What makes an online store great?
July 18, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

What are the objective attributes that make a given online store a good place to shop?

I'm putting together a methodology by which to rank online stores, and I'm trying to compile as exhaustive a list as possible of the objective attributes that great online stores have. So I'm not looking for subjective things like, "pleasing aesthetics." I'm looking for things like:

* Multiple language options
* Localized currency
* Audio assistance for the visually impaired
* Live chat
* User reviews
* Wishlist
* iOS app
* Android app
* Web app
* Buy online/pick-up in-store

... and so on. What else is there that makes an online store a great shopping experience?
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Transparent shipping costs (easily accessed without adding stuff to your cart or whatever), and very clear (and again, easily accessed) return policies.
posted by brainmouse at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

Ability to purchase without creating an account.
posted by devbrain at 9:16 AM on July 18, 2011 [13 favorites]

Good pictures of whatever the product is, not some grainy 200x200px thing.
posted by Solomon at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2011

Ability to search and filter options.
posted by wending my way at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2011

-The ability to save payment information for later use
-Easily accessible return & exchange policy information
-Everything on one page--don't make me go through 6 steps to finish the checkout process
-"Add to Cart" functionality that isn't buggy as all hell
-Easy to find where a coupon code might go, and if it doesn't work, actually say that it didn't work and WHY (expired, no such code exists, etc).

And just to add one thing not to do...Amazon's "add to cart to see price" (other places do this too) thing is bullshit. Don't do that to your customers.
posted by litnerd at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2011

Purchasing / Account creation: Giving you my information takes one screen, and one screen only. If I have to create an account on your website to give you money, that process is as fast and easy as it would be on Amazon.

Absence of popups/splash screens (live chat functions, I'm looking at you).

A search function that can interface with a sort function. Ability to "view all."
posted by deludingmyself at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2011

Proper spelling, punctuation, business-appropriate writing styles used consistently, and other forms of verbal evidence of basic attention to detail and general conscientiousness.
posted by a small part of the world at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

from a non technical point of view, browsing items has to be hassle free, with as little clicking as possible For example, hovering over an object and showing a bigger picture with a description is awesome. Also, having wishlists is awesome, and recommendations of items similar or related to the ones I like are almost always useful.

I've never used live chat in my life, and reviews as sephora does (rating according to a set of specific characteristics, plus a personal comment)

Modcloth has a quick look option, as well as a zoom in feature when you open the item in a new tab. I love it.
posted by Tarumba at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2011

Maybe someone else can give this a discrete name, but on the topic of filtering/sorting: the ability to combine filters (e.g.: see all items in category X, then list them by price, then only show me the ones that are ranked 4* or higher by average user review).
posted by deludingmyself at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ability to "see all" products in a given category or selection, without having to click "page 2" and "page 3" and so on. Pet peeve. I regularly quit online shopping sites that don't let me do that.
posted by juniperesque at 9:22 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Transparent shipping costs x1000.

If there are a lot of items, ability to sort by price and category in a good way. With categories - if you sell an item *and* accessories for that item such that a search for [item name] as a keyword will return both, give me a way to pull up *only * the item and not the accessories.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:23 AM on July 18, 2011

I require gift wrap options.
posted by heatvision at 9:26 AM on July 18, 2011

Along with what everyone else has said... I'm always sort of happy with places that will let me type in a zip code and then I don't have to type in my town name [but can edit it in case their zip code list is wrong], places that will properly format my phone number and don't require me to format it priperly, places that can gracefully handle my shipping and billing addresses being different [I only live one place but I get my mail delivered to a PO box] and places that don't make me scroll through a list of 200+ countries to tell them that I live in the US [esp if I've already typed in my zip code. Places that make opting out of mailing lists the default, places that aren't hardasses about the format of my password for a website I may never use again, and places that send me well-formatted email receipts as well as timely information about my order.

I work with a lot of novice tech users and having a clearly numbered "this is how many steps you have to do, you are on step 2 of 6" formatting makes it much much simpler for them to sort of figure out what has to happen and step them along the process. Consistency in steps, consistency of buttons, lots of help text a little buried in case they're having a hard time.

Also I usually go in looking for a specific thing and I'd like a super-granular search and a lot of photos of the thing [along with reviews] to help me make my decision. I like it when places take PayPal.
posted by jessamyn at 9:26 AM on July 18, 2011

If your store only ships to country X, that's fine, but there is no reason to only accept credit cards from that country. I hate going to various online stores to ship something to the US only to have a failure when I cannot enter my credit card info. I can use my credit card in your physical store, why not your web store too?
posted by jeather at 9:40 AM on July 18, 2011

When I click on a picture to enlarge it, it actually shows a bigger picture. About 50% of the sites I go to have the same size picture as their "large" image.
posted by desjardins at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2011

When I'm in Canada I hate having to search around the site to figure out if you'll ship to me and if you will who you ship it with (I don't buy anything shipped UPS or Fedex because of their absurd broker fees).

