Viva la Revolution – more transparency and consumer testing please!

So after all my ramblings from sunny, revolutionary Venezuela we were greeted to a fresh dump of snow to welcome us back to the UK, together with a text message from a neighbour claiming it was so we did not miss out.

However I do appear to have missed out on quite a bit of news whilst I was away and was blissfully unaware we had a failed Xmas bomber on a plane bound for Detroit. It’s amazing how the proximity of the internet is so pervasive that you don’t realise how much you rely on it until it’s not there any more, even when you go into an internet café abroad and you discover that the service is not reliable.

I read with interest on my return the leading article in the Economist last week that that over the past decade the number of privately owned companies started by women in America has increased twice as fast as the number owned by men and companies owned by women employ more people than the largest 500 companies combined in the US. This remarkable, quiet revolution (unlike the revolutionary rhetoric we saw on every roadside poster in Venezuela) will have many repercussions on our work patterns. We are likely to see more sabbaticals, unpaid leave, phased retirements, flexible and home working for all. It should also drive more improvements in ecommerce as women are so often the key shoppers but my view is that they are often not involved enough in the testing of websites before they are unleashed on to the public.

I was reading some stats recently stating that now 60% of the UK population have access to the internet and many now prefer researching online rather than using a travel agent or using the phone. My aversion to using the phone has increased a lot recently. I find that trying to get through to anyone is incredibly difficult. I called a very large retailer this week trying to check if they had an item in stock and was left on hold with no response. Several stores such as B&Q appear to have got their act sorted and can confirm online if items are in stock at each branch. However other stores are trailing behind and need to focus on making their stock levels much more transparent to the consumer. I’m sure the business case would be quite strong as it could save a lot of staff time. After all, customers can be well trained these days to do things for themselves online, if they have some good navigation and a user friendly website.

So the million dollar question is why is the “navigation” and “user friendly” bit so hard to achieve? I’m still shocked how many websites are so unusable and think that every business (however small) should always ask customers and first time users to test their site and perform a few key tasks before they go live. I’m sure we’d have more user friendly sites if this always happened. I was shocked this week to visit a website belonging to a large global company and as I browsed their home page I realised that their navigation elements were the only part of the site showing above the fold so when you clicked each element the screen did not change as all the new text appeared out of view. Incredible!! Why do we forget to test our websites with all the latest browsers, screens and operating systems and to incentivise our customers to give us some honest feedback? Viva la revolution and bring on the “usability”!

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