Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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Review of

Friday, September 1, 2000
by Mark Hurst

I took a quick look at, the site that displays "Doc Martens" shoes and sandals. I was surprised to see many similarities between and the defunct, the high-end e-tailer that closed down because of mismanagement and an atrocious customer experience (see May 19).

Here are a few of's features that are somewhat similar to

- The experience begins with a splash page that warns users about the plug-in requirement before entering the site.

- After the splash page is a complex interface to choose your geographical location, also required before entering the site. US-based customers must move the mouse precisely to click on a location, for some reason, in North Dakota.

- Next comes a "conveyor belt" with a random assortment of shoes gliding past slowly. If you don't click on a shoe before it disappears, too bad. You'll have to wait for it to cycle back again. And certainly don't try browsing the whole collection via the conveyor belt. Silly customer, you'll see what we think is cool enough for you to see!

- Unclear section names. Quick, what's the difference between "municipal" and "covent garden" shoe styles?

- Meaningless marketing copy. "Be a woman who gets noticed. Don't seek approval." Uhhh - what? Can I just find the shoe I want, please? DrMartens should give the pertinent information people are here for, not some clever tag line.

- The entire site is implemented in Flash. Every page takes extra time to load a new Flash file, and there are no standard interface elements, like text links or search forms. (And don't even think about e-commerce features that customers like -- comparison features, customer reviews, helpful product descriptions.) Instead, every page is a collection of slick graphics that fly, spin, zoom, and glide all over the page.

See this screenshot for an example of several of those features.

Except for Web designers with fast Net connections, most users will find this an unusable site. After all, it's not like tech-beautiful ended up with thousands of repeat customers giving the site lots of good word-of-mouth. If actually tried to sell shoes (it doesn't, although the site never explicitly says so), I'd be astonished if it closed many sales at all.

But I should clarify one point. This review is not to downplay the talents of the designers who created To the contrary, I think the design team is immensely talented. In fact, one section of the site is one of the most engaging Flash applications I've seen recently. Click on the link to "our story," and you'll be treated to an engaging and creative cartoon history of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s... including Pac-Man and Elvis!

The problem is that these Flash apps -- the cartoon history and the site's slick flippy graphic elements -- are misplaced on Customers come to DrMartens for the shoes, not the bits. And putting flashy bits in the spotlight, instead of the shoes, misses the strategic customer experience: finding good info about the shoes.

Doc Martens is about shoes, not cartoons -- and the website should only serve that goal.

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