I also really like being able to search clothes by size.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:45 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ability to return items to a brick-and-mortar store, if there is one nearby.
posted by donajo at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2011

If the store has a lot of products, I like really robust search filtering. Zappos, for example, only allows me one selection per "search group." So, I can filter down to "Loafers" or to "Boat Shoes" but I can't filter down to both Loafers and Boat Shoes.

Combine the same product in different sizes or colors into the same product, so it only shows up once in a list and give it an indicator that there are additional configuration options.
posted by Jacob G at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2011

Ooh, strongly disagree with this: "Combine the same product in different sizes or colors into the same product, so it only shows up once in a list and give it an indicator that there are additional configuration options." -- Show all possible colors/options as separate entries on the list, but don't make them completely separate products (e.g., Green Widget and Blue Widget both show up separately on the list, but if I click on Green Widget, Blue Widget is an option in there). I HATE when it's not clear from the search page exactly what colors/styles/sizes something comes in -- "more colors" is not enough information.
posted by brainmouse at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like being able to open items in new tabs so that I can toggle back and forth between products I'm comparing. I like multiple views of an object. I like detailed measurements. User reviews are important to me. When it comes to clothing, I like reviews that prompt the purchaser to input some stats to make them more useful (eg, "I'm 5'4" and this is my weight - the medium was too big.")
posted by xo at 10:09 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely nthing the transparent shipping costs. Also a really easy to use and effective search function
posted by one little who at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2011

- Easy to find what you're looking for. This is intentionally vague. For electronics, I like searching at Newegg better than Amazon because they allow faceted searches (eg, search for external hard drives with firewire interface and capacity of >1 GB). Amazone doesn't let you home in like that. For some forms of online shopping, faceted searching may not be appropriate, but in general I like it. Obviously requires extra work getting good metadata for each product.

- Easy check out. Don't make me register for an account on your website; don't make me think I need to, either.

- Detailed product info. This can take various forms—I've seen a few websites selling certain specialized merchandise that allow blog-style comments on each product listing, and the staff was active about responding to comments. Very helpful. I've also used live chat with sales staff that was very helpful in clearing up some specific questions about a certain product.

- I've grown increasingly skeptical of user reviews and user ratings. When I was researching a new coffee maker, I found that $40 machines were often rated higher than $200 machines. Not because the $200 machine was worse, but because the person who is spending $200 on a coffee maker has a very different set of criteria than someone spending $40. Also, there's the fact that people are more likely to lodge negative feedback than positive. Still, some informed outside perspective can be helpful. This is a tricky area.

- I use my wishlist at Amazon a lot, but somehow I've never felt the lack at other commerce sites.

I think different kinds of products are going to demand different shopping experiences. For example, I find agent-based recommendations are useful for music, but probably would not be so helpful for shoes. On the other hand, if I were shopping for shoes online, I would love to be able to say "I know these size 9.5 Nike Air Whatevers fit me well—what size does that correspond to in the Adidas that I'm looking at now?"
posted by adamrice at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2011

For clothing, an accurate guide to how the sizes run. Something like "women's 12" doesn't tell me if it will actually fit.

If you can come up with some way for me to tell if it will fit my shoulders, thighs, ankles, etc. well that would be even better. One site I like for tall socks gives the measurement that the top of the sock will stretch, things like that.

I don't care about live chat, if I wanted to talk to someone I'd go to a store. I should be able to use the site without having to resort to it. If the site is in my language and priced in my currency, I will never look for and don't care if there are no other options. I'll be happy to use a site where I need to choose my language and currency if the shipping costs are clear from the outset and not too high.

The visually impaired may prefer that your site be readable by common tools for dealing with web sites instead of having to use your audio assistance feature.
posted by yohko at 10:23 AM on July 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all so far ... please keep in mind that I'm looking for things that are 100% objective. So anything with "easy to use," for instance, is out, unless there's some way to quantify that into a yes/no.
posted by jbickers at 10:27 AM on July 18, 2011

- Excellent product pictures, not lousy thumbnails that don't expand. Additionally, if applicable the pictures should be shot at different angles. For example, if it's a handbag show it from the front, back, side, open and a person carrying it. For that last one, generally speaking a picture that shows the size of the item relative to a person or a well known item (like a coin for small products). My ability to grok "17 in w x 18 in h" is very poor.

- For clothes: size and fit information. Does it run big? Is it supposed to be worn tight?

- Related items, either that are similar to the product I am looking at or suggested ad-hoc items.

- SIMPLE registration that only needs my name and e-mail. I don't understand why websites need my number and address just to register, when I haven't even bought anything.

- A clear way for me to contact customer service via e-mail or even better, a form on the website. A phone number is great too.

- Filtering ability for product lists.

- Ability to sort product lists by price.
posted by like_neon at 10:50 AM on July 18, 2011

In addition to clear shipping costs - clear delivery times. I want to know when you're going to ship and how long its going to take (if it differs per-product then it should be clearly marked on the product page)
posted by missmagenta at 10:56 AM on July 18, 2011

Objectively: "allows me to and follows my requests to opt-out of future mailings from them or third-parties"
In plain English: "doesn't spam me from here until eternity over a $10 order 5 years ago"
posted by whatzit at 11:21 AM on July 18, 2011

Nthing the "view all" option. And if I click "view all" once, please save that preference when I look in other categories.

