Replacing Shoes, Replacing Shopping Habits
The story starts with a pair of Sam & Libby sandals I honestly didn't think I would like from Target. I was hesitant to join the metallic shoe trend, but these were a tactful mix of multiple metallics (how could I choose just one of silver, gold and copper) and the price was right.
Tragically, the left sandal had its last day earlier this year. Mixed with sorrow over the loss and glee over the excuse to purchase a new pair, I browsed the DSW aisles and found a pair of Michael Kors tortoise print t-strap jelly shoes. Being the frugal shoppinista that I am, I headed home where I opened up a few browser tabs and started the hunt across some of my go-to shopping sites.
Knowing exactly what I wanted, I was surprised at how daunting it could be to go through the menus and filters to find shoes on different eCommerce sites. From searchable drop-down menus to standalone brand pages, I really felt the "shop 'till you drop" vibe I was trying to avoid by shopping online.
Which is optimal? Which is the best? I'll take the words from Abby the IA: "there is no one right way to organize anything." I don't want to focus on good/better/best and bad/worse/worst of eCommerce sites; however, there was one dividing factor between good and bad experience here: findability.
Findability is an attribute that assesses how easy it is to locate or discover something. It is related to searchability, but is focused on uncovering things as opposed to using a tool to help look for them. In my case, I went through the menus and filters to find shoes (I was not using a search box), so whether or not I ended up seeing that pair of perfect sandals was a good test of findability. Using well-structured Information Architecture (IA) makes easy-to-find possible, and poorly thought out IA makes a user abandon all shopping hope.
As a user experience designer, you want users to be able to achieve their goals. If they are trying to locate something, but the findability is so poor that they get frustrated along the way or distracted and give up, you have failed at your job. All the time invested in marketing, SEO and making the site findable is wasted if a user lands on the site without the ability to locate what they need.
Looking through these sites, I could tell which ones were built with IA and use cases in mind, and which were built with business requirements to filter on every possible thing and/or with the latest sliding menu doodads. As a user, I just wanted to find my shoes; I did not want to filter through the filters, or spend my time trying figure out which sub-menu was hiding the women's shoe department.
What Happens When Findability is Poor?
What happens when findability is poor? I go to another website with better findability and buy shoes from them. I hate to see that findability isn't recognized as a word by the dictionary, but I hope we can talk about it more, add it to the vocabulary of more designers, and make cute shoes an easier thing to find in the future.