Shopping online – One size fits all?

One of the barriers to buying goods online is often just making it past the ‘Buy Now’ button. Poorly thought out form fields and unusable shopping cart systems are eCommerce killers!
Here’s a journey I took recently that is possibly typical of most buyer’s click-path when shopping online.

  1. Do a search for the item and choose 6 sites from the hundreds available. All 6 are from the first search results page.
  2. I have a quick browse through each site and choose the 3 sites that are actually usable, well designed, have relevant information and appear trustworthy.
    Side note: I don’t consciously ‘choose’ these – the sites are just effortless to use and a natural choice.
  3. I drop a site because they don’t have my item in stock.
  4. I drop another site because because the ‘view larger image’ opens a pop-up window that is the same size as the thumbnail (how annoying is that!)
  5. I do an ‘add to basket’ on the final site and fill out my details.
  6. The ‘Add your details’ is insisting on some information I just can’t give (details below) and because it’s a ‘mandatory field’ the cart is refusing my order.
  7. I leave the site and give up.

In fact, I’d say about 25% of all my online purchases fail because the form fields on eCommerce sites are badly configured, broken or have shopping cart systems thats just plain confusing. And I work in the field as a Web Designer so I’m comfortable with eCommerce and having to ‘work around’ usability flaws.

And it’s not just “Sheila’s flower shop” or your local DVD store with the tiny web presence and some technically brilliant but unusable e-Cart software that is losing them customers at the last step of a purchase. Larger companies that spend massive amounts of money on R&D, Compliance, Strategy and User Experience can get it wrong too and here’s a nice example of that in action.

I’ve seen a product that I want to buy and the site is integrated with Google’s new Checkout shopping cart.

I add my details to the payment form. Name, email, phone and country are all fine.

Mandatory fields

The postal code field (high lighted above in red) is mandatory and insists that I add it here. My address (and most addresses in Ireland outside of Dublin city) doesn’t have a postal code so I usually add ‘NA’ or ‘NONE’ when shopping online to circumvent this. That won’t work here because not only is the postal code required but the web site thinks that a postal code is a certain amount of letters or numbers long and is trying to shoe horn my details through their mandatory fields.

Thinking that the tiny question mark icon beside the Postal Code field will tell me how to get round this issue and allow me to order my product, I click on it. This opens a new window at the An Post web site.

It looks promising and someone is thinking in the right direction but this site just helps me locate my local post office. It doesn’t help me find my postcode and even if I had one, it doesn’t help me find it. I eventually go back to the check out page and try a few more hacks and give up. I was only shopping for a Letterbox but now I think I’ll just drive into town and buy one in a real shop.

So in closing, I understand that certain fields are consistent and can be made mandatory across most sites on the web.
For example

  • All credit cards are 16 digits long and have an expiry date
  • All credit cards have a 6 digit Card Verification Value on the back
  • All credit cards have a name or company name and associated address

but other details which we take for granted or assume are global often just don’t translate to a one-size-fits-all format. Worse still, some details are driven by user preferences. IE an email address may not match my company domain name because I don’t want to be spammed at work.

So, when it comes to mandatory form field Vs user preference or regional fromatting, the retailer will loose but the consumer won’t win either. The biggest wastage for both in the example above is that it took me hours of searching for this product and dismissing several other sites to get to that particular website. With the average website losing 9 out of every 10 customers, its a real pity that the final site fell at the last hurdle.

Incidentally, doing a quick Google on the whole mandatory fields issue has brought me to this post from Tom Raftery who is having similar postcode trouble with Yahoo.

About peter

Peter Knight is Creative Director and Manager of Eden Web Design Studios.
This entry was posted in User Interface Design, Web Design, Web site effectiveness. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Shopping online – One size fits all?

  1. Michele says:


    the most annoying one is when they don’t allow “long” email addresses! Who are they to decide how long an email address should be?


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  3. peter says:

    Yes – thats really annoying too Michele.

    Two of my other ‘favourites’ here regarding forms fields and eCommerce…

    1. Your country is not listed or spelt incorrectly.
    I’ve shopped online at sites where Ireland or the Republic of Ireland was not listed. Eventually I sometimes find it under Eire. What’s with the translation? Spain is never losted under España so why translate Ireland?

    2. You are told that they won’t ship a product to Ireland after you’ve gone through the whole shopping process.

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