Online Shopping: A UX case study with a happy end

If you sell products online, i.e. if you run / design / work on an online shop, you will find improvements which could be applied to your shop & parcel delivery service, elegantly solving users’ needs. My observations come from a purchase made at alza.de and the subsequent delivery by GLS.

In the end, I should be grateful that I even got my purchased goods

Setting the scene

My daughter had an upcoming birthday and was (and still is) getting into photography. I believed that a compact digital camera would make a good present for her… one with a few knobs to turn & settings to change to make it easy to explore her creativity. With three weeks to go until the big date, there shouldn’t be any problems… or so I thought.


Find and buy a suitable product (a camera in this case)

Of course, I started looking online. But I found two things challenging, 
1./ I couldn’t tell how big or small the cameras were and 
2./ I couldn’t tell whether the cameras had knobs to turn or settings to change.

So I made a mental note of the prices of a few candidates, then left the online world and visited a large electronics store uptown.

That visit confirmed my camera choice. But I didn’t buy it. I returned to the online world to buy because the store price was roughly €50 (roughly £44 or $52) more than the price I had seen one hour before.


Dialogue with the shop

Within seconds of buying, the shop sent me a confirmation eMail thanking me for my purchase. In that eMail the shop informed me that a second eMail would be sent within a day or two with a tracking number, so that I could follow the passage of my purchased camera.

The important message is a little lost in the copy; there will be another eMail. But the visuals are clear; the camera is waiting to be transported

That second eMail arrived two days later telling me that my camera was on its way.

I felt suitably informed and knew my delivery was on its way.

So I waited for my delivery. 
And waited. 
And waited some more.


Missing dialogue with the delivery man

The parcel delivery service did not have my eMail and could not, therefore, inform me about the whereabouts of my camera. Their focus was (and still is) on their well-oiled logistics.

But on those occasions where the recipient is not at home (as in my case), they resort to an old-fashioned solution: They stick a postcard on the house wall and then they wait.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I didn’t find a card telling me to go and pick up my package. So I was unaware of any change in the delivery status and continued to wait, probably like the majority of customers in that not-at-home situation.


Excessive thumb twiddling

After about two weeks of waiting, I searched for that second eMail with the tracking number and clicked on the link. That link called up a page with some icons and the confusing information that the package was located roughly ½ hour away from my location.

Critical information (highlighted) is lost in a sea of unimportant copy

In fact, the last five entries (5!) all showed the same location… it seemed that the parcel was stuck somewhere.
Phew… I thought, this delivery is taking much longer than I expected, but it’s close… it’ll be here soon.
So I waited even more.


Her birthday’s in three days and it still hasn’t arrived

With only three days left before the birthday, and 2 ½ weeks after I had ordered the camera, I started to panic. Would I need to go back to the overpriced electronics store uptown and buy the camera there? Could I contact the shop and ask them if they knew anything?

That’s a toxic combination of adrenalin, anxiety and irritation.

I searched for the eMail again, clicked on the tracking number and called up the page. I was desperate, yet somewhere on that confusing page with the icons and the information that the package was located roughly ½ hour away from my location, I found a link saying “Show ParcelShop”… I clicked it.

The camera had been at this shop for ages, only nobody told me

It showed a shop 10 mins. away from me. Immediately I grabbed my passport as proof of identity and set off to the shop.

More through good fortune than anything else, the shop still had my camera. Non collected items normally go back to the sender after 7, sometimes 9 days. This shop had my camera for 15 days and nobody told me.


Where did it go wrong?

Did you, as a reader, feel the pain I went through? Did you spot all the places where things went wrong? Or did you, as a reader & so-called power user, think the system works fine and that I, the customer, made the mistake?

The way I see it, both the shop and the delivery service managed, at best, a half-hearted performance. I am the paying customer and it’s essential that information reaches me. I shouldn’t need to go looking for it.

The shop was too quick to get out of the process. You can almost hear them thinking “the delivery guy has it now, it’s no longer our concern”.

The parcel delivery service, in this case GLS, was too reliant on their analogue postcard. Had I seen that postcard, there would have been no problem… but I didn’t get it and so couldn’t read it. Furthermore, they relied too much on me finding the information that was critical for me. They were too passive in their role. And over and beyond that, their presentation of the essential information was unclear.


