How a shopping trip can help you improve your website

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Something you do every week without really thinking about it could provide a valuable resource for improving your website, or at least give you a better understanding of how it works.
And that’s to imagine your website is a supermarket. Steve Krug alludes to this is in his excellent book, Don’t Make Me Think, and in the future I will take some of Steve’s gems of advice and expand on them in this blog, as usability is an area which is all-too-often ignored on many business websites.

Splash page

My favourite supermarket analogy is the now rare splash page, possibly one of the biggest usability bloopers ever to appear on the web. A splash page is one that pops up before we are allowed to enter the website, giving a graphic yet usually uninteractive sales pitch to the services available.

Note how supermarkets use techniques to highlight individual items and special promotions

And sometimes just a button that says enter.
Quite often these pages were just an excuse to use Flash and nothing else. Imagine every time you visited a supermarket, you were forced to watch a 30-second ad before the automatic doors slid open. You’d soon change your shopping habits, wouldn’t you?
Thank goodness they’ve died out, but I’d hate to think how many decades of life have been wasted if you totted them all up.

Promotions

Anyway, let’s imagine you’re inside the door now. This an area where supermarkets plug items picked from all over the shop. You’ll have seen them – DVDs, on launch day, Easter eggs at Easter, buy-one-get-one-frees, seasonal special, etc.
The entrance to the supermarket is like the entrance to your website – your home page. And you can use your home page to flag up items that you want to promote – it works for them, it will work for you.

Sign-ups

Still on the home page, you’ll also have come across store staff hanging around trying to get you to sign up to their loyalty card scheme, their home phone service or whatever they want to get you signed into next.
They know this works for them. you can do it too on your website – get sign-ups for your mailing list, your subscription services, your money-makers.

Navigation

Once you’re inside, you’ll know your way around your favourite supermarket, but what if you’re looking for something different, or in unfamiliar surroundings? Well, those useful signs hanging from the ceiling tell us exactly what’s in every single aisle.
That’s navigation and you can use your navigation to tell your website visitors exactly what’s in each section. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people get this wrong.

Sub-navigation

Often you’ll find sub-navigation, helpful pointers in each aisle, designed to drive you straight to your product choice.
Supermarkets put things at eye-level to make them more noticable. Products that don’t make them so much money are harder to reach, either high up or low down. You can place your most profitable items where your visitors can see them first, like at the top of your page or highlight them in a sidebar.
And what do you do when the navigation doesn’t take you where you need to be? In a shop, you’ll ask a member of staff and they’ll take you right to the product you need.
The website equivalent is a search box. When you get stuck, you simply search for what you need, and if it works well, you’ll be taken to the product or information you need, just as if you’ve been led there by a member of staff. Can you see the similarities?

Checkout

When we finally get to the checkout, we’re often distracted by all sorts of things – sweets, drinks, gift cards, etc – but these are put there to taunt us while we’re waiting to be served.
Sometimes in shops, although not really in supermarkets, the cashier will tell us about special promotions, and because it’s a person-to-person sales techniques in can actually work.
Websites have an advantage here because they will already know what’s in your basket, so you can offer extras based on that information.
If your website software is clever enough, it can make suggestions based on what habitually goes with what you’re already buying, or can make suggestions based on what other people bought when buying the same products you have. So that’s our supermarket journey over.  They are amongst the most successful businesses out there, and spend their money on making it easy for you to spend yours.
So next time you’re doing your weekly shop for groceries, look in your basket to see how many things you’ve bought that weren’t on your shopping list and pick up a few tips on how they do what they do and apply it to your website.
Happy shopping.

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