Online shopping : the good, the bad and the ugly.

This is part of our monthly ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly‘ series.

While ( in most cases ) nothing beats the experience of getting to feel a product physically before buying it, nothing sucks more than missing the first 15 minutes of Battleship ( it’s a movie with that guy from Fast and Furious who is not Vin Diesel. Yeah, that one. And Rihanna! ) just because you had to do your shopping, physically.

The point is that sooner or later, a major part of our shopping experience is going to move online, so let’s try to make it a better one.

So, what the heck do people ( in India ) buy online?

Books. Electronics. Apparel. ( also jewellery, but I won’t talk about that )

Books – The book buying experience certainly works online. You don’t need to physically feel a book, as they are all identical ( with some mathematical approximation ). And stuff like ratings / reviews are an added benifit not available IRL ( in real life ).

Electronics – This includes things like :

  1. Pen drives / Portable Hard disks – These are products which sell on features ( USB 3.0 ports, dancing lights on panels or the kind of whoosh sounds they make when connected etc. ). All of these details translate very neatly to an online environment, and usually the experience is better than brick and mortar stores. ( which offer less variety, fewer colors or fewer types of whooshing sounds ).
  2.  Mobile Phones / Cameras – This also translates to a good online experience, for the same reasons as above. But, this stuff is more expensive than the above category, and many people will prefer to hold a device in their hands to know how it feels, and still prefer physical stores. Such devices are also heavily reviewed by tech blogs and every aspect of the device has been written about, including stuff you will never discover in the entirety of the products lifetime, let alone a 100 second play time that physical stores might offer.
  3. Laptops – All of the above crap applies here. Also, laptops are more expensive, and the feel of the product matters even more ( Yeah, I know the majority of people don’t give a shit about ergonomics, but they still want to feel it up ). One plus point is, unless you are shopping in Nehru Place, getting to play around with every device could be a headache. But then you don’t get to ‘play around’ with all the devices online either. All you get is little grainy pics and a ton of specs. Although you can experience the laptops in richer detail at the manufactures website, the buying and getting-a-feel-of-the-product experiences are not connected ( except for Dell ), and most people will buy from brick and mortar stores.

Apparel – This is something that most people will try to get a physical feel of, before buying it. But t-shirts / sweatshirts or branded merchandise sell good, as in these cases, what matters is the design / brand. Macro shots of the fabric and 360 degrees rotate-able product view thingies certainly help the cause. Shoes, on the other hand, are something people have to try on, before buying. ( Heck, I have a hard time finding the right shoe in an actual shop, but that’s another story. )

They buy some, they don’t buy some. What’s your point?

The point is that the major problem that online stores need to solve is making the experience as good as, if not better than the IRL experience.

And how do they do that?

1. Ambiance
Ambiance?  Yep. Just like IRL, the environment matters a lot.

You can not expect people to spend 50 grand on a computer on this site. Is this 1990? And why does the site only fill half of my screen, that too aligned to one side (  instead of centrally aligned ). And marquee text! Seriously?
Solution – Hire a bloody designer.

2. Virtual Feel of the Product

Also known as high res pics. ( Or fancy 360 degrees view thingies etc. )

What the heck am I buying, again? How can I buy something I can hardly see!
Solution –  Use high res pics. The additional server costs will not kill you.

3. Checkout

I just want my t-shirt, just take my credit card number and go away. I do not need yet another registration form. Do Brick and Mortar stores force you to fill a 3 page form before you buy something? No. Give an option of registering, and in a single line, explain the benefits of doing that. Also, I hate passwords. Use Facebook connect. ( Or twitter connect, or any other open ID service like Google Accounts. In fact, use all 3 of them. )

Of course there are a ton of other things that could be done to improve the experience, but let’s start somewhere.

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