User Experience

The Shopping Experience:

The provides a positive online shopping experience that emanates professionalism, trustworthiness, and quality. But it is an experience that even small ecommerce businesses can emulate.

In 1996, the actress Sharon Stone wore a black Gap turtleneck to Hollywood’s grandest gala, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Oscar Night. It was a huge promotional win for the Gap Inc.

Stone’s fashion choice and millions in good, solid marketing investment since have helped the company achieve billions in annual sales ($14 billion in 2008 as an example). But while the, with its many financial resources, certainly provided an excellent customer shopping experience, that experience was something that nearly any good online merchant can match—no matter how small the ecommerce operation.

A Solid Shopping Experience

Each month, Practical eCommerce sends me shopping. I make a purchase from a real online merchant and then report back to you about my shopping experience. The goal is to provide you with a customer’s perspective of the featured merchant in particular and online retailing practices in general. In the end, this feature, “The Shopping Experience”, should give you insights that you can use to improve your business.

My experience on the was everything I expected it to be—professional and easy. It was a solid shopping experience in almost every way.

Yet, the most stunning part of this experience was how reachable this excellent level of customer service seemed. It was effortless; but more on that in a moment. Let me start by telling you what I liked about my shopping experience at

Quick Look

Hover over any product image on a product category page and you’ll be offered a “Quick Look” button. Click that button and you will get a miniature product detail page complete with all of the item’s essential specifications and a link to add it to your shopping bag.

I thought this feature was an exceptional bit of navigation that made shopping on the better, faster, and easier than most any other apparel site I’ve visited. It stood out more than any other part of my shopping experience.

Layered and Faceted Navigation

When I arrived at the, I didn’t really know what I wanted to buy, so I was browsing. The site’s excellent left navigation made that task a whole lot easier by offering layers like “special sizes,” “top picks,” and “departments,” each with sub-layer choices and facets that helped me drill down to the product types that interested me most.

I believe that nearly every online shop with more than a handful of products should consider this sort of navigation.

Flawless Checkout

Once I had made my selection, going to my shopping bag and completing the purchase was easy, understandable, and fast. I was especially pleased with the clear and concise instructions and headings. I always felt like I knew what I was being asked.

Prompt Email Confirmation

In what seemed like no time, the had sent me a professional looking confirmation email. And eventually the company would notify me that my item had shipped. These emails were simple, well written, and clear. They did a fine job of meeting my expectations.

Site Aesthetics

How a site looks has a significant influence on how shoppers feel about it. A professional and handsome site leads a visitor to trust it both from a security standpoint and in terms of product quality.

The Gap website features professional photography, functional navigation, and clean graphic design. These traits combine for a simple and attractive look that supported the company’s well known brand and made me feel confident in my transaction.

Pop-Ups and Slow Shipping

I had only two relatively minor nits to pick with the

First, it has pop-ups. I really don’t like pop-up marketing. Thankfully, my web browser stopped the popping.

Next, it took the Gap two full days to ship my shirt. I placed my order early in the day and imagined that since I was dealing with such a large company, it would have an army of packers just waiting to tuck my item into a package and whisk it off to the brown-clad folks at UPS. But instead it took the Gap nearly two full working days to process my order.

You Could Do This Well, Too

With the exception of these two minor concerns, the provided me with a very enjoyable customer experience. But as I mentioned above, I was surprised by how achievable that great customer experience seemed.

In fact, I think that nearly any online merchant using a good quality shopping cart and paying attention to details could offer customers the same level of satisfaction as a retailing powerhouse with almost $1 billion in net profits.

For example, the “Quick Look” feature that I liked so much is actually fairly easy to achieve with JavaScript. Since most ecommerce platforms generate category pages dynamically, there would also have to be some server-side development, but this feature is something that nearly any good web developer could implement in a few hours.

Next, layered and faceted navigation is a feature that several inexpensive shopping carts offer (i.e., Magento Commerce or GoodBarry). Any merchant can include this sort of navigation.

Summing Up

The offered a great customer experience that smaller online merchants would be wise to mimic.

I don’t want to mislead. As a company, the Gap does a great job of marketing its products, managing a chain of brick-and-mortar stores, and transferring its brand to the Internet. The company clearly has more resources than a small ecommerce operation. But in the area of customer experience, I do believe that smaller merchants can match the Gap.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
Bio   •   RSS Feed