Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Happy holidays

I’d start this post with massive apologies for the radio silence over the last month but the fact is that no one wants to hear any more about my illness than has already been shared on twitter. Multiple times. Be glad you don’t sit next to me.

Post illness I decided on a whim to book a holiday with my friend. We only wanted three nights so in the end opted to book on Expedia. Dear lord…you know when you are browsing on the web, or even out shopping somewhere and you look at something and just want to get your hands on it? Expedia  - you might not be ‘proper’ retail but crikey I’d love to get my hands on you. Usability? At all? Heard of it?...thought not.

Now that’s a bit mean I know – we all suffer from the odd inability to see what’s in front of our noses. Plus we also have a habit of believing those marketing-brand people when they say ‘oh people come back to us because we’re cheap/convenient/the only place that sells the product so we don’t need to be pretty’ (or easy to use apparently) – that’s true in its way, but seriously I’ve been working in the industry for five years and I almost lost it with this site. The checkout process nearly broke me – and Expedia at some point we need to have a conversation about page titles – seeing a tab which says ‘itinerary confirmed’ when you’re still booking is SCARY. My mum would have panicked the first time something weird flashed on the screen and headed to the last remaining high street branch of Thomas Cook  (and she’s pretty web savvy).

Anyway that conversation is not now – or I’d be writing forever and I need to pace myself. I’m talking about the post purchase journey only today – with a travel site you’d think this is a pretty popular secondary journey and a fairly good driver for return visits, let alone a necessity for actually travelling. *sigh*

Let’s be honest as conversion focused as we are, and in the pressure to drive revenue we sometimes forget about journeys which sit outside of checkout. We think in straight lines – customer browses, looks at product page, signs in, buys, leaves….and yet we all know this isn’t how it works at all. There is so much up for grabs to delight customers with decent experiences outside of checkout, and yet we continue to make the same groud-hog day mistakes. Just stop it. Do it now. Write a business case. Focus on someone’s interaction with your site in the real world. Go on, it won’t hurt….

OK let’s start with the header. My primary reason for visiting is to see if my reservation has been confirmed (yes the promised 24 hours turned into 36 – again I’m trying to FOCUS). OK so presumably as I created an account during checkout I need to find a way to sign in. My assumption would always be that the sign in link is in the top right of the header – a little area we used to call the Utility Nav on a previous site. Whatever you call it it’s pretty much in the same place. Well yep it is but what the hell if going on with it? There is 8 different links on it – all of which look like slightly similar versions of the same darn thing. Where the heck do I click?

Now I suspect Expedia have made a minor rod for their own backs here because you can checkout as a guest – without creating an account that it – but then you still do need to do all the functional things which go along with having an account, like checking in online, looking at your booking details, adding in your passport number – so they’ve kept numerous links which presumably apply to temporary users. Well one of the things I learned in systems design was that if it looks like the same thing – it normally IS the same thing, if you need to have an account to do all this stuff then make people create a damn account, it’s only one additional field (password) for goodness sake. I’d also imagine that like me users are thinking ‘shit I’m paying like £X for a holiday – I want to make sure I have a history of that’ – a holiday isn’t a £20 top, no one wants a throwaway relationship with their holiday provider-  they want to feel safe, loved, secure, best friends for life.  Sometimes a password is just for their own good. This is one of those times.

(apologies if you’ve user tested this to death Expedia but even if that’s the case and your conversion is 100% better with a guest checkout option I’d question your execution)

Anyway so after the high jump which was that header I went for ‘Sign In’ as the most likely option to tell me what I wanted to know. Oh crikey what’s this:


This comes back to the guest thing I think – but if you’re going to ask guests to ‘sign in’ then why put all the links on the damn homepage as well? And how is ‘search for my itinerary’ any different from the ‘My Itineraries’ link on the Homepage? –is that a sign in action? Does it deserve to be on a page called ‘Sign In’? Noooooooo

‘Sign in or select an option’? Everyone needs to select an option – don’t confuse me.

Anyway-  I’m not even going to mention those benefits down the side, clearly you give them all away ‘free’ to guests without having to register – so what’s the point of trying to sell it now?

Ok so I know I have an account as I consciously decide to add a password at checkout so I click the radio button to sign into an existing account.

Whoooooah what I do? Red scary message with exclamation mark? I didn’t do anything! Eek! It wasn’t me! Oh it’s just some stupid pointless error message. You’ve just lost Mrs H by the way. Also what does it even say? Sign into verify your identity? I am signing in. Well I’m trying to anyway, if you stopped shouting red error messages at me and left me alone to get on with it maybe I would.

Email or username – this better be a hangover from some kind of old fashioned data conversion problem because ‘user name’ died out in 1998.

Password – (6-30 characters, no spaces) – OK so this is just a littler bugbear. I either know my password or  don’t, you reminding me how long it MIGHT be along with the lack of spaces (who puts spaces in a password anyway?) isn’t going to help me. Fair enough when I’m creating it but I’m just typing it in for goodness sake. Get your tiny text out of my way.

Forgot username and/or password? – OK whatever you probably do need this but ‘Forgotten’ would sound nicer

The ‘Sign me in automatically next time’ – I kind of like these checkboxes because I am a) inherently lazy online and b) I forget my passwords regularly. But come on – a tooltip, a ‘why?’ link AND a comment about not doing it on private computers? How many different ways can you clutter your page up with pointless information? Put a tooltip on it and leave it at that.

Use my passport/Windows ID – whatever but learn something from people using FB Connect and at least brand this so it’s easier to see what it is.

If I actually do something incorrect I then get a different scary error message giving me a vague idea of what I’ve done wrong. Eeek! I’m now hiding under the desk wondering if I’m a total moron.

I’m finally into My Account and I think  - surely I must be home and dry. But no – this is one of the most serious cases I’ve ever seen of ‘too much information’ syndrome. We know as usability professionals that best practice dictates to us that users like to know relevant information at the correct point they’re interested in it. They like control, they like to feel they have  choices – too many choices at once however if a recipe for panic.

Expedia why do I care what format my emails come in to me? Your average person doesn’t know and or care the difference between HTML and plain text. And even if they do this belongs in a sub menu somewhere that normal people don’t have to see it. As it is my eye is drawn here-  and now I’m thinking I have a choice to make…

I’m also required here to update the required TSA information about my passengers. Well funnily enough this was mandatory information when I checked out, and the name, birth date and/or gender of me or my friend hasn’t changed since then. I’m sure people make mistakes and typos and need to update this kind of information but seriously - having that big piece of text in a box makes me think I should do something, something  right now, something important, something I ALREADY DID!

Do I plan travel for others? Nope – if I did would this be useful? Yes probably..would I look for it BEFORE I had booked – yes. Get out of my face with your non-essential information.

To find out if my booking is confirmed I have to scroll right to the bottom of the page and choose My Itineraries (don’t get me started on the number of time this has now appeared). I also find it odd that the same term is used for something you’re planning and something you’ve booked. In my world it’s a booking. I’ll go with itinerary if needed but it seems like an awful lot of effort.

Finally! A nice simple design, minimal text  - and easy to use page! Except for the fact my itinerary is (2) which is a bit annoying– this is what happens when an exploratory browse and a purchase have the same name.

Next page - *sigh* deep in a sea of pointless copy is the word ‘Confirmed’. Phew, I feel a bit like I’ve been on my journey already – except let’s hope my holiday is more simple than trying to navigate the site I booked it on.

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