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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

Boring is beautiful on the Internet, because the Internet is a very functional place. Because of low bandwidth and time pressure, it works best when it is designed using a "bare bones" rather than "bells and whistles" approach.

Quality Internet design should be about functionality and simplicity. It should be all about helping the reader carry out a task in the simplest, fastest possible manner. If keeping it simple and fast means that the Web page doesn't look that graphically appealing, then so be it. If keeping it simple and fast means using standard rather than 'cutting edge' technology, then so be it.

The reader (consumer) wants simplicity. The reader wants speed. The reader wants convenience. The reader comes to your website to find out something. Having done that they may want to carry out an action (purchase). Make life easy for them. They will thank you with their business.

A great many websites are making life hard for the reader. Consider the following:

* A 2000 worldwide Ernst & Young online consumer study found that three out of four respondents had started but not completed an online purchase in the past year. The study stated that, "many consumers complained bitterly about long waits, clunky screens, complicated processes, missing or hard-to-find information, nonexistent telephone support, impossible return processes." A key conclusion of the study was that the online experience, "is decidedly not about entertainment, which didn't even make the top-15 list of consumer preferences."

* Four out of five consumers in a 2000 AT Kearney abandoned attempts to purchase products online due to poor website design and functionality. Over half (52 percent) of those surveyed said that being asked for too much information was their primary reason for failing to complete a purchase online. In addition, 40 percent abandoned their shopping carts due to website malfunctions. Abandoned shopping carts are estimated to cost etailers USD3.8 billion in lost sales.

* Almost half of all consumers trying to purchase online during the Christmas 2000 period left websites without placing an order, according to a Creative Good report. Reasons for abandoning the purchasing process included slow-loading pages and difficulty in finding products.

* "While online retailers offer a variety of site features, most of these features (the "bells and whistles"), with the exception of search capabilities and "close-up" product views, are never used by the majority of online shoppers," according to a 2000 study from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The boring are inheriting the Internet, with America Online being a case in point. Wired magazine reluctantly described America Online as "unsexy and unstoppable". According to a Business Week article in March 2001, "At every turn in the emergence of the Internet, America Online has been an object of scorn. Silicon Valley geeks sneered at its cheery user-friendliness and derisively dubbed it "America on training wheels." "

America Online has always understood the need to keep it simple. It is the master of understanding its customer and using the Internet for what it can do today, not what we all would like it to be able to do. Boring is beautiful as long as it drives the bottom line. Just ask America Online.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of a weekly column, New Thinking, which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Gerry McGovern: [email protected]
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