In this Usability Report Card, we’re taking a look at Hummer Parts Club, an ecommerce store selling accessories for the full range of Hummers. I realize Hummers aren’t as innocuous as headsets or vinyl toys, but let’s put the politics aside and concentrate on improving an ecommerce store. We picked Hummer Parts Club (HPC) because the site doesn’t need a complete overhaul, but instead has identifiable usability problems that can be improved. Let’s get started with the grading.
Home page clarity
The site’s home page is above average. HPC’s home page follows ecommerce conventions and makes use of a three-column layout. Categories, which in this case are manufacturers, reside in the left column, specials on the right and two large images promoting product categories are front and center. The nicest use of the home page is the top header which displays the four Hummers, each with a drop-down menu of products available for that particular model. HPC does lack an “About Us” link, which an important way to communicate to customers.
Ease of browsing
Browsing the site is, unfortunately, a mixed experience. When I first tested HPC, browsing was a frustrating experience because the drop-down menus would only work from the home page. This has now been fixed, and browsing is more easily accomplished. Rollover the model you own, say H2, and you can navigate through the categories with ease. However, the categories in the left navigation are much worse. You cannot click on the category text to access the categories. To view the products under a category you must first expand it using an entirely-too-small button. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t make buttons smaller than the mouse pointer.
The site receives a low grade on searching because the function is almost unusable. Results are ordered by item code, not relevance and are displayed in a headache-inducing layout. (See the screenshot for the intense, black, white and yellow color scheme.) Search results should be displayed in a clean, grid format, preferably with a product image alongside the result. Also, let the objects create the grids. This means letting the text of the search result create its own section instead of setting it off with alternating colors.
Category pages should be displayed in a grid format — plain and simple. Unfortunately, HPC category pages aren’t plain or simple. HPC stuffs all the products in a category on one page and expects the customer to scroll. A good way to test if your page is too long is to hit the “page down” key. For ecommerce pages, a good rule of thumb is 3-4 hits of the “page down” key before you hit the bottom. The H2 lighting category requires 10 hits to reach the bottom, something that may be fine for an informational page, but not for categories. Split your categories into pages, and make it the default view. If a customer wants to view all products on the same page, let them, but don’t make it the default. Also, a standard image size for your products makes pages much cleaner.
The site has a significant problem with its “add to cart” buttons. HPC uses two different “add to cart” buttons. This is a sure-fire way to lose your customers’ confidence in your site. On a positive note, the product images are large, the information is succinct and descriptive and the pages are clean. Still, using different “add to cart” buttons is enough for an F.
The checkout process also gets poor marks. An encouraging part of the site’s design is that the checkout process is fast, which will save HPC from consecutive Fs. However, the checkout pages aren’t designed well, and they display security warnings. This is probably because of faulty source code, something that should be checked on all browsers before you open your store to customers.
The site gets good marks for customer service. The contact information is prominently displayed and the link provides the customer with a phone number and email address to correct problems. He adsets.com, the site we reviewed last month, set a high standard for customer service, so I can’t give HPC an A+. But for a small ecommerce store, HPC’s efforts are very solid.
Finally, someone realizes that in this age of identity theft and fraud, it’s a good idea to authorize credit cards. Error recognition for addresses is sufficient as well, although some points are lost because the errors don’t always point out which field was improperly filled out.
Hummer Parts Club receives an overall grade of C. Luckily for them there are parts of the site that can be redeveloped to bring their usability score up. Using a consistent “add to cart” button, splitting category pages into multiple pages, redesigning the search page and making sure the source code on the checkout pages doesn’t bring up security warnings would all bring their score up significantly.Most ecommerce sites don’t have the budget to use the newest and fanciest features, but a clean design and better usability will go a long ways.
Usability Report Card
Home Page Clarity B
Ease of Browsing C
Category Pages C-
Product Pages F
Checkout Process D
Customer Service A
Error Recognition B
OVERALL GPA C
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