Getting people to your site is half the battle. The challenge is keeping them engaged and interested. Some Web designers think that having as many product options as possible gives people the greatest flexibility, and thus, the best shopping experience. The opposite is true: Once again, less is more.
Once again, less is more. People don't like confronting a sea of choices.
Having a few applicable choices is often better than loading up the site with a lot of similar-sounding ones that require extensive effort to differentiate. People don't like confronting a sea of choices. What is easier, comparing a few products, or comparing 10 or 20? Factor in each item's unique features, and the complexity of making an educated decision increases exponentially.
This image shows only a fraction of the available credit card offers. The screen scrolls on and on with many more similar offers. While providing choice is nice, having too much choice intimidates users and makes it impractical to make meaningful comparisons.
"I think they offer way too many cards."
"I started feeling overwhelmed by how many cards there are on the Web site."
Facilitate purchase decisions by making it easy for people to narrow down their options and make side-by-side comparisons. Notice here the operative phrase is "side by side." Remember, people don't want to wade through wordy content or jump back and forth between different product pages to compare items. Good comparison tables tend to be the most efficient method to communicate differences between similar items.
People complained that comparing similar accounts was too cumbersome and required more effort than they wanted to make. The site didn't have a comparison table to help potential customers differentiate among the options. Instead, they had to select the account type shown in the list on the left and read the description for each one.
"It says to find the checking account that's right for me, but it doesn't guide me to which one. I have to go through each one of them. Maybe they can set up a page that can bring it all together. So it sets up the advantages and disadvantages of each kind. It's a lot to read if I'm only looking for a few specific things. It's better to have a chart. It's kind of losing my attention."
"Where do I find out what's right for me? It's too much work to see which one is right for me. Oh my goodness…yada yada yada."
"They should have a brief description of the accounts with bullets all in one place instead of making you have to go through each page individually. It would be nice to have a side-by-side comparison."
Let's look at the comparative tables from the Honda Automobiles Web site. Customers who were looking at the Accord might ask, "What are the differences between the various levels?" Different tables on the site provide slightly different angles on the answer, some better than others.
This bad example is taken from the Accord Sedan homepage. The main differentiating factor is cost, but what do DX, LX, and EX mean? This chart leaves people wondering what they get for the price. They won't find an easy answer here: They must click on each of the items, remember the features for each, and compile their own comparison data.
"I would want to have a picture showing what the differences are between EX and DX. Especially if I'm spending more money for an EX, I want to know what I'm getting for my money."
"As a consumer, I want to have it easier to compare them."
This is better. This version gives more details about each car, but the formatting is atrocious. The text runs together, making it difficult for people to scan the information and quickly pick out the differences.
This one's best. It's a fine example of a well-designed comparison table: The clean and simple design makes scanning easy. The table could be improved, however, by making the descriptions hypertext. Terms such as "Drive-by-Wire Throttle System" are a mystery and need further explanation. For long tables that require extensive scrolling, make sure to repeat the top headers to preserve context. Remember to list features in priority orderbased on your customer's perspective, not yours.
Refine and Sort
If your Web site is bulging at the seams with all sorts of products and services, give people the ability to refine the selection to only show the relevant ones, so all items don't have be to considered. Separating the useful from non-useful items makes comparison-shopping less daunting.
(Facing page, top) Staples provides a variety of sorting parameters to narrow down its list of products so customers can focus their searches. The short bulleted descriptions highlight the top features so that the items are differentiable. However, it is better to include sorting options by other features people care about-such as lumens and resolution, in the case of projectors. Portability is important for travelers, so weight is another important criterion.
Comparison-shopping on this site is cumbersome because the sorting options are limited. Price is obviously an important criterion, but it's not the only one on which people base their purchase decisions. People would have to go through the products one at time to read the features and separate the useful from the useless ones. Imagine having to do this manually for more than 40 items!
(Facing page, top) A comparison chart that spans over three long pages is too unwieldy. Matching up the dots with the correct columns and rows is a tedious process. The icon headings on the top row are too small and nondescript. People can hover the cursor over each one and get descriptions, but that's too much effort for more than 50 items. In this case, having a way to winnow the list based on important features would be more useful.
(Facing page, bottom) This site offers a method to choose campsites based on desired features. Unfortunately, it is so hidden that many people in our study didn't know it was available. Note: The default should be set to all of the requested activities rather than to any one requested activity. The three Go buttons are confusing because it's not clear if people must click the associated button for each category.