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Study: E-commerce sites filled with flaws

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A newly released survey found that 40% of e-commerce sites provide users with search results that are poorly organized, leaving potential customers confused and frustrated.

Vividence Corp., a San Mateo, Calif.-based Internet products and services company, surveyed more than 13,000 Web users and 69 e-commerce sites for its study, "Tangled Web 2001." The Web sites surveyed included those of Fortune 1000 companies, Internet 250 companies and B2B 40 companies.

The study found 38% of the e-commerce sites had poor information architecture; 49% suffered from slow performance; and, perhaps most troublesome, 21% had cluttered home pages, which can turn off Web users from the get-go.

Rick Broadhead, co-author of "Selling Online: How to Become a Successful E-Commerce Merchant," said sites can do "all the marketing in the world, but [if they’re] poorly designed you’ll lose customers because they won’t even have a chance to become familiar with the company." He added: "[Many] Web sites don’t even have a basic phone number … [they] want to force customers to contact them electronically."

Andy Cargile, director-customer experience architecture at Vividence, suggested several ways for e-commerce sites to improve, including paying closer attention to customer responses, stepping up market research efforts and getting design executives more involved in customer relationship management. He said that with click-through rates still barely registering, e-commerce sites have to start treating "customers as people with business needs," rather than as eyeballs or numbers.

A fundamental problem with e-commerce sites is they’re often built without a sales blueprint, said Cia Romano, president of Exponent Media, a Tucson, Ariz.-based Web design firm. Designers make attractive sites and then developers have to build the site’s e-commerce functions around the design, she said. "This is tantamount to designing the exterior of a car without knowing whether it’s going to be an ‘econo-box,’ a luxury convertible or an SUV."

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