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In the comments of a recent article by Matt Curry on e-commerce platforms and Javascript, Playmobil was mentioned as an example of particularly poor usability. 

One of the problems that Matt found was the threat to lock users out of the site for 24 hours if questions were answered incorrectly, which is astonishing.

There are plenty more user experience crimes to be found on the site though, and if Playmobil wants to make the most of the online channel, then it should look into solving the following issues, if not redesigning the whole site... 

Detect visitor's country of origin

The first screen you see when you arrive at the Playmobil site via the search engines is this, which asks the user to select their country:

The website should detect the visitor's IP address and automatically direct them to the relevant site, why make them work any harder than they need to? It's just annoying. 

Don't make users register before browsing

Like the lockout threat, this is pretty staggering stuff. Someone at Playmobil seems to value the capture of customer data well above the user experience. 

Basically, if you want to view the full product page, browse the online shop on the site and add items to your basket, you have register first. This is absolute madness. 

Making users register before they checkout can be a bad enough idea at times, but at least by that point customers have added items to their basket, and shown enough purchase intent that registration may not put them off. 

By asking people to register before they can even view further product details or add items to the basket, Playmobil must be deterring loads of potential customers, something which is not helped by the lengthy registration form, which asks for email address, password, name, address, phone number, as well as inviting you to set up separate accounts for your children. 

The text at the beginning of the form perhaps provides an insight into the thinking behind this baffling process. It says: 'We encourage you to visit your local Playmobil retailer to make your purchase', before going on to describe how you can touch, view products in displays, and ask advice from store assistants. 

So, Playmobil doesn't actually want visitors to its website to shop online. Never mind that they have already shown an intention to purchase by arriving at the site and clicking to register so they can actually start to shop, they would rather send you offline where, who knows, you might find a competitor's product which you prefer. 

Messy URLs

Playmobil has some lengthy URLs that have no connection to the product displayed on the webpage.

Adding related keywords to product page URLs can help SEO, as well as making them more understandable to the site's users. 

Login madness

Just in reviewing this site, I must have created at least five or six accounts on Playmobil. This is because it doesn't seem to remember cookies and, if you leave the site alone for half an hour or so, you have to login all over again. 

As you may have already guessed, this can be a tortuous process. You cannot create another account using the same email address so you need to either go through the reset procedure or start a new account, which is the lesser of the two evils. 

While perhaps I should have remembered my password, I've not had as much trouble resetting passwords and logging in on any other site. If this was online banking I could understand the fuss, but on an e-commerce site it is unnecessary and will just put people off. 

Like the example in this post, where a retailer made $300m by removing registration, I would wager that there are tons of duplicate accounts on the site. 

Children's accounts

Playmobil allows users to create accounts for their children, if the hassle of creating one account before shopping wasn't enough.

This creates unique logins for children so they can browse and add items to wishlists, though they can't buy anything from the site. In the run-up to birthdays and Christmas this may have some value, as kids could create a wishlist that parents could select presents from.

In practice though, it just doesn't work, since I can find no way to link the children's wishlist to the parent's account to actually buy the items on the list, which totally defeats the point of wishlists. 

Ludicrously long T&Cs 

Entering the checkout brings up a page of Terms and Conditions that should deter a few of the shoppers that have made it this far through the process. 

Most e-commerce sites sensibly keep the T&Cs out of the way of the checkout process. Yes, you have to agree to them, and they are there for users that want to read them, but to place them so prominently within the checkout process is just bonkers. 

Rude error messages

While sites should do what they can to anticipate and avoid common user errors, they will happen, and therefore error messages need to alert the customer to the mistake and help them to correct it, while also being polite. 

This error message (click image for a larger version) doesn't fit the bill. The exclamation mark is totally uncalled for, and will just annoy users. It annoyed me anyway... 

Shipping costs that deter higher orders

This has to be one of the most bizarre examples of delivery charges I have seen on an e-commerce site: 

Yes, the more you buy, the more you spend on delivery, which is nuts. What better way to discourage customers from adding extra items to their baskets? 

Long waiting times for delivery

Then there are the delivery times. Some e-commerce sites can deliver same day or next day, while most manage it within 2-3 days, so why does it take 10-15 working days for delivery?

 Would anyone bother when the wait is that long? It certainly doesn't make it an attractive destination for Christmas shopping after October. 

No contact number and slow email response times

If you want to check up on your order, or else ask any questions, then there is no contact number for you to contact Playmobil, just an online contact form which promises an answer within five business days. 

