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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 08:33 GMT
Shoppers shun shoddy sites
Exasperated man, BBC
Consumers suffer when websites are badly designed
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Badly designed websites are damaging the prospects of firms doing business via the web.

Research carried out by Abbey National has revealed that when people have one bad experience online, they tend to regard all websites the same way.

It suggests that websites that take too long to load, are hard to navigate, bombard consumers with pop-up adverts and force them to register to get access to services could be stunting the growth of e-commerce in the UK

Instead, consumers prefer websites that have a consistent look, are easy to navigate and do not try to cram too much information on one page.

Website woe

A seven-month research project by Abbey National and market analysis firm Taylor Nelson Sofres has revealed that companies have only 20 seconds to grab the attention of web shoppers.

Consumers do not want to prod around for ever to get at what they want, this is not Lord of the Ring

Ambrose McGinn, Abbey National
During that 20 seconds, consumers must be able to see that a page has almost loaded, that it is relevant to their needs and looks easy to navigate.

If it does none of these things, consumers will look elsewhere.

"There are endless stories about people going to a website and finding that it does not do what it says on the box," said Ambrose McGinn, director of retail e-commerce at Abbey National.

Bad grapevine

Mr McGinn said many consumers who did not use the web much transferred a bad experience with one site to all net sites, and were far less likely to use the web for shopping and banking.

"If it is really bad, they may tell their friends, and that's something that you just don't want," he said.

Mr McGinn said that bad websites could mean companies missing out on lucrative opportunities.

More than 1.2 million of the Abbey National's 15 million customers used its website to manage their money, said Mr McGinn.

Money maker

Internal research by Abbey National has shown that web customers are 57% more profitable than the average customer and have 50% more products, such as loans, than those customers who avoid the internet.

Abbey National website
Abbey National's new website is only weeks old
Now, 20% of the Abbey National's personal loan business comes via the web.

"It's got real critical mass and has a real impact on the cost base of the whole organisation," he said. Abbey National has rebuilt its website around many of the principles revealed in the research project.

Mr McGinn said the number of pages on the site has been cut from 4500 to 1200 and it now has a consistent look throughout.

Not a puzzle

Often, web shoppers are thrown by abrupt changes in the way they navigate around a page or if they are forced to scroll around the screen to find what they want.

He said Abbey National had concentrated on providing information about its financial services and dropped the extras that were added to keep people interested.

"We've kept the stuff that people expect us to provide and nothing else," said Mr McGinn. "Consumers do not want to prod around for ever to get at what they want; this is not Lord of the Rings."

The new site has only been launched for two weeks but already it is proving very popular with customers, said Mr McGinn.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Business
Abbey National profits slip
20 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Web rage hits the internet
12 Feb 01 | dot life
Why are we waiting?
03 Dec 01 | dot life
A web of visions
18 Feb 02 | dot life
Keep the web simple, stupid
30 Nov 01 | New Media
Web wizards spin design show
11 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Small is beautiful
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