Chris Lake wrote about 50 ways to annoy web users on Monday, which included things like pop-up ads, slow loading pages, unreadable text, and other terrible crimes against usability.
One of the biggest offences for me is the automatic playing of audio when you arrive at a webpage, and I've found a pretty sorry example of this on the Next homepage today.
If you happen to have the volume turned up on your computer when you click onto the Next homepage (careful now), you're in for a shock, as you're suddenly greeted with a burst of unidentified music (Shazam can't tell me what it is) that you didn't ask for.
If you haven't decided to immediately hit the back button and look for a site that doesn't bombard you with sound, then finding the source of the audio is the next challenge, as it isn't obvious at first.
The source of the audio is under the heading jeans shop, and it turns out to be the soundtrack for a video promoting its latest collection of denimwear. You have to go below the fold to find this out though:
Most video ads that play audio have a mute button which does at least allow users to quickly turn off the sound, but Next has decided not to bother with this, meaning that users have to either put up with it or find the volume control on their PCs.
Having audio on automatically is bad enough, but not even giving users the chance to turn it off takes the biscuit.
Audio is an intrusion, especially when the user is not expecting it. For instance, some people may be doing a spot of clandestine surfing at work, so sudden audio can be pretty embarrassing. Or I could be on Spotify or Last.fm and have my listening pleasure interrupted by this unwelcome intrusion. It's just plain wrong.
I've seen intrusive video / audio on publishers' websites and it is irritating enough there, but on an e-commerce site it seems particularly stupid to risk annoying customers like this when you want them to buy something from you.
Perhaps Next has a good reason for playing the audio like this, but I certainly can't think of one. Any benefits in terms of drawing attention to the new jeans collections are surely outweighed by the risks of annoying customers so much that they simply leave the site.