US clothing retailer launched a nice new e-commerce site in June last year, but it seems the decision to integrate its four brands into one checkout function hasn’t worked as well as it hoped.

The retailer has designed its site so that users can shop from Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Piperlime, as well as Gap itself, and checkout at the same time, but this has had the unintential effect of undermining perception of the brand, according to Foresee Results.

Foresee’s Online Retail Satisfaction Index states that:

“This feature may not have been important to Gap’s online customers to begin with because they may view the other brands differently in terms of price, quality, and style”

It’s an interesting observation, as the feature did seem to simplify the whole process for customers, as well as reducing delivery costs. Gap’s satisfaction score dropped in this year’s report, down 5% on last year’s figures, with the single checkout feature blamed in part for the disappointing score. There are other problems with the site that may have contributed to the lower score though.

The revamped Gap website was reviewed on the blog when it launched, and was an improvement on the previous version, which had too much Flash and was almost invisible to the search engines, as well as not providing a site search function for customers.

Some improvements were made to the site; simpler navigation, site search was finally added, and product pages were enhanced (though key information remains AWOL). At any rate, the finished article was a more usable site, which makes it surprising that – despite these improvements – the addition of a joint checkout has been enough to damage the customer satisfaction score.

Yet the site remains far from perfect as there are a number of problem areas which may frustrate customers. Using the tabs to move between the four brands can be slow, and often produces a dastardly pop up window asking for email subscribers; there are better ways to do this. Delivery details and charges are not shown on product pages, forcing consumers into the checkout to find out about shipping costs. The side effect here is that it provides Gap with an inflated checkout abandonment rate in the process. The checkout itself can be painfully slow to load and update.

While it needs to consider the point about brand perception, Gap should also look at these remaining usability and information-based issues to improve customer satisfaction with its website. It should also start selling online in Europe and the UK, where it has a significant number of stores and brand presence, but no transactional e-commerce offering. Why leave money on the table in the current economic climate?

But Gap’s website aside, perhaps the declining satisfaction score (in the face of website improvements) says more about the demands of the typical online shopper. Since shopping via the internet is now a habitual pastime for many consumers we can only imagine that they are becoming more demanding. Or maybe that should read ‘less forgiving’. 

The user experience bar has been raised and as such shoppers will not tolerate shoddy customer experiences, and why should they?