Practical Ecommerce

Usability Report Card: Acihoist.com

Alan Gonzalez at ACI Hoist & Crane, Inc. recently inherited the responsibilities for the company’s website, Acihoist.com, and its ecommerce push. He is in the early stages of improving the site’s navigation and content, but asked for a site review. Gonzales said the plan is “to do a site rebuild from the ground up.” We have some suggestions for the website that would be beneficial to consider during the overhaul.

Home page clarity

ACI Hoist & Crane’s home page does a reasonable job of explaining who they are, what they sell and why the customer should choose them. However, the compelling benefits of shopping with ACI such as “factory-direct pricing” and “30 percent to 50 percent savings over other major brands” are buried below the fold. There is also a lot of unproductive white space available on the right of the screen where these key points could be displayed, as well as a place for more images of their products.

Home page navigation

ACI’s product menu, on the left hand side of the screen merits special mention. The menu moves down the screen as the user scrolls down the screen, so that it is always in view. The benefit is the user can access any product category no matter how far down the page he/she is. However, the moving menu is very distracting. It “bounces” and keeps moving down the screen long after the content on the page has actually ended and it is not in lock-step with the user’s actual scrolling of the page. Even if these issues were all fixed, to make this feature more useful ACI would want to make the navigation at the top of the page scroll as well so all navigation is accessible at any time. To achieve this they would, in effect, have to freeze the top and left navigation and make the body of the page move instead.

There may be some benefit to having moving menus, however on a site where pages are not particularly long, users probably would not have any issue with scrolling to the top of the page to make their next product selection.

Ease of browsing

ACI has big problems in terms of browsing. They have a series of eight section tabs running across the top of the page and the aforementioned products menu running down the left hand side. First, the tabs have been poorly implemented and don’t “behave” as tabbed menus should. The menu should indicate which tab is active by making this tab visually distinct — such as changing its color or shade and making it “pop forward” in relation to the other tabs.

Second, and more problematic, six of the eight tabs lead users to another version of the site that has a totally different top level menu structure, which isn’t tabbed, has different categories and does not feature the left-hand menu navigation. Not only does having two dissimilar menu structures cause confusion for users, but if they try and reorient themselves by clicking the “home” link from these pages, they end up on a products page rather than the home page.

Predictability of navigation and consistency of screen elements are two crucial tenets of website usability. As renowned usability expert Steve Krug’s book’s title reads, “Don’t make me think!”

Searching

Search is not available from some pages in the site, including the home page. Many users prefer searching to browsing, using search as their primary strategy, so it is imperative a search option is included on every page. A search for “slings” returned the correct amount of results, however the category sequence in search was different than that used on the product page. The product results within the categories were also displayed inconsistently. Sometimes they range from smallest to largest and sometimes from largest to smallest.

Category and product pages

The promise on the home page of an “online catalog with easy, up-front pricing” is later broken with around half of the product category pages displaying an “under construction” image and the message: “Please call 1-866-424-6478 for pricing and technical information. This page is momentarily under maintenance.” Broken promises deplete the trust customers enter the site with. Keep your promises.

On the products page, products are arranged alphabetically, whereas on the left hand products menu the products are arranged by some unspecified groupings. Of the products that do include pricing information, a large proportion of them do not have links to add the product to the shopping cart. In addition, on the “electric chain hoist” page, the “add to cart” button has been replaced by a plus sign. It is important easily recognized icons and text are used consistently throughout the site.

Checkout process

On a positive note, you don’t need to log in to make a purchase on ACI’s site. However, if you leave the checkout process for too long an error message appears: “Your session has expired. Please click here to start again.” Not only will users find it annoying the session has timed out, but they will be even more annoyed the shopping cart has wiped their product choices from the cart. Users often make repeat visits to sites before making their final purchases, so it is important that products added to the cart at any point remain available.

Customer service

A link to the “contact us” page is available from every page on the site, as is a contact number for ACI. However, the toll-free number for ACI is only displayed on some of the pages, whereas the “outside the U.S.” number is always displayed. Some out-of-state potential customers may not call unless a free number is provided. Both numbers should always appear together. The “help” page, although comprehensive, is not accessible from all pages on the site, including the home page.

ACI also offers “live chat.” However, the pop-up window for live chat, if operators are not available, is not resizable and cuts off the “send now” button. In addition, the screen has a drop-down menu next to the “select a department,” but there is only one choice — sales. Also, after you finish your chat, the small screen your conversation is displayed on freezes and you can’t scroll your chat to find the information you had requested during the chat. This is maddening.

Error recognition

The site suffers from the fact many of the links lead to a page that reads “browser cannot display the web page.” On a positive note, if the link is clicked a second time the page generally loads correctly.

If you make mistakes filling out your billing information in the checkout process, a list of error messages such as “postal code is invalid” appears. This is good. However, the error list is not in the same sequence as the fields in the billing information screen, nor are there asterisks or other features to identify which fields need amending placed adjacent to the fields. It is more useful if lists of error messages match the sequence of the fields they relate to.

In summary, ACI’s website is a work in progress. Most of the features the site needs are there in some capacity but many are inconsistently implemented. ACI should not rely on its great savings to entice customers to persevere with this underdeveloped site to purchase their products.

Usability Report Card

Artistream.com

Home Page Clarity B
Navigation D

Ease of Browsing D

Searching B+

Category Pages and Product Pages F

Checkout Process D
Customer Service B
Error Recognition F

OVERALL GPA D+

Want your site graded? Email usability@practicalecommerce.com.

Richard Kerr

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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Legacy User July 19, 2007 Reply

    I always learn a lot from these reviews, even from reviews of sites that get taken to task like acihoist. The good news for this site is they have good direction to take to rebuild their site!
    Don bowling-rockabilly-shirts.com

    — *Donald*

  2. Legacy User July 21, 2007 Reply

    Thanks for the article. I, like rockabilly, find them educational.

    In checking out the ACI site, I was amused to notice that the 'About Us' page has a seal of approval from Authorize.Net, and little else other than a low price promise. Being an average (distrustful) soul, I clicked on it, and got a window that told me "Please confirm that the verified URL above matches the Web site you are visiting. This seal is only valid if the URL of this window begins with http://verify.authorize.net."
    Of course, the URL is close, but not quite matching (https://verify…) so I guess the verify.net folks aren't terribly worried about literal verification. Geez.

    — *Mike jus havinfun*

  3. Legacy User March 7, 2008 Reply

    View this months after this usability review was done, and the website remains the same. The annoyance of the home page menu scrolling was the first thing I noticed. I popped around a bit while reading this article and the website is sad. Very sad. Hope they can "hoist" it to the level it should be! (okay, bad pun…bad pun…)

    — *fivekitten*