Lowe’s to Home Depot: take 5. No, take 50!

Recently, a young couple we know and love were able to buy their first home. And, as all of you have “been there, done that” know, this involves beating a well-worn path to your neighborhood supply stores (especially, these days, Lowe’s or Home Depot) for the endless array of “stuff” you suddenly find out that you need as a homeowner.

So, as a housewarming gift, we thought it only appropriate to get a gift card. Since one of them had mentioned trips to Lowe’s, I figured that was the logical choice. And I was thrilled to see that you can just order the gift card on-line and have it sent for free – e-commerce is a beautiful thing.

Except at Lowe’s.

Four tries to simply order a $50 gift card. Four fails. Not only was the website slow and cumbersome, but when I’d try to complete the order, instead of just getting my info and completing the transaction, the site wanted my zip code so it could show me where the nearest stores were. It actively DID NOT ALLOW me to finish the purchase. A couple times, the site even froze.

That’s not e-commerce. It’s de-commerce!

So, with its brain-dead user interface, Lowe’s said to Home Depot: Take $50! And Home Depot was glad to oblige. No problem with their user experience.

When visiting the actual big box stores, my experience has been that Lowe’s seems cleaner and more nicely structured. But if you can’t replicate that on-line, then you’re going to lose customers to the competition. Would Lowe’s even think of putting a maze in front of the check-out counters in their store? Then why do that on-line? When people are ready to hand over their money, you’d better not put barriers in the way!

(UPDATE: here is documentation of the failure showing step-by-step screen flow [SlideShare file]. Oh, and Lowe’s?? I know this post seems quite negative, but I’m trying to help you here…my consulting time documenting your revenue loss is donated. You’re welcome!)

(UPDATE 2: This post did stir up some attention at Lowe’s. I actually got a call from someone well-placed in the Lowes.com environment, who spoke to me about the problem with real candor, and shared about  upcoming changes to the site. Does social media work? Yes it does!)

(image credit)

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A Whine about Twine (and other platforms)

I was intrigued by the description of a new social web platform called Twine, so I accepted an invite to the Beta, and started exploring a bit this morning.

Twine is digging into some concepts of the semantic web, and its purported approach mirrors some ruminations I’ve had about Web 3.0/4.0/5.0 whatever-you-want-to-call-it (long post brewing for sometime downstream).

In this particular post, however, I’m going to focus on one thing. Intuitiveness.

I’ve come to increasingly value software apps that are designed with a rapid-uptake user experience in mind. This is one of the hardest tricks of the craft, and having worked in prior years with a software company, and wrestled long and hard with interface issues (from both the development and user point of view), I know it’s not easy. But we’re in an age of information and application overload, and quite frankly, if I’m not seeing the value and the usage flow within a few minutes, I’m going to lose interest.

So, back to Twine. I came, I saw, I felt lost.

I’m a reasonably smart guy, and though I’m not one of the new-generation digital natives, I can figure out my way around software pretty well. When I have to, I can learn new programs in-depth. But the thing is, increasingly, I don’t have to. Or shouldn’t have to.

When I began blogging, I played around with Blogger, settled on WordPress…but in both cases, had no trouble figuring out what was going on. iTunes – same experience. Twitter – even easier. LinkedIn, Flickr, Constant Contact, Pandora, Picnik, etc. – if you make the experience intuitive, I’m a regular user. But if I’m not immediately seeing “the point” of the system, and quickly gaining the WIIFM, then you’re going to lose me.

I sat down with a client of mine recently who had just put his toe in the LinkedIn waters. By showing a few simple functions, and displaying the WIIFM results, in 20 minutes, he was off-and-running.

Google has forever shown how you can marry immensely powerful algorithms to simple and intuitive interfaces. The challenge for architects of the new web will be to create engines that do more than one thing (more than search, more than Twitter), but still maintain the simple, immediate-gratification user experience. On a first-blush level, Twine didn’t pass that test for me.

Is “I get it!” is the ultimate metric of success? What do you think?

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