It’s Simply About Selling and UX


What we don't need is a smack in the face

The other day we came across a web site that  shows all the things that are wrong with a good deal of e-commerce sites on the web.

A little background, we were looking for education books for our youngest child –  so why not look online.  You  know, from the convenience of our own home and all that.  So on  the recommendation of  a friend we went to a local publishers web site.

This site in question does children and adult education  books, judging from the home page I would say that they are focusing on an adult market, from young parents to grandparents.

The first thing you see on the home page is a large screen filling advert, that proclaims in large text  “Real Sex for Real Women”.  I can tell you this does make you do a double take.   Anyway we could see a small “Children’s Books” menu item so all was not lost.  But it doesn’t put you at ease, after all we are looking for kids educational books, not sex guides.

Onwards with Sex Guides and the like

Down the bottom of the home page we find a drop down list of the major catalogue sections, nicely divided into adult and childrens books.   You would have expected when you select an item you would have been taken to the relevant page.   Well you are partly right.  Not knowing what section of the kids books we needed to look in, we select to see the whole children’s catalogue from this list.  What happens next was off putting

You are sent back to the top of the page instead of to the catalogue as you  expected.   Again you are presented with the “Real Sex for Real Women” advert right smack bang in your face.   Makes you think, “oh the kids section is in the adult sex section, do I have the right web site”, not the best experience so far.

The problem here is the select list options have been used as headings for sections on the list instead of using the correct optgroup element.   After working this out, we select one of the correct sections, only to be presented with a PDF document, that just has a few pictures of the books concerned and very little in terms of information we were looking for in the first place –   like what the book is about, the price, the skills sets it covers and so on.

Stabbing in the Dark

So back to square one, we end up via that small menu button in the children’s book section.  It’s  clever that the books are all hidden this way, it makes finding them interesting.    The books are  presented as a long list of books by title in descending alphabetical order, all 700 odd of them over 36 pages.   It’s not as you would expect segmented into alphabetic groups, but just pages 1 to 36.   In this case we know the title, but it’s still not  very handy for finding that book you are looking for.

After a few blind stabs in the dark at finding the right page, we are able to locate the right book, and we are able to display all its details that we require on the page.  This is great, we have found it, and it is perfect!


Now we just want to order it.  so we look and look, but there is no “order” or “add to cart” or “purchase” button anywhere on the page.   We have come all this way, through the depths of the darkest library  to find this magical book and now we can’t get it.


It is then we notice that there is smaller menu item labeled “ordering”. Surely this will solve it all.  But alas we are gutted, there is no shopping cart, no e-commerce system.

Just a manual form (print and fax) for orders over $100 or a recommendation to visit other online stores to purchase said book or better yet go to a bricks and mortar bookshop.

After all this effort, they had our trust, we searched out these books against all odds of the poorly designed  site and the bad experience, but still after all this we are told to go elsewhere, we are not wanted, we are cast aside.   Bad taste is a bit of an understatement.

What should have been done

In this case it is all about findability and a good user experience.

It’s not about  being impersonal, cold to busy thrusting the latest sex guide in your face.  It’s about gathering and nurturing your trust.  Okay this was a publishers web site, but that does not excuse the bad experience, and sloppy web site.  So what would have helped:

  1. The separation of the Adult and Children section up front would be very handy, they is focusing on two markets, so why not funnel the user in that direction, gather their trust of the publisher by presenting the focus books that the person is looking for.
  2. The correction of the navigation and page findability are minor technical issues, but still they should be addressed. Just like  a real life bookshop, make it easy for me to find the books  and I will browse and buy more.
  3. The killer aspect is the lack of any e-commerce system.  Now I can understand that the publisher doesn’t want to disrupt their old school distribution channel, but really this is 2009.
  4. It would be nice to have a list of available stores for each book on the book information page.  Ultimately there should be a shopping cart system and a way to purchase the books.  This would be good,  it  locks me into the sale, and the publisher doesn’t risk that I will find a competitors book that maybe be better than theirs and I end up buying that instead.

Mirror the Bookshop

This site should have been like a good bookshop.   I don’t know about you, but I love a good bookshop.   Note I said bookshop not bookstore.

A bookstore is impersonal, cold  stacked with best sellers and not much else, staff that are just killing time, everything is about sell, sell, sell.   Sadly in the city I live in,  it is mostly filled with these types of  chain bookstores.  I hate them.  Sometimes they are the model for online bookstores.  The bad experience is usually just transferred to the web.

On the other hand a bookshop is personal.  I can spend a whole day just browsing around the many topics that are available .  The smell of the books, the ink, the colors, the texture of the covers, the vast amounts of information and the volume of untapped ideas.   Things are logically organised, it’s usually easy to find things, even in a large store.   It’s somewhere you can trust, like an old friend.

Overall it’s about building and maintaining trust, and building that bookshop experience, but online.

So many times I find local publishers or bookstore sites that seem to fail to achieve this.

Is it budget, is it lack of vision, lack of user research, testing or just a lazy developer.  Maybe it’s all of them.  Can’t business owners see that for a small outlay they are easily find out if they are presenting a good or bad user experience.

So why in 2009 are sites like this still being produced?

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