Practical Ecommerce

Usability Report Card: Arenaflowers.com

Arenaflowers.com is a United Kingdom based website that primarily sells fresh flowers. On the verge of its one year anniversary, the ebusiness wanted to get an external perspective on how its website was doing.

Homepage Clarity

Arena Flowers’ home page does a good job of stating its value proposition of buying direct from auctions in Holland for freshness, cutting out the middleman for savings and free delivery on all bouquets. Prominence is also given to the fact the organization is the first United Kingdom florist to sell “Fair Flowers, Fair Plants (FFP)” accredited flowers and plants. This guarantees its products have been grown in an ethically and sustainable manner, which is an increasing concern for consumers.

All of the important information that needs to be accessed easily is above “the fold.” The page area below “the fold” is chiefly devoted to informational links such as Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Sitemap and Guarantees.

Excellent, large photos of a selection of the range of flowers and plants are also prominently featured. However, the site also sells chocolates, drinks, toys and balloons, but of these, only one product is displayed: A box of chocolates. It would be good to include more of the other products here to give a taste of the range of products the site offers, especially for customers who don’t notice these are available from links in the tabbed menu.

The home page pleasingly features a box with all the contents of the shopping cart so users can see at a glance what they currently have added to the cart without going to the checkout page. The box stays in this constant position on most other pages of the website except for certain information pages. Unfortunately, if users click on the hyperlink of the name and quantity of the product in the box they are taken to a modified version of the homepage that removes the shopping cart box and all the other boxes along the right hand side of the page, instead of taking them to the checkout/cart page.

Ease of Browsing

Arena Flowers is generally easy to browse. Customers have the ability to browse for flowers by five different categories on the left hand navigation, including “price,” “occasion,” “variety” “color” and “arrangement.” Each of these categories has subcategories beneath them. For example, “by occasion” has subcategories such as “anniversary flowers” and “birthday flowers.” In addition, there are special categories of “international flowers,” “luxury range,” “summer flowers” and “all products.” Finally, there is a category called “ethically sourced” in the body of the page. Since plants and flowers that are ethically sourced are a big part of what makes this site unique, this category should also be a permanent category in the left hand navigation.

To search for other products, such as chocolates and drinks, there is a tabbed menu at the top of the screen. This is reasonably well implemented, however, if the “Plant” tab is clicked it takes the user to the correct page. However, the tab itself is not correctly highlighted green, and instead the “Flowers” tab remains active. This, however, may be a technical bug rather than a usability issue.

Searching

Arena Flowers does not have a site search. This could potentially be costing them business as some research suggests that around 40 to 50 percent of Internet surfers are “searchers” rather than “browsers.” Not including search may put off some users from the outset. However, of course, people’s preference of searching over browsing is only part of the equation and users use a combination of the two methods to find what they are looking for. In the larger scheme of things, they may primarily use the search method by using, for example, Google to find the kind of site they are looking for and then browse the site. Or, more specifically they may use the search function within a site to quickly find what they are looking for, such as roses, and then browse the resulting pages and link to other pages, or filter or sort pages until they find what they are looking for.

Aside from a user’s existing search preferences, according to some research, users who are usually inclined to use search given the choice of both options may switch to browsing if the product categories are sufficiently broad and have a “high-scent.” This means that if it looks likely that a particular category will take them to the correct destination they may choose to forgo search to see if they can find the product by browsing. Arena Flowers’ site seems to have a sufficiently well organized information architecture and good broad categories so customers can find what they are after easily. Therefore, the cost in time and money of including search functionality may not be worth the investment. Alternatively it may just be further down the list of priorities.

Category Pages

As previously mentioned there are a range of useful categories available to narrow the user’s search down. In contrast, the All Products category page features everything the site sells on one long scrolling page. This page can be filtered by product type such as drinks, chocolates or vases. These categories can be additionally sorted by name or price. Unfortunately, not all of the categories that the listings could be sorted by are included in the filter list, such as color or arrangement. It would be good to include this functionality. Additionally, the sort function is also not quite perfect, as the names of the products are not always in alphabetical sequence. For example the plant and wine package “Force of Nature” is in the R section. There is also only one rose bouquet in the R section, when in fact there are a number of rose arrangements to choose from, but are listed under different names, such as “A Dozen White Roses.” On this page, in particular, products should be correctly listed alphabetically. On other pages, such as “Engagement Flowers,” balloons and soft toys are scattered amongst the flowers. It may be easier, for comparison purposes, for customers to have the flowers, balloons and soft toys grouped separately from each other.

Beneath each product shot are the options to “Make Deluxe” and “Add Vase.”

What’s right or wrong about it? When moused-over the “Make Deluxe” and “Add Vase” link could change to become underlined, and users may think this is a link that would move them to another page. They could also change color, as the link changes, to read “Make Standard” or “Remove Vase” respectively, but it should be even more obvious than that.

Product Pages

Product pages feature lush photos around nine times as big as their thumbnails. To the right of the main photo are three thumbnails. Two of which, if clicked, will display a different view of the arrangement in the main photo area. The remaining thumbnail brings up care instructions for the item.

As an incentive to garner sales from customers whose partners have forgetfulness or insensitivity issues, a “Send a hint” button is featured on each product page. If clicked, the customer is taken to a simple web form, which attaches the customer’s message to the photo of the item they want. This is an interesting idea and the resulting email looks professional. The message however automatically adds a statement such as “Love from, Not Telling! xxxx.” This sign off may not be appropriate for the intended recipient, and customers may not use the preview button before sending the email, and therefore not realize that this will be included.

