For this month’s edition of the Usability Report Card we have chosen Quel Objet, a site specializing in French products for the home. Quel Objet means “What a thing!” according to the site’s “about us” page, and the site’s design shares the same funky vibe as its name.
Quel Objet doesn’t have any major usability flaws, but, like most small online retailers, there are a few identifiable problems that can be improved — namely, it has serious problems with its “checkout” button.
Home page clarity
Quel Objet does a nice job of using its home page to feature products using large, colorful images. There is a flash promotion piece that rotates through six products and makes nice use of the top area of the homepage. The biggest problem with the home page is the very small font size of most of the text. Text should really be 12 point font or larger.
Ease of browsing
Browsing Quel Objet is intuitive as the top nav shows the categories, displaying subcategories in a pop-down menu when you roll over the category. While the top navigation functions well and is very clean, I usually suggest using left-hand navigation for categories and keeping the top nav for administrative links. As it is, Quel Objet has its administrative links (about us, customer information, etc.) on the very top of the page with the category navigation below. This results in a lot of visual noise, and as we will see in the checkout process, lowers the conversion rate.
Quel Objet does not have a search function on its site, and that is a significant problem. Smaller online retailers sometimes forgo search: they figure they don’t have enough products to warrant the addition, but this is narrow-minded. Sites should be designed so every customer can quickly get to the product pages without having to browse through categories. There’s no reason to not include search on a retail site.
The category pages are nicely laid out with subcategory links arranged in a grid format. Quel Objet definitely understands the depth vs. breadth equation when creating sites. It’s more art than science, but it’s important to find a balance between having too many top-level navigation links and having too much drilldown before you hit a product page. There could be some confusion on the category pages because links to subcategory links appear the same way that links to products do. Still, the layout definitely works overall.
Product pages on the site are cleanly designed and feature a prominent product image. Text is kept to the essentials, with the product title, a short description and the price being the only things a customer would have to read. This is, of course, somewhat inherent to the products Quel Objet sells, but keeping text blocks concise is a tenet of web design. One improvement would be to make the add-to-cart button larger, perhaps twice as large as its current size. The green button does stand out from the blue elements on the page, but for calls to action bigger is better.
The checkout process has one flaw so large it ensures an F. Once you add a product to the shopping cart, the next step is checking out — but the checkout button is separated from the shopping cart by the top navigation. Worse still, the checkout button has a faded look to it. You want the checkout button to be the first read on the shopping cart page, not the fourth or fifth read. The checkout button should take the place of the continue-shopping button, below the cart total, which you can see in the screenshot of the Quel Objet shopping cart.
Quel Objet does a nice job of communicating to the customer that help is only a phone call or email away. The store’s phone number is displayed in the header at all times. A contact link on the top navigation provides more complete information, including a physical address, which has been proven to alleviate customers’ concerns with online stores.
Quel Objet unfortunately doesn’t have error recognition for addresses, and while robust verification that will check ZIP codes against states is quite expensive, checking to make sure ZIP codes are only numbers is quite easy for even limited budgets.
Overall, Quel Objet comes through with a passing grade of C. The lack of search and the confusing layout of the shopping cart hurt the site immensely. Redesigning the shopping cart would have the greatest effect on the usability of the site and would surely improve conversion rates. Changing the shopping cart is understandably a daunting task for a small online business, but in this case it should not take long to recover the cost in sales.
Usability Report Card
Home Page Clarity B
Ease of Browsing B
Category Pages B+
Product Pages B+
Checkout Process F
Customer Service A-
Error Recognition C
OVERALL GPA C
Request a site grade by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.