Having sold social search engine Jellyfish to Microsoft in 2007, founders Brian Wiegand and Mark McGuire started work on Alice.com, which launched in beta this week.
Alice.com provides an online marketplace for users to buy a whole range of household goods; nappies, batteries, soap and more, and for CPG manufacturers to sell directly to customers. I've been trying the site out...
While having to register can put customers off on some sites, it is necessary to register on Alice.com to make use of the sites planning features, and the hope is that time spent setting up an account and telling it your preferences will save you more effort in the long run.
First of all, you can select the number of people in your household, how many children, how old etc, so if you have toddlers, nappies will appear in your list, and so on, all in a jolly cartoon format. In the process, Alice.com gets some useful information on its customers:
After this. it asks you to select the products you use via these tick boxes, all of which are already ticked. This is a potential annoyance for the user, as they are forced to spend time un-ticking the items they don't use:
After this, you need to enter details to set up an account and start shopping. It does ask for a date of birth, which some users may find unnecessary, though it does justify this with the lure of special birthday offers, and sensibly doesn't make this compulsory.
Alice.com offers different options for browsing and adding products to your basket. You can shop by brand, or by room, or else choose a duck that represents one of the product categories you selected when registering and go from there.
This where the tickboxes come into play, and if you haven't taken the time to un-tick the products you don't need, then you end up with a lot of ducks to go through:
After selecting a product, you have a few options, including adding to the current order or saving for a future order, as well as setting the frequency at which you will need these items. These are useful options, but having to do this for every item makes shopping for a whole household quite a lengthy process.
One thing it does do is automatically apply any coupons to the products you have selected, which does save a lot of time spent searching for them.
Some good filtering and sorting options are provided too, helping users to narrow their choices from what is a very wide range of products on the site. Alice.com allows you to filter by brand, lifestyle choice (green products, premium, bargain) or to sort by price, whether coupons are offered.
Basket / Checkout
When I was trying the site out, it asked my to re-enter my password every time I selected the checkout link, even when I had only just logged in. This is unnecessary, and something which will annoy a few users.
The basket page is fine, and clearly summarises your order, pointing out the savings you have made from coupons that have been applied to your order. Security concerns and other issues are dealt with the Digicert logo and nice clear contact details.
If you haven't added enough items to your basket (presumably to cover the costs of offering free delivery) then an alerts pops up, though it lets you off with just a couple of items the first time:
The checkout process is nice and compact, with most of the data entry compressed onto the one page which makes it smoother, though the last minute cross-sell page add one more step than is necessary.
The site has neglected to enclose the process, leaving the main navigation links and search box at the top of the screen. Leaving the process via one of these links means you will have to enter your password again to get back in, a potential source of frustration for shoppers.
There are some innovative and potentially very useful features for long-term users of the site, such as the advanced planning section, which allows you to set reminders for when you are likely to need your next pack of toilet rolls.
For instance, the budgeting tab could be very useful to help households to plan their spending, as it compares your spending with the average on the site and can help you make savings.
Overall, a few relatively small usability issues aside, it's an appealing and well-designed site with a lot of useful features, which should encourage users to sign up and use the site long term.