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Once she's wrestled her way in, she immediately discovers there are no aisles for her to walk through to look at their stuff, no overhead signs for her quickly to locate anything, no helpful (or even rude) information desk people, no smiling sales staff, not even an obvious cashier. In fact, she realizes that from her point of view there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to this store at all. How much do you think the novelty and graphics and music matter now? How long do you think she's going to hang around? How much do you think she's going to buy?

Sure, I can hear you hooting. What a way to run a business - to build a store that actively discourages shopping! The bozos who thought that place up should be hung out to dry, right? Now, consider this: in the online world, the functional equivalent to your store is the Graphical User Interface, or GUI - pronounced "gooey." Whenever I hear this term, I think of flypaper and how it's hardly something you want your prospects to get stuck on. You don't want your clients fighting with your "store" - you want them actively engaged in shopping, not just satisfied but delighted by the way you offer your products.

Ideally, your GUI has a very simple role to play: it allows humans to interact with you, to view your products, to make selections and complete a purchase. Easily. Painlessly. Happily. An effective GUI bridges all the gaps between you and your shoppers by helping them focus on the content of your website. A good GUI should be seamless, transparent, completely unobtrusive. A super interface will help build the proper customer experience, reinforce your brand, and increase your sales. A bad one will do just the opposite.

A bad GUI spells ruin. If a user has to work hard to puzzle through your high-tech system or obscure processes, she's not shopping. And every time you add another gooey layer that frustrates her interest and motivation, she's that much less inclined to "stick" with you! It's easier to find a competitor, just a click away, who puts her interests first.

Too many folks (you know who I mean…) who are responsible for e-commerce design on the web assume that constructing an interface is nothing more than creating distinctive glamour and eye-catching cleverness. And that's a major reason lots of e-businesses fail. One study discovered that users currently spend 1-1/2 hours of every 5 hours on the web simply waiting for pages to download! They spend at least another 10% of that 5 hours searching for items on a page, and more than another 10% filling out forms. Get real! No shopper is going to invest that kind of time for an average purchase!

So, the GUI plays a simple role, but designing a GUI that's simple for your shopper isn't a simple matter. Many disciplines go into the mix:

· Information architects analyze the kind of information that needs to be communicated and generate logical pathways to form the foundation of the site.

· Graphic designers give the structure a coherent visual look and feel that fits within the overall brand positioning strategy while (ideally) striving to enhance usability.

· Human-factors and usability engineers question accessibility and usability issues at every step of the way, conducting extensive user testing to weed out any potential problems.

· Individuals with experience in good, old-fashioned N2N (nose to nose) sales as well as in consumer psychology, marketing, merchandising, color theory, and other key issues further refine and improve the effectiveness of the interface.

A lot of work, but your business won't work without it. Lots of studies and lots of red ink are proving that fancy graphics, audio, 3-D, and too-clever layout features don't make your site sticky. They make it slow, distracting, and confusing. Anything that gets in the way of a quick, easy, and safe buying experience turns customers off. So design your GUI from the customer's point of view, not the developer's or the designer's, and you'll create a flypaper that has them "sticking" for all the right reasons!

© 2000 Future Now, LLC


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