Top E-commerce Usability Wind Ups

Written by Jamie Freeman

As we’ve been creating e-commerce sites for well over a decade we’re constantly amazed by some of the usability problems that still plague online stores. The big players are by no means immune to these problems. In fact, some of them are the worst offenders. Here’s some of those things we find most annoying, in no particular order…

1. Zoom images that cover page content on rollover

Zoom images are super important in e-commerce in helping customers decide to buy; seeing products details can make all the difference. A very common issue is where the image is to the side of the text content, but moving your mouse over the image causes it to pop open a ‘zoomed’ detail over the text content. Because it happened without your explicit instruction (your mouse just happened to go over the picture) the image pops up unexpectedly and covers up content that you might have been reading at the time.

Much better to have the zoom image open only when explicitly requested by the user. And then, unless it goes ‘full screen’ it should cover the original image location, not the text area.

2. Auto-selected sizes

Unless you’re actually trying to sell the wrong size t-shirts to unsuspecting punters the first item in your size selector should read ‘Please choose a size’ not ‘XXS’!

3. Your item is unavailable

It’s virtually impossible to stop stock-outs, but you can do a lot to minimise it. For one thing, you can try to let me know before I put it in my basket; items that are out of stock should say so. If it goes out of stock after it’s in my basket you should not let me buy it, so doing a quick check at the point of payment is a must. Finally, for those with bricks-and-mortar retail, having your web and EPOS properly integrated will stop shop sales knocking web stock out of sync, and vice-versa.

4. Mailing list pop-ups

You want people to sign up to receive mailings, we understand that. But those aggressive home-page pop-ups do one thing and one thing only: get in the way of the content I was reading, and stop me browsing your products! They’re the online equivalent of the pushy salesperson who only has the effect of wanting us to turn round and leave the shop as soon as we’ve walked in.

If you give me good service and I find products I like then I might be inclined to join your mailing list. If you try to ram it down my throat as soon as I land on your home page, that is not going to make people warm to you.

5. Pointless concertinas

Newsflash! There is no fold. So let’s stop trying to put everything above it shall we? We’re all browsing on different devices and we all know how to scroll. The important thing is to make it clear that more information exists lower down, the solution is not to try to fit everything within the user’s first scroll-free view! So those little concertina devices serve only to force me to make four clicks instead of simply being able to read the content.

Plus, they’re over-tricksy. You click one, it slides open while the previous one closes… All very clever if you’re a JavaScript developer, but you know what? It’s not about you.

6. On-hover drop-down mega menus

This is probably the most constant annoyance. You know the scenario; you casually move your mouse across the site; perhaps to click a link, perhaps simply because you ‘look with your mouse’ as many people do. Anyway, out of nowhere BLAM! The World’s Biggest Menu blocks your entire view… and then it’s gone as quickly as it arrived, simply because your mouse kept moving.

Even more frustrating is when you actually want to interact with the things. Half the time each menu item has a different behaviour; rolling over some of them initiates the menu, others don’t. So you make it pop open, then try to move diagonally to an item over there…

Infuriating. Which is why, several years ago, we invented the push-down menu. It’s quite simple. Firstly, it open opens when you tell it to, that is to say, when you click the menu, not just brush past it. Secondly, it stays open until you click in it or choose to close it. Thirdly, the content you were looking at isn’t obscured; it’s discretely pushed down by the menu, keeping it visible, and retaining your orientation.

Which usability issues wind you up?


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