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November 15, 2004 12:01 AM

Broken: shopping cart

AmazonRonnie Paskin is "appalled at amazon's checkout process." Ronnie writes:

This is an obvious example. I just placed an item in my cart. Of course, one would expect to see the shopping cart page with the item you've just added, right? However, what you see is a lot of other information like upsells, nav bars with distracting graphics, all sorts of things. My gut reaction is to say "Hey! This is not my cart!" until I notice the cart -- which you had to do a "Where's Waldo" for on the page -- has been relegated to a small box on the righthand side.

I guess thay can pull it off by training the customers to look for that box, but they didn't do what I wanted (displaying my cart) and instead did what they wanted (tell me the other things I can buy).


Ooo that's a good book, I still need to pick that up. Stewart is hilarious.

Posted by: Maurs at November 15, 2004 12:20 AM

Er, there is clearly more importance given to the item just added to the shopping cart than there is to anything else on the page. Sure, it's not the expected direct transition to the cart itself, but it's hardly "broken".

Posted by: Sean at November 15, 2004 02:44 AM

I agree with Sean - this is far from broken. Also, I use Amazon a lot, and there have been times when I've discovered something interesting in the items they've shown me after I add something to my cart.

P.S. That book is an awesome book, well worth picking up.

Posted by: Ryan at November 15, 2004 05:39 AM

I do see what you mean, now you mention it, but I've never thought it a problem, or even thought about it, which rather suggests it's sufficiently intuitive!

Posted by: NRT at November 15, 2004 08:31 AM

See, I don't think you'd have a problem if you weren't a stoned slacker.

Posted by: Matt at November 15, 2004 09:57 AM

The text is not arabic, it's clearly designed for a left-to-right-reading audience, who will see the advertisements before the content (The left side *and* the center...) and the ads are given more screen space. The shopping cart area is set off with a different color, but in a way that is usually used for peripheral information, like... ads!

It's a "content and sidebar" layout (much like this page), but the content is in the sidebar and the ads in the content area. Most people have become desensitized to ads in one way or another, and if you tend to ignore sidebars, that shopping cart will be hard to find.

I don't think it's quite as broken as the submitter complains, but it's not completely "unbroken" either.

Posted by: josh at November 15, 2004 11:33 AM

I agree, this is only slightly broken. In almost every other way, Amazon has the best shopping experience of any large site on the web.

I wish it would tell me when things I'm browsing are already on my Wish List or in my Shopping Cart, though. That seems kind of broken to me.

Posted by: brian w at November 15, 2004 01:55 PM

Haven't shopped Amazon in a while. Is that page still named "upsell.asp" (or .jsp or whatever it is) like it used to be?

I once bought 3 separate DVDs b/c the 3-DVD boxset was sold out. A few days after I got my order, I got an email from them saying "We noticed that people who bought those 3 dvds were also interested in the boxset. It's going to be available on [whatever date]. Would you like to pre-order?" Thanks a lot. The set was $30 cheaper, too.

Posted by: at November 15, 2004 01:59 PM

I'm sure it's not broken for Amazon... bet they make a lot of extra $$$ this way! I've never had a problem with it, but obviously the content I'm looking for isn't in the same place it would USUALLY be on a webpage, and that will generally confuse certain less computer-savvy users (just like not having hyperlinks in blue and underlined, which Amazon seems to have gotten right for the most part).

Posted by: Candice at November 15, 2004 06:30 PM

Not broken. Good salesmanship.

Posted by: Jim at November 15, 2004 08:00 PM

They have several choices after you add something to your shopping cart, and the top three, logically, are probably 1) return you to the page of the item you just added, 2) take you to the shopping cart, or 3) drop you on a page with other suggestions.

Option 1 doesn't make much sense: since you just added the product you probably don't want to go back to the same page.

Option 2 doesn't make much more sense, since many people probably want to continue shopping after adding something to their cart and don't want to have to hit the back button once they are in the checkout queue.

And option 3, the one they've implemented on their site, makes more sense than the first two, since it places suggestions in front of you to keep you in the 'shopping mode,' but still allows you to go ahead and check out.

And, to Candice: I just went to's home page, and nearly every link was underlined and blue, maybe even annoyingly so.

Posted by: Michael McWatters at November 15, 2004 11:39 PM

While I am a regular customer of Amazon, the site is really horribly designed and anti-user. I (and many colleagues) do business with them for their 'physical world' user experience (generally on time and cheap) and *despite* the virtual user experience which is just ghastly.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward at November 15, 2004 11:47 PM

I agree that some of the items Amazon pushes to you may be interesting and you may end up spending more but surely that function could be provided from within the shopping basket. Anyway, try this: check for all DVD by, let’s say Woody Allen. Then try to buy a few of them. How easy is it?

Well, it’s broken. Every time you place an item in the basket it takes you to the page Ronnie complained about. Then you either need to hit the ‘back’ button on the browser which is unreliable, or rerun the search from scratch. I understand the need to push products but the site should first and foremost support buying items….

Posted by: Nikos at November 16, 2004 08:26 AM

Anonymous Coward, can you give some examples to back up your hyperbole?

