so well at the clothing store.

Online, after a sale, I'd be alone staring at my monitor at a "Thank you screen" and likely not directed to go anywhere interesting next. This is another common ecommerce practice; dumping the customer off after the last screen of a shopping cart. Instead, they should try suggesting a related site (via paid sponsored link?) or a reminder to bookmark the site for later shopping or better yet, how about a quick "Did you find what you were looking for?" survey. One quick question, one button click is all it takes to say "We hoped you like your shopping experience but if not, please tell us how to make it better."

This is what the cute pierced nose sales clerk said to us when I handed her the $20 for my daughter's new shirt. I gratefully accepted the receipt from the nail polished hand attached to the 18 year old face with a pimple on the forehead, multi-colored hair and glittered eye shadow. You just can't get mimic that kind of user experience on the Internet yet.

Kim Krause is the owner of Cre8pc.com and Cre8asiteForums.com. A self-employed, single mom who is self taught and believes everyone deserves a chance to succeed, she became an advocate for home and small businesses who wanted a website presence. She specializes in what she calls the "marriage between search engine optimization and usability" and to that end offers Cre8pc as a teaching site devoted to Do It Yourself oriented persons who want to learn more.

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