Also nthing that live chat is unnecessary. Instead, have good email support. Respond to customer emails/comments within 24 hours with a personalized response.

The ability to filter by size, if you're selling clothes or shoes. Better yet, a range of sizes. If you sell both shoes and clothes, account for the fact that size 8 pants and size 8 shoes are not the same thing.

I don't want to sort through sold-out stuff. Modcloth, linked above, is terrible at this: items cheerily labeled "out of stock!" are sprinkled in with the things you actually can buy. Automatically put the out-of-stock merch at the very end of the list, or leave it off.

Related to this: I've seen smaller online stores that have a model in which you click a category, and then it brings up a couple of sub-categories, and sometimes even third and fourth layers of sub-categories, and then some of the categories are empty, but you can't know until you click on it. This sucks. I'd rather see everything in a category from the get-go, and filter down if I feel like it. Victoria's Secret does something similar with its online semi-annual sales: you have to select one size and one collection in order to see anything. It's tedious, and I gave up on them years ago.

Multiple shipping options, at least one with tracking. Send me the tracking number. If it takes longer than one business day from the time I click "submit order" to the package leaving the warehouse, make that clear before I place the order.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:32 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

My biggest one is the ability to leave things in your cart essentially forever... so I don't feel rushed to purchase, I can come back the next day if I don't have time to do all my shopping at once, etc. When I build up a cart full of 10 items and go back the next day and it's gone, I don't even bother going through the hassle of refilling the cart, I just cut my losses and move on.

Live chat assistance would probably be my #2.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 12:15 PM on July 18, 2011

Could you rate the quality of the merchandise description and details given about the product?

I hate when I find an item on a site and they don't bother to give the physical dimensions of it or other necessary details - material it's made of, what it's compatible with, etc. I love a site that has great details, that are also consistently correct. After you got your stuff, did you find that it was what they described/showed it to be?
posted by NoraCharles at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2011

I want to be able to middle-click on a series of products I like and then find them all lined up in tabs. Some sites have product links as some kind of javascript thingy that doesn't play nice with "open in another tab". I spend ten minutes clicking on all the links and then start hunting in the tabs only to find nothing there!

Somewhere out there (can't find the link now) is a furniture shop that lets you search for "sofas smaller than x by y by z". Fantastic!
posted by emilyw at 1:53 PM on July 18, 2011

The promo mailings are truly opt-in, and they don't dismiss my preference a few weeks later hoping I won't remember I opted out. Including an unsubscribe link when they do this doesn't make it any less rude.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:50 AM on July 19, 2011

I do a lot of online shopping. I think your answers are going to be quite different based on product categories. For clothes (I'll probably repeat some of the ones above):
1) Clear and easy to use site navigation: ability to view all, clear categories, non-buggy page and picture loading (it's amazing how many sites still manage to crash the images of the product, such that I'm stuck looking at a particular view). Example of great site design: Anthropologie (yes there's lots of flash and so on, but when you actually want to look at the products, all that gets out of the way). Example of poor site design: Boden -- I so want to like this site, but it's always buggy and crashy and I can never seem to manage to order something from them.
2) Ability to filter by multiple criteria ala Zappos
3) Several views of the same product -- good examples are Zappos and Asos (which even has a little catwalk video of each clothing item on a live model which is great for getting an idea for how something moves). Some sites just have really poor images even now -- I feel like the prime offenders are those sites that cater to older women (I'm really not sure why) -- usually just a tiny picture of the product on a person and no other additional views. I want to see the back!
4) Clear sizing, fabric and care information. Carefully consider what factors someone would consider while buying that item and make sure to provide it. For example, I've seen boots being sold on sites with no clear calf sizing information.
5) No pop-ups for chat based assistance, but the ability to use chat based assistance if necessary (e.g. Bluefly's annoying popups asking you if you want to chat with a sales assistant, vs. Zappos unobtrusive chat options (which are incredibly useful btw, I was soooo impressed with their level of customer service).
6) Design for the fact that many customers will use tabs to look at clothes -- I hate sites that assume I'm just going to click on one page after the other and open the same annoying popup or the like -- who does that any more? No annoying Javascript thingies as emilyw mentions above. Along the same lines, remember my preferences regarding seeing all clothing items or 1 page at a time and have that option saved no matter which tab I open a link from.
7) Clear shipping and return policies -- actually free return shipping is something you might want to consider -- this is a HUGE factor for me when deciding whether to order something when I'm not sure of the fit. Tracking of items is also a big factor and quells the discomfort I have about purchasing big ticket items online.
8) Remembering my cart.
9) Email based customer service that actually gets back to you in a timely manner (which means, an immediate email acknowledging receipt of your email, followed by an email from an actual customer service rep within the next couple days). Don't force me to hang out by the phone on hold forever. Ability to ask questions and receive assistance regarding sizing, fabric, dimensions, uses etc. via email is a huge plus.
posted by peacheater at 5:37 PM on July 19, 2011

  • Large product images
  • PayPal support
  • Transparent shipping costs

posted by GlassHeart at 11:11 AM on September 10, 2011

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