Posted by: Sarah Brodwall at November 16, 2004 10:35 AM

Yes, Anon, examples, please. Personally, I wish every commerce site were as easy to use as Amazon.

Posted by: Mark at November 16, 2004 10:58 AM

I agree with Josh. Often, I have "banner blindness" for things that look like banners and that's the last place I look for my content. I think Amazon is taking advantage of reading left-to-right by putting the ads on the left and content on the right, so that you notice the ads first.

Posted by: Mark M at November 16, 2004 12:40 PM

While I agree that Amazon is the hands down winner of e-commerce usability, they still aren't nearly as good as they could be. Devices that work---invisible technologies, like electric motors and water purification plants---operate seamlessly for ages with most users blissfully unaware.

Amazon's approach here works not because it's good usability, but because it is better usability than everyone else. Once all the other e-commerce sites offer the same level of simplicty and ease as Amazon (price and speed of delivery aside), the first person to drop the annoying upsell system will pull ahead.

I don't know where to draw the line between "broken" and just "annoying", but I think it has NOTHING to do with the competition. Just because everyone else is worse doesn't mean you can't still be pretty awful.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at November 18, 2004 04:03 PM

Interesting --particularly the bits about usability vs. business goals. There's a great discussion of this in the book "Built for Use" by Karen Donoghue and Michael Schrage. I agree with them--pure usability is not the goal (and shouldn't be the goal!) of companies. Good UIs mesh user needs with business needs. If it's incredibly easy to use but doesn't help the co make money somehow, it's not a good UI. If it is all about money and doesn't all the user to actually get things done, it's not a good UI. Good UIs are somewhere in the middle--they help people say "I want to do this" to the interface, and they also help companies say "I want you to do or think about this" to the customer.

So it's interesting to look at retail user experiences in this way--especially online ones. It makes it difficult to define 'broken-ness'--or at least requires us to come up with a more specific definition, and perhaps that defintion should be expressed on the continuum of user and business needs. For example: "this is broken because it completely ignores user (or business) goals" is valid. "This is broken because it doesn't help users nor does it help the business in this particular way" is valid. But perhaps "this is broken because it doesn't do exactly what I want" is not.

Here I am. out on a limb. Come shoot at me.

Posted by: tamara at November 18, 2004 04:47 PM

This cart issue has thrown me a number of times on Amazon in recent months. It's a matter of them throwing the feedback/response to an action into an unexpected chunk on the response page.

I *do* like the recommendations. I just don't like having to wonder *if* the book I just *decided to buy* actually got added to my cart. The next "hurdle" they've created for the user is to them figure out how to "proceed to checkout"...hiding THAT button isn't good salesmanship.

Amazon's designs are far from perfect. Amazon's business offering (selection, price, convenience, recommendations) is unparallelled in my opinion.

Posted by: Lyle Kantrovich at November 18, 2004 11:36 PM

Tamara, I don't think the definition of broken is ignoring user or business needs, although doing so may cause something to be broken. Instead, I feel that "broken" means that the design of an affordance prevents or obfuscates the intended function of a system.

Under this defintion, Amazon's site is defintely broken. So is the "No Exit" sign from this month and the "Rubbermaid" issue from last month.

I think Donoghue and Schrage are wimping out on the profound importance of a good experience. A good UI is not broken; it's pleasant to use and elegant. Sometimes you can make money from a good UI, other times you can't.

The best example of this is digital music. Suddenly it became easier to "steal" music than to buy it from the store, especially if you wanted to use it with any sort of flexibility not officially afforded by the record companies. The RIAA is trying to kill the great experience of downloading by scaring people, and online music stores are trying to beat the great experience of downloading with even slicker, easier interfaces that are worth the small cost. In the long run I expect the online music stores to die out as free services improve and lawsuits dimish due to better anonymity. Then there will be no money to be made but the best UI will have won.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at November 19, 2004 10:48 AM

By analogy with physical shopping: When I drop something into a shopping cart I don't manically check the cart to see if the object got there, but rather keep my focus where it was when I found what I was looking for.

I dislike the displayed dialogue as well. Not for not showing the shopping cart, but for dropping me out of context. Extremely annoying.

It's like being harrassed by over eager salespeople the second you look at a product in a physical store.

Posted by: Claus at November 20, 2004 04:39 AM

Claus, you are right about shopping in the real world...we have no fear that objects placed into the cart will mysterously vanish by the time we reach checkout.

Unfortunately, we have come to expect computers and websites to be broken. I always check the online cart to make sure what I just added is actually there. Terrible, but true!

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at November 20, 2004 10:15 AM

Robbie, ah, but you should have that fear.

I habitually take stuff out of other people's carts (trolleys) instead of finding them myself. After all, they haven't bought it yet. After a few years you learn that you can do this while they're watching. At least in England you can. In Texas I daredn't.

Posted by: Simon Trew at November 27, 2004 08:23 PM

Simon, you must be joking! Does that really work???

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 1, 2004 06:59 AM

The purpose of a shopping cart is to add the items to until you are ready to check out. You should not be brought to the cart after adding items. If you were shopping for many items, like 7 or so it would become very annoying to have to go in and out of the cart each time.

Posted by: Mike at December 1, 2004 06:38 PM

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