I've been taking a look at the Sears website from a user experience perspective to see what the retailer does well online, and where it can improve.
I've highlighted some excellent features on the site that other online retailers could learn from, some relatively minor irritations that would annoy users, and problems that may make users abandon the site.
Overall, the site performs well and contains some excellent features, such as proactive use of live chat.
However, even with the best sites, there is always room for improvement...
Nice big search box
One of the most prominent features on the Sears homepage is the large site search box, which is similar to that used by Amazon.
Since Sears has a large stock range, including some technical products with long titles and model numbers, this makes perfect sense.
The trend is for customers to enter longer search queries of two or more words, and those that are looking for the model number of a specific TV or laptop will also tend to enter longer strings. Larger search boxes suit these users.
With a smaller search box, as customers type longer queries in, then the text will simply disappear from view. This is no disaster, but having a longer search box makes it easier for customers to edit their search terms in case of misspellings and allows them to be more precise with their product queries.
A minority of people may use site search, but by entering product names and model numbers, they are indicating greater purchase intent than the average user.
Targeted use of live chat on product pages
Having looked at a product page for a dishwasher and clicked on the specifications link, I see this pop up box proactively offering live chat with an appliances expert:
I'm not seeing this on every product page, which suggests that Sears has cleverly targeted the more complex products and offered users some one-to-one assistance.
I suspect the average person hasn't a clue how to distinguish one dishwasher from another, so it makes sense to offer live chat here. I've also noticed live chat appear if you hit the back button during checkout.
Also, stats have shown that, when live chat is used, this can produce conversion rates ten times the site average.
Surveys for checkout abandonment
I bailed out of the checkout process while looking at the site, but before I could head for another webpage, I saw this message:
Some may find the pop up annoying, but if even a relatively small proportion of people complete the survey, then this could provide some valuable insight for Sears to reduce checkout abandonment in future.
Sending cart abandonment emails
Cart abandonment emails are a great way to revive sales that may have otherwise been lost. After abandoning the checkout process, I received this email within a few hours:
Offering emails for out of stock items
I have my doubts about whether unavailable items should be shown, of which more later, but Sears does at least offer to email customers when the item is back in stock:
A retailer such as Sears, with a large product range, will always have a number of items that are currently unavailable for purchase.
There are a number of ways to handle out of stock items, such as offering to email customers, which Sears does, but displaying products which are out of stock can be annoying for customers.
Sears could add 'show only available items' to its filtered navigation options, which would avoid any frustration, while still allowing users to use the email option.
It could also show alternative, similar products which may suit the customer's needs, or perhaps advise them where they can find the item offline.
Poor usability when zooming in to images
Zoom tools are great for seeing detail on products, things like the number of USB ports on a laptop, or in this case, the control panel on a dishwasher.
As you can see from the screenshot, the highlighted area on the left suggests I should be seeing a larger image of the control panel, but I'm not.
Cluttered product pages
While many of the key points of information are clearly visible, (price, product name etc) there is much that is lost in the clutter of the page.
Of course, products like laptops require plenty of detail but I think the presentation of information could be better here.
Calls to action unclear
This was the case on product pages and during the checkout process. The checkout pages are long, but this does mean that, once you have filled details in, you're looking for the continue link.
It is there, but since it's below the fold on most pages, this may cause confusion for some users.
Assuming in store collection
After adding this TV to my cart and heading for the checkout, it defaults to in store pick up:
It's great that Sears offers this, but I may well be too lazy to head to the store or, since it's six miles away, I may prefer home delivery.
I'd rather it assumed delivery, then provided store pick up as an alternative option. After all, a 42" TV isn't the easiest thing to carry.
I encountered this page on a number of occasions:
Sears does at least handle this well, by apologising for the error and providing alternative such as site search and a range of contact options, but too many error pages reduce customer trust in a website.
If they see multiple error pages, they may wonder if there is a problem with the site and even whether it is secure.
An Econsultancy survey on reasons for abandoning online purchases found that technical problems would cause 54.5% of users to abandon the site.
Perhaps it's just me, but when trying to select categories from the left hand menu, I was instead shown recommendations based on my most recently browsed products.
On this particular session, I was unable to access the laptops category except by using the site search box. Errors like this could easily cause customers to abandon the site.
In general, Sears is a very usable site, and one which does well to make it easy to navigate and select from a wide product range.
There are more positives than negatives on the site. There are obvious plus points I haven't mentioned, such as a smooth enclosed checkout process, and excellent site search.
However, there are always potential areas for improvement with any e-commerce site, and some of the problems i mention here, if addressed, should help to boost Sears' conversion rates by removing barriers to purchase.
Of course, user testing, intelligent use of analytics and multivariate testing etc will help any e-commerce manager to improve sales more than a single site review, but the points I've mentioned here will hopefully provide some food for thought.
I'd love to see your thoughts on the review. Perhaps I'm wrong on some of these points, or maybe there are issues I've missed...