The “Send a hint” and “Buy” button both have the same look. The “Send a hint” button is placed directly below the main image, whereas the “Buy” button is hidden away in the top right hand corner. Although it is probably unlikely that customers would mistakenly click the “Send a hint” button rather than the “Buy” button, because of their respective placements the user’s eye will likely be drawn to the “Send a hint” button first. The “Buy” button should be placed in a more eye catching area, and the “Send a hint” button should be visually de-emphasized and placed at a sufficient distance from the “Buy” button.

Checkout Process

A key problem with Arena Flowers’ checkout process is that there is too much distracting and superfluous information. The key is to get out of the customers way and allow them to focus on easily completing the purchase. This can be assisted by removing the bulk of the main navigation, which they have done. However, they have included three features that should either be removed or redesigned. The page includes a “Customer Comments” box with satisfied customers’ testimonials refreshing on an eight second cycle. This is distracting and one would think unnecessary as the customer has already clicked the “Buy” button and presumably needs no more incentive to buy. More annoying is a flashing bar that flips between displaying the message “Continue to Step 2” and “Add Message” about every second. Lastly, the largest part of the page is not devoted to the process itself, but to trying to sell more products to the customer and this features distracting arrows that also continually refresh.

Shopping cart abandonment rates across all ecommerce websites have historically been in the 60-75 percent range. Anything a site owner can do to make it easy for the customer and streamline the sales process can only help to improve the conversion rate and add dollars to the bottom line. Unless the information that the eye is being drawn to is critical, consider not using movement, faces or colors that are bold or clashing or generally reserved for another purpose, such as red for error messages. This is especially important for areas where the intention is for customer’s to focus on completing a task.

A progress bar that outlines how many steps there are in a process, what the steps are, and where the customer currently is within the process is a welcome addition to creating a clear and transparent checkout process. Arena Flowers’ progress indicator does say that the customer is at, for example, Step 1 of 3 at the top of the page. However the title of the page at the top of the browser window says Step 1 of 2.

Customer Service

Arena Flowers makes itself easy to be contacted by a range of different methods. It features a “Contact Us” link and an 0800 number in the top right hand corner of each page. If this area is moused over, it triggers a box, which features both free and international phone numbers, an email address, times and days that customer services is open and a further link for more information. The “Contact Us” link, in white, has a translucent light green background, which sits atop an image of a flower. Some customers may dismiss this area as just being background fluff so it may pay to make the “Contact Us” link more visually distinct.

On the “Contact Arena Flowers” page the same contact information is displayed, plus an address, which is reassuring to customers.

There are a couple of improvements that this page could implement. The page features within page links to each of the customer service/contact areas such as “Call,” “Email,” “Opening Hours,” etc. Clicking each link reveals the information hidden below it. It would be better if the five links were placed closer together at the top of the page and clicking any of them would just move the customer down the page to the relevant information. In this way all the relevant information is accessible as soon as the customer lands on the page and they have the option of either just scrolling down the page to retrieve it or clicking a link to jump to the specific area they are interested in.

Error Recognition

During the checkout process there are a number of fields that are mandatory. These fields are indicated by the message “*required fields.” The main problem with Arena Flowers’ error recognition is it doesn’t happen enough. Erroneous or nonsense data can be put into some fields, such as letters into fields that should only accept numbers. Sometimes this is picked up, such as typing letters into the credit card number field, which results in the numbers instantly being removed. Ideally, any problem of this nature should also result in an error message appearing adjacent to the field saying what the problem is and the solution to it.

Errors should also appear at, or as close to possible to the time of the mistake being made. In the case of entering an invalid credit card number error, three other steps were completed and the confirm order link clicked before the error was recognized.

Overall

Arenaflowers.com has a lot going for it: Free shipping, beautiful products, a first mover advantage in the field of ethically sourced flowers and the site is generally easy to navigate around. A primary improvement that could be made is to remove the distractions in the checkout process and to generally streamline the process further.

Usability Report Card

Arenaflowers.com

Home Page Clarity A-

Ease of Browsing B+

Searching B+

Category Pages B+

Product Pages B

Checkout Process C
Customer Service A-
Error Recognition B

OVERALL GPA B+

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

Richard Kerr

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  1. Legacy User August 21, 2007 Reply

    Just wondering what ecommerce software you were running.

    Nice clean design on the site BTW. Beautiful graphics and layout.

    — *Lon Weiss*

  2. Legacy User August 21, 2007 Reply

    Thanks for the review! We're actually close to rolling out a brand new checkout which should address a number of these points, but there's a bunch of stuff in there that we hadn't thought of, we hadn't spotted the cart bug and some bits, as you point out, are for technical reasons (eg the plants category actually sits under flowers therefore to make the top tab go orange when you select it would be quite tricky technically and not a top priority!).

    Watch this space to see us roll out changes to address the identified issues.
    Thanks again.

    The Team At ArenaFlowers.com

    — *Will (ArenaFlowers.com)*

  3. Legacy User August 23, 2007 Reply

    Hi Richard,

    The basket bug is fixed now, thanks for the feedback, I'll incorporate as much as possible into V2.

    Lon, its all custom built using the Ruby on Rails framework. Aside from trying to provide a unique experience, we wouldn't have been able to find an ecommerce package that was flexible enough for our needs as it involved creating a very complex delivery system to ensure we get the flowers arrive on time (i.e. alive). We have multiple regions that determine when/where we can deliver flowers, with rolling cut-off times to control pricing/availability through the day.

    thanks

    Zach

    — *Zach (Arenaflowers.com)*

  4. Legacy User September 28, 2007 Reply

    Hi all

    Anyone who's interested can now go checkout our V2 checkout.
    Hopefully it's a big improvement and would push us to a B rating.
    I hope that that would rise to an A+ when we roll out the returning visitor time saving features next week…

    — *Will (ArenaFlowers.com)*