Telephone or live chat options should be provided for customers, as this offers a quick and easy way to answer product queries or follow up orders. If there is no phone contact option then, as ASOS does, emails should be responded to promptly. 

Doing neither will just infuriate customers, especially when delivery lead times are so poor. Customers could conceivably wait three weeks for an item to be delivered, then another week or two for a response to a problem with the item. Transactions could take months. In a digital age, this kind of service is totally unacceptable. 

Conclusion

I've only scratched the surface here; i could easily find plenty more usability issues with this site. For a well-known brand that people will search for online, this website is a very poor effort. In fact, I was surprised to find that this site was apparently relaunched in 2007, as it seems like a relic of the late 90s. 

Whatever the thinking behind this website, it seems clear from this website that Playmobil is simply not paying enough attention to its e-commerce operations.

Just by following some basic e-commerce best practice guidelines, it could make a huge difference to its conversion rates and online sales. 

Playmobil is a well-known and trusted brand, and one which surely could do well online, so it's a mystery why they seem to have got it so badly wrong so far... 

Graham Charlton

Published 10 March, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (15)

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Steve

Great article, Graham. It's understandable that even the big companies make a mistake or two on their respective websites - we're all only human, after all - but what really had me taken aback was their suggestion for their visitors/potential customers to go offline to see the products in-store instead. In an age where offline retailers are slowly learning the importance of selling online and realising the huge benefit once they do, I find it baffling that Playmobil would suggests the opposite. Their competitors must be pretty pleased! By the way, your 'Lenghty URLs' URL currently points to a Marks & Spencer 404 page. Just thought I'd point that out.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Steve - corrected now. 

I think the suggestion for customers to go offline gives a clue as to the company's attitude to online. Like they can't really be bothered but feel they have to... 

over 6 years ago

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ben rush

On the login madness its bad practice from an OWASP perspective to allow sessions to continue for over 20 minutes. Even if your site utilises a remember me functionality for example it should only "partially" log you in and then require a password if you attempt to access any sensitive information, i.e., place an order, access your account.

I would agree with you...you should have been more careful with your account information.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I may have been a little forgetful at first Ben, but it's the only e-commerce site that has kicked me out like that. The login situation is still nuts. 

For one thing, the 'remember me' option doesn't work, meaning that the whole email address and password combination have to be retyped if you happen to go off for a cup of tea and come back. 

Also, I don't agree that allowing sessions to continue for more than twenty minutes is bad practice, unless you are talking about online banking sites and the like. The point of e-commerce sites is to make it easy for people to shop on them, and logging users out of sites so quickly just makes it harder for them to shop and browse.

The bigger mistake is obviously to require registration in the first place, but that's another matter. 

over 6 years ago

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Also Steve

What I find additionally staggering is that Demandware actually uses Playmobil in their marketing - apparently holding it up as one of their "better" sites.

This actually gave me second thoughts about using Demandware at ALL, as the Playmobil site seems designed to actively drive customers away. How much of that is stock Demandware vs. Playmobil custom aiming-at-foot?

Also - how would they know if you answered their questions wrong?  That seems like an empty threat.

over 6 years ago

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Itinerarist

The biggest mistake is obviously to require registration in the first place, but that's another matter.

over 6 years ago

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Frank the Tank

Question for Also Steve?  So, you are using the Demandware platform then? 

over 6 years ago

Martin Dower

Martin Dower, CEO at Connected-uk.com LLP

This approach is not new, many of the "big" boys used this style of suspicious thinking and "me-me-me" type planning in the late 90's. A forward thinking retailer *would* have embraced good thinking, visitor-centric flow and adopted all the anti-jolt/barrier that we all know so well. Really, Playmobil are guilty of nothing more than existing in the stone-age. The killer here is that as the site fails to achieve anything useful for the company they will (incorrectly) see the web as a poor channel for sales and communication when in fact they have actually made it that way.

In all fairness, there are more offenders like Playmobil than not, even in this day and age.

over 6 years ago

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SixNationsFixtures

Great article, very inciteful.  It never ceases to amaze me how many 'large' businesses complete neglect the importance of a seamless user experience on their websites.  These companies are happy to spend massive sums on brand awareness through traditional media but fail to invest sufficient money and thought into their web operations.  They wouldn't put up with the barriers to purchase the website presents in the retail outlets so why is it acceptable online?  The mind boggles!

almost 6 years ago

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John Gordon

If these are "heinous crimes", i.e. grossly wicked, abominable, odious or atrocious, maybe the reviewer should get out in the real world more. Having said that, here are some comments from someone who has regularly used the site over some 13 years.

