Book retailer Borders has just redesigned its UK website, less than a year after last relaunching, and has also introduced a new range of eBooks.
There are some improvements, including new look product pages, more products displayed above the fold and clearer calls to action throughout the site.
There are a couple of issues on the site which hamper the user experience though...
Lack of filtering options
In any given section, Borders has thousands of books on offer, so people need some help to narrow their selection to a more manageable size. For example, the history section alone contains 181,000 titles.
While some customers will arrive at the site with a clear idea of what they want, or will choose from the new releases or bestsellers, many will prefer to browse by topic, so it is important to accommodate this kind of user behaviour and make it easy to browse and narrow down the search so they can choose from a relatively small number of suitable products.
The problem with the Borders site is that, though it does have some filtering options, they aren't enough to make the site more browseable.
For example, if I'm looking for a book on World War Two, I do have some filtered navigation options which enable me to select 'world history', then 20th Century history, then 'second world war'. After this though, I have no more options.
Even after all the possible filters have been applied, there are still 743 books to go through, spread over 38 pages on the site, which is too many to look through:
It is worse in other other areas, there are 93,687 modern fiction books, and no way of further narrowing down the selection. Borders needs to think of more option so that searches can be narrowed down to a smaller selection.
In the case of WW2, names of battles could be used as filters, the major theatres of war, historical figures, user ratings, and so on.The Book Depository, though it also runs out of filtering options at this point, at least allows you to search by keyword within the results.
Not having enough filtered navigation options means that users are forced to trawl through a large list of books, making it less likely that shoppers will find what they want.
Problems with registration and resetting the password
I've looked at the issue of registration on e-commerce sites recently, and would generally recommend that e-commerce sites don't insist on users registering before they enter the checkout, as it is an obstacle to making a purchase.
This example of a website that made an extra $300m by removing compulsory registration offers compelling evidence against the practice, and one of the main reasons is that users will often forget passwords when they come to purchase, and are forced to go through the process of retrieving login details or setting up a new account.
The fact that Borders insists on registration before checkout is one thing, but the site also makes it very difficult for people who have forgotten passwords to either set up a new account or reset their login details.
In my case, I must have shopped at the site before, but couldn't remember details, so I decided to set up a new account on the site because I was too lazy to reset my password.
This wasn't as easy as it should have been: as my name and email address are already registered on the site, I wasn't allowed to register anew:
I tried using a different email address, but I still got the same error message, minus the bit about the email. So, this means that on Borders, if you have a name that someone has already registered with, you can't set up an account, which seems unnecessarily restrictive, and may be enough to deter some shoppers.
Clearly, I was going to have to reset the password, but first I had to wait a few minutes for an email to arrive in my inbox. Once this happened, I received a link to go back to the site and choose a new password:
The problem here was that the link sent me straight back to the homepage, not the password reset page, which I could get to by copying and pasting the URL into my browser.
After finally being able to reset, I then had to enter my email address and password to finally login. Not counting the failed attempts at setting up a new account, the process of setting new login details wasted about ten minutes of my time. I wonder how many customers don't have the patience to go through this, and simply buy the book from Waterstones or Amazon instead.
The best way to deal with this would be to make registration voluntary, ideally as part of the checkout process, but if Borders insists on registration before purchase, it could do more to make setting up a new account and resetting login details a more user friendy process.