Online Shopping Hell

I know that when I rant about web standards and usability I am usually called a fun-spoiler or told that I think too much, but there are reasons for my annoyance at people’s disregard for compliance and any sort of basic testing and that’s because — despite being a developer; far above that even — I am an Internet user: I browse and I shop.

As a non-smoker, a non-drinker, and a total geek (i.e. no social life) I have what’s known as “expendable income” floating about which (being a hermit; or “loser”) I predictably like to spend on the Internet. Games, books, geek t-shirts and other assorted crap that takes my fancy: you name it, the chances are I’ve bought it. So, it will come as no surprise that when I had to buy a new pair of shoes this week I decided to use the resource available.. the Internet.

Except, I couldn’t. Yes, I couldn’t shop for shoes. And this was primarily because of the awful state that these e-shops seem to be in. Let’s take shoes.co.uk — it seemed as good a place as any to start, and yet after 10 minutes I still couldn’t figure out how to actually browse the shoes. (Imagine walking into a real shop and staring at a shelfless wall for 10 minutes because that’s how it felt.) Turns out the website relied on JavaScript to navigate but felt it unnecessary to warn users about this small fact (hello <noscript>?) While using Firefox the website constantly gave me totally blank pages, for what seemed like no reason whatsoever (unhelpful much?) and I had to resort to Internet Exploiter.

Next on my hitlist was Clarks. Now Clarks are a well known brand, mostly bought by oldies or mothers who respect their children’s feet… and this is where it struck me as odd: if your primary audience is “the older generation”, why force them to read tiny pixel (bitmap) fonts on a blurry Flash-based background? Furthermore, forcing a pop-up which any decent browser will block, led only to continued confusion regarding why the website didn’t seem to work. If I can’t use the website, how am I supposed to buy from it? (As it turns out, there didn’t seem to be any option to buy shoes via the Clarks website so it was 30-40 minutes wasted.)

Schuhstore.co.uk was a little better but still required JavaScript to navigate (although to be fair I did predict this from the start because they use common buttonless drop-down menus). However, this still disappointed me because I know I’m not the only person that browses with JS disabled and it’s so easy to ‘fix’ these things for non-JS visitors.

Now, this is just a small selection of the painfully difficult to browse market out there, and if I — a web-savvy Internet user — find myself struggling to use a website because of the lack of provisions they’ve put in place for anyone who deviates from the standard setup by just a smidgen, how are others going to find their browsing experience? Is it not their responsibility to ensure that I can use their website, and if necessary, warn me about what I need to do to make my shopping more pleasurable? (Because I hate shopping for shoes at the best of times.)

At the end of the day and no matter where way you swing on the whole accessibility/usability debate, if a perfectly able person has difficulties with your website, you’ve got issues. I hope as a developer I never find myself creating a website that puts someone else in the same position.

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One comment so far

  1. Nigel said:
    On July 2, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Hi Jem I read your comments regarding java script and Firefox with some interest. We launched our website only last August on the understanding from our developers that we would not have problems with ‘other’ browsers. I will post again when we have resolved this issue. Jem, I would love to have received an email from you telling me of your bad experience, its really helpful to get feedback! if anyone has any further comments good or bad I would love to hear from you at nigel@shoes.co.uk. Kind Regards Nigel Carr MD shoes.co.uk