Commentary

Just the Tools, None of the Rules

  • by , September 9, 2008

Online shopping should be practically effortless. After all, the idea is that one can acquire 300 reams of copy paper whilst lounging in one-piece jammies and bunny slippers - a certain level of simplicity is to be expected. Yet, while perusing the internet looking for deals on my latest purchases, I often run across some incredibly inane, restrictive shopping systems including pre-defined sets of categories (such as price categories) and strict hierarchical feature selection.

The very concept of "price categories" is patently ridiculous - you can't pre-fabricate price ranges for your users with any hope of accuracy. What if I wish to spend about $500 on a processor, and want to see what sort of options are available at the $400-$600 price range?

If I go to TigerDirect.com, I have no simple way of doing so. I either have to choose between AMD and Intel, or pick a processor from their "best selling" list. They've immediately divided my search into two parallel search processes. By making me pick one, they force me to repeat everything I do from here on out with the other selection, and merge the two sets of results in my mind. It's an unnecessary requirement to place on the user, and makes things more difficult.

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Supposing, for argument's sake, that I select the Intel CPUs first. Once more, my progress is stymied and my only options are processor model, price range, and brand. The kicker is that the price ranges include $200-$499 and $500-$999. Again, they've managed to double my search count - I now have four individual search threads to merge into a coherent result. This already complicated process is worsened further by the fact that I have to deal with the inclusion of $200-$400 and $600-$999 processors, which are clearly not what I want.

Let's contrast this experience with shopping for the exact same thing at Newegg.com. I select "processors", choose "desktop processors," flip open the power search, and immediately specify my price range. Simple. Amazon is even more convenient I can achieve the same sort of price range selection in only two clicks, instead of four.

But TigerDirect's madness doesn't end there, gentle reader. They also have the gall to demand that one select a hard drive's connection type before selecting an amount of storage. After all, everyone knows that motherboards don't ever come with multiple connection types that might render such a choice slightly less important than the amount of space one needs. I could go on for hours pointing out various similarly arbitrary restrictions on product selection, but the major point should be abundantly clear by now:

It is an unforgivable sin to assume conformity and uniformity from users. Give them flexible tools and information to assist in their decision-making process, then step away and let them work.

Needless to say, I rarely shop at TigerDirect anymore.

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