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Four odd things I’ve recently seen while shopping online

Peter Messana's headshoot
By Peter Messana - CEO

I spend a lot of time on the internet, it’s literally my job and it has been for the last 23 years that I have been involved in ecommerce. Not to completely age myself, but I was actually involved in launching homedepot.com in 1999 and from there I have spent all but a couple of years knee-deep in ecommerce.

Over this time I have seen retailers do some really weird things. Whether it was a site, to remain nameless, launching a redesign with the add-to-cart on the left side of the page, or another site that felt it necessary to add recaptcha at the add-to-cart and each checkout step, seemingly a fraud prevention tool that was really a sales prevention tool.

People have tried all sorts of things along the way but really page layouts have not changed drastically, likely due to the buyers’ behaviour and expectations being ingrained by the likes of Amazon and just plain history. In some cases, terrible user experiences have turned into standards and changing seems unnatural. I’ve witnessed the best true designs fail A/B testing, not because it was wrong, but because what seems right is just not the way everyone else does it and is thus not as expected.

When I ran an ecommerce company, my mantra was that we will never be trailblazers or  pioneers. They took on dangerous bets and challenges that were far too risky. I always wanted to be the fast-follower on a new great idea. Sure, some sites possess the ability to influence buyers with something radically different, but is the risk worth the return? Probably not, and the risk is a lower conversion rate.

This isn’t to say that trying things isn’t a good idea, you should be A/B testing things all the time. We used to operate with no less than five tests going on at any given time, spread throughout the site with measures that isolated each test to not cause cohort analysis problems. Change is healthy and good, but bad experiences make it tough to shop, and when 97% of your customers aren’t buying you can’t afford mistakes.

With all that said, I thought I would give a list of my four odd things I have seen in the last few weeks shopping online or looking at prospective clients’ websites, and why these things are happening, at least my best guess:

  • Search for “socks” returned bras and vice versa. From the looks of it they were merely searching the category hierarchy which is “lingerie, socks & bras”. Odd hierarchy to begin with but the problem could easily be solved by correctly product-typing the products, socks are socks. They solved it with a redirect, which is a bandaid.
  • Single (wrong) product returned on a multi-word search. This was on a site with over 1M products. It would appear they are doing very strict search and had they used the keywords in a broad match the product I was looking for would’ve been returned. I had to find it by using single words and not a phrase.
  • “Frequently bought together” product recommendation for a hammer was a light bulb. While I am sure someone shopping at a hardware store buys both, I am equally certain that there are much better recommendations than a non-discretionary item.
  • Autocomplete/typeahead prefilled a word that was a misspelling of the product I was trying to search for, thus clicking on it returned “did you mean xyz”. Apparently this must be a commonly misspelled word but the autocomplete should use product terms and not just popular searches.

This list isn’t exhaustive, just some things I have come across as a reminder that optimization of your site is never ending. I can usually find a page-long list of issues on any given site, between their search and checkout there are a lot of common pitfalls. Most are usually configuration issues or lack of resources to continuously improve the site, the battle never ends.