Low hanging fruit for GLS

There is some so-called low hanging fruit for GLS which could improve this entire buy / deliver / inform cycle, as seen in the following screenshot…

Easy-to-make changes which could lead to slight improvements

1./ the link saying “Show ParcelShop” on the tracking page must be relocated so that it’s immediately next to the critical info and the “ParcelShop” icon 
2./ wording should be added to all four icons, going from left to right, something like “in GLS system” then “national transport” then “local transport” then “being delivered” or, in my case, “waiting for customer” 
3./ the critical information “could not be delivered” and “parcel is at the ParcelShop” must be highlighted 
4./ the second message “parcel reached the ParcelShop” must be removed as it’s redundant (it repeats the previous message in different words) and pushes the essential “could not be delivered” message further down the page.

Yet these easy-to-make changes would lead to only slight improvements. Not-at-home customers would still be required to hunt for their critical information. The entire process relies too much on customers actively searching for critical information. But there is a way to make the system do the work.


How to really improve the shop / deliver / customer process

To understand how to improve this buy / deliver / inform cycle, you need to view it from the customer’s perspective and you need to accept that the end customer doesn’t require much info at all. 
What she/he requires is quality info. 
An idealised version of the required messaging would be something like: 
A./ “planning to deliver your parcel today between 13:00h and 15:00h to your home” or, as in my case 
B./ “parcel couldn’t be delivered and has gone to this shop to be picked up by you”.

In both cases a little more copy should be added to cover any raised questions and the next steps. 
Message A. needs to explain what will happen if not deliverable and cover the option “can’t make it at that time” and message B. needs to inform about where the parcel is and how long before the parcel gets sent back to the sender.

And that small amount of information must be pushed to the customer. It’s just plain naive to expect customers to pull all the information and then extrapolate the essential stuff.

Since the delivery service (in this case GLS) doesn’t usually have the eMail of a shop customer, the shop should take over the responsibility of informing their customer. The shop (in this case alza.de) could automate the checking of the delivery status (using the very same tracking number it sent to me). And it should do that every day.

When the status “will be delivered today” appears, the shop should send out a third eMail saying “GLS is planning to deliver your parcel today between 13:00h and 15:00h to your home”.

And if the shop would check the next day, then it would find one of only two possible changes… either the status “parcel has been delivered” or “parcel couldn’t be delivered”.

In the event of “parcel has been delivered”, no further eMails are necessary and the automated checking would be stopped.

In the event of “parcel couldn’t be delivered”, there would be a fourth eMail saying “parcel couldn’t be delivered and has gone to this shop to be picked up by you”. After this fourth eMail, no further eMails are necessary.


Why should these changes be made?

First and foremost, design solves a problem. When done properly, it makes things simple and easy to use for everyone. It’s aim isn’t to give users as much information as possible, but rather to give users just enough information to make a decision. All the unnecessary, technical, backend stuff should stay out of the way. If someone wants more details, she/he can reach those with an additional click. But bear in mind, almost no one actively looks for more but redundant information. And why should they?!

Secondly, and rather alarmingly, the truth is that only 5% — 8% of the adult population are computer savvy. Yes! that’s 8% at the most who are able to perform simple tasks — read the recent report from the NN Group, dated end of 2016.

In my experience, power users (if you’re reading this, then that’s you) make up at the very most 5% of that 8%… that’s 0.4% of the adult population at the most!

Thirdly, the information requirements from this prototypical buy / deliver / inform cycle for most customers are extremely minimal. 
In other words, there are only a few pieces of information needed by 100% of the adult population 
1./ thanks for buying 
2./ GLS is transporting it 
3./ GLS would like to give it to you today 
4./ GLS didn’t reach you, so it’s here for you to pick up

Every further piece of information just clogs things up, the system, the brain, eMail clients etc. etc. without actually improving anything (jargon: it’s all fluff).


Finally

Thanks for the read!

If you would like me to look at your website or app, just shoot me an email at beck (at) beck-button (dot) de or go to the contact page on my website or, if you prefer, connect via Linked-In.