Website Wars: Reviews of Amazon, Toys R Us and Best Buy's UX experiences

To round off our look at some of the world’s most high profile retailers and the designs of their online presence during the busiest online Christmas shopping period ever, we look at Toys R Us, Amazon and Best Buy.

Toys R Us: Jason Brush, executive vice president, user experience, Possible

Toys R Us is one of the most iconic toy brands, so it’s great to see such a strong, usable site. While the site employs many of the necessary baseline features of a successful e-commerce experience — e.g. targeted promotions based on items the customer has viewed; faceted browse by product categories; contextual promotions — the site fails to differentiate itself from Amazon or to create a unique branded experience that would give customers a reason to shop on ToysRUs.com instead of Amazon.

For instance, Toys R Us does not offer an experience that kids can use. Users must be 17 or older in order to create a Wish List. Given that social platforms such as Facebook have an age requirement of 13, and there is a wide a variety of other safe online experiences for kids 13 and younger, this is a huge missed opportunity to connect with a key target audience.

The site's focus on efficient browsing and merchandising similarly misses an opportunity for social media integration and more creative marketing of the brands that Toys R Us sells. Product detail pages that incorporate detailed information from toy manufacturers provide smart and useful content that assists consumers when they are making purchasing decisions. It would also be helpful to have a stronger editorial message about groups of products either from Toys R Us editorial staff, or from third-parties, such as manufacturers, bloggers, or customers.

At Possible, our driving ideology is “Does It Work?” All told, Toys R Us offers an efficient, usable site that does work, but could make some changes to out as a destination users can't miss during the holiday season, such as a more clearly articulated set of features that would compel people to use ToysRUs.com instead of Amazon.

Best Buy: Vinicio Vazquez senior / lead user experience designer, JUXT

I visited the BestBuy.com site using my smartphone first since a significant portion of shoppers will be using their smartphones to do their shopping this season. I was delighted to see that their site was designed and implemented with smartphone users in mind. The mobile site is fast and reacts seamlessly to touch gestures, but I did find some usability and design issues that can be addressed relatively easily. For example, the use of the 'hamburger' menu (on the upper left) is not universally understood. A simple improvement to this can be made by simply adding the word 'Menu' to it or replacing it by the word.

The shopping cart and checkout experience is standard and works well. One barrier I encountered during the checkout process, however, was the need to log in or create an account. Best Buy should consider allowing the user to continue without logging in or creating an account. Research consistently shows that many sales are lost at this stage because people do not want to create accounts, have forgotten passwords, or are simply confused by the log-in/create account screens.

I also looked through the site on my laptop. The experience is consistent with the one on the smartphone, which should make it easier for customers to use the site on both types of devices and have very similar experiences and be able to find the products they want regardless of the device. On the other hand, the site does feel somewhat outdated. The design and interface elements could use a refresh to make it feel more contemporary and employ a more modern, and easier to use, interface.

Best Buy's site provides a solid online retail experience that shoppers will find familiar and help them complete their holiday shopping this season.

Amazon: Heather Harrigan, UX director of Tribal Worldwide, New York

Will Amazon withstand the major shopping period for the holidays? From a UX POV, if you are shopping for yourself and know exactly what you want, or if you know exactly what you want to buy for friends and family, then yes – of course Amazon has nailed the e-commerce experience.

There is no easier tactical experience in terms of searching, locating and purchasing items across all devices. The opportunity for Amazon lies in appealing to the browsing shopper– those that need help and guidance regarding which item to purchase. A site like Canopy.co has become my entry into Amazon when I have time to browse and discover new items. Canopy.co takes Amazon products and curates them in a beautiful, thoughtful manner. It inverts the speed of Amazon with the desire to form a relationship with a product.

Amazon lets you own things quickly. It’s efficient, it’s practical. It works. A site like Canopy creates the desire to know more, to share that discovery with friends, to add delight to your life. And that emotional relationship that connects the user with a product is something that Amazon can learn from.

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