Grading the Redesign

The e-tailing community is humming with talk about the new effort at the Gap’s aggressive stance on improving its customer experience is a delight to watch. Its goal to cut down clicks and make online shopping even easier has been the focus of a $10 million redesign. A recent “New York Times” article chronicles the experience:

When women browse’s T-shirt section, they do not have to click to a new page to see details about the 16 shirts shown on each page. Rather, when they put the cursor over an item (called “mousing over” in industry parlance), they are invited to click on a “quick look” link for the shirt. That link yields a pop-up window that shows a model wearing the shirt alongside swatches of the colors it is available in. Mouse over any swatch, and the shirt takes on its hue — and the window tells you what sizes are in stock.

When a shopper clicks “add to bag” from within that window, the site does not shuttle her to a checkout page, as many electronic retailers do. Instead, another small window replaces the previous one, showing the shopping bag and asking her to consider multi-item discounts. If she ignores that window or clicks the “close” button, it disappears and she continues browsing shirts from the original page.

From a technology and usability perspective, the new product interface is leaps ahead. The use of AJAX (define) is impressive. The site developers should be proud; this interface will be the envy of many.

The site was down over the past few weeks for the upgrade. PR from that, however, might be helping rather than hurting. Whether or not this was by design, it’s successfully working many up into a frenzy.

The redesigned site will certainly spike sales in the short term. But if Gap really wants to maximize this opportunity, I have a few tips.

Avoid Marketing Your Flashy New Technology

Sure, you’re saving me some clicks and making my time on your site easier, but please don’t sell it to me like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. I’m most interested in your products; that’s why I’m here, not to try your technology. And believe it or not, some people won’t even notice the improvement. Customers are most concerned about finding and buying jeans and shirts. The rest is either in the way or not.

Optimize Your Prime Real Estate

“In the old world, it’d take dozens of clicks to hack through pull-down menus for size, color, style,” Toby Lenk, president of Gap Inc. Direct, said in the “Times” article. “Nobody had figured out how to let someone put together an outfit and buy off one page. It’s just very hard to do.”

Saving me clicks is great, but folks seemed to have forget about several clicks on the site. On a few of our in-house tests, it took a minimum of three clicks for users to even find this cool, new product-browsing tool.

The top navigation text is small and almost invisible. And when I land on the home page, the action Gap wants me to take is unclear.

The home page’s prime real estate is dominated by references to music, not products. When I click on “Men” in the top navigation, I’m greeted with a rather unappealing photo and no images of all the products I can shop for this section. If Gap is trying to use the actual store as the metaphor, then I expect to see men’s clothing — not pictures of men — when I land on the section’s main page. Main section pages should resemble the Women’s Fall Trends page, an engaging way to shop different products.

Don’t Forget the Checkout Process

The shopping experience is wonderful, but hit the checkout button and things get shaky. The shopping bag summary page is great. There are thumbnails of the products I selected and I can see the different shipping options with the calculated price. It would be helpful to know at this point when the product will ship.

When I continue through checkout, I’m forced to sign in. This is a big no-no. On a site where additional clicks are to be avoided, forces an extra, precious click by adding a totally unnecessary page in the checkout process.

Next is the billing page, which is an utter disaster. There’s no point-of-action security or privacy assurance (though there’s a link to the privacy policy at the bottom of the page). I’m presented with several orange “apply” buttons that can be easily confused for the “review order” button, the button I assume Gap wants me to click on the most. The retailer should review my tips to reduce shopping cart abandonment.

Once the new site stabilizes, the retailer should turn its incredibly innovative, clever development team toward the shopping cart. Find a way to save me clicks and hassle and reassure me that my transaction will be secure.

The Power of a Strong Brand

Some of these problems may seem small, but each is a leak in the cash drawer. Still, the new Gap site will be a resounding, well-earned success. And not just because of the great development, but because people have such an investment in buying from this brand (clearly illustrated by its competitors’ traffic not spiking). Their tolerance for site inconveniences has been raised slightly, but only until some other site or brand becomes just as hip and usable.

Gap is committed to its customer experience and willingly pushed the limits. I give it an A for strategy but a C for execution. Given time, the right metrics, and equal commitment to optimizing the customer experience, the retailer will get it right.

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