The threat of being locked out I've never come across so it's a new one to me. As regards the site not detecting the country of origin, one click isn't a problem and for in my case and I know in the case of many other people, they may well be accessing the site from one country and want to look at the different site in another country as the Playmobil range differs from site to site and the German site has an excellent archive section.

Registering first or last doesn't bother me, if you're buying you've got to do it some time, and the extra accounts for children ARE optional.

The question of terms and conditions and their positioning may well be because Playmobil have followed German e-commerce regulations (you coiuld check on this) and these may put a greater onus on the e-seller bringing terms and conditions to the buyer's notice.

"Rude" error messages all because there's an ! mark? Well, maybe, but better than those irritating sites where they post an error message in large letters at the top of the page and you then have to scroll down to see where error (possibly barely highlighted) is.

The shipping costs you highlight were a move from a previously very simply system and was quickly abandoned, in part at least because of the response on Playmobil fan forums. These are now for orders up to £50 p and p £5, orders over £50, free. (There may also be a lower charge of £3.75 for orders under £10, I've certainly been charged that on some orders.)

Delivery times are now 5 to 7 working days (I believe all stock is held in Germany btw).

A contact number appears at the bottom of every page and I regularly have email replies confirming orders the same day.

You have questioned in your review Playmobil's commitment to e-commerce a number of terms and, in fact, Playmobil do not see themselves as a toy retailer but as a toy maker and prefer people to buy from retailers, and they are particularly keen worldwide to support small retailers as well as chains.

But in all this, has your review done any good? Have you passed it on to Playmobil for their response? The response of fans seems to have had its effect in dealing with the complicated p and p issue, so it's not that Playmobil don't listen. If you don't pass your comments on, then what's the point of making them?

over 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi John,

A spirited defence of the site, though you have a tough job on your hands!

To deal with your first point, the word 'heinous' was tongue-in-cheek, meant in the Bill and Ted sense of the word. I don't take Playmobil's usability issues THAT seriously;)

It's a terrible website with a lot of room for improvement, even if the email response times aren't as bad as they seem, or if the shipping times have been reduced.

Making people register before browsing is utter madness, and something that you will struggle to find on any other e-commerce site. If you had to fill out a form before entering a shop in the high street, would people really bother to do this?

You may have become accustomed to the site and are prepared to tolerate its shortcomings because you like the products (and I'm not questioning the quality of the toys here), but this doesn't mean that many others wouldn't be put off shopping on this site.

Perhaps Playmobil doesn't see itself as a retailer, but since it has decided to sell its products online, it may as well do a decent job of it. At the moment, it could do a lot better. Look at the example of the Lego website for example.

As for whether this review does any good. If Playmobil were to read it and act upon it, I'd like to wager that they could improve conversion rates just by removing the registration barrier.

The point of making these comments, whether Playmobil responds or not, is to provide examples for other online retailers of mistakes to avoid, and best practices to follow.

over 5 years ago

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playmobil knights

What a very informative article! The management should do something to address this issues.

about 5 years ago

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Six Nations

very interesting insight into corporate culture

almost 5 years ago

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Ed

Here is another one- I set up an account on the US site, then set one up for my son, (well, really for me to use, as he is 4) thinking a wish list would be great, save me time in the future and all that. The paranoid nutter in me didnt feel like giving a strange website my sons age, (shipping) address and name (how bout a photo to go along with all that?) so I used my own first name instead. They ask for an email for your child too (!) so I put down mine. Then I placed an order. Now when I return the site thinks I am my son, and wont let me order a single thing. No cart, just their wishlist! Even worse, there is no record of my purchase, though my bank shows a debit. And playmobil apparently does not send order confirmation or receipts via email either. Nothing. The jury is still out on whether I receive my order, though I supose I probably will. I am waiting to see if their webmaster (through their contact form) can help. Oh, and there is acctualy a customer service phone number, the only catch being that you have to fill out an order first, all the way through to the credit card info. Then the number is displayed on the "place your order" page. Incredible!

over 4 years ago

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Helen

I wanted to purchase Playmobil from their site, but before I can see the price of the items, they want to know my mother's maiden name! Gah! Idiots!

over 4 years ago

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