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Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2008 at 8:37 am

Great (Customer) Expectations

By Natalie Hart
July 16th, 2008


For every site you visit there are certain expectations that you bring with you. Because of these expectations, shopping carts should be as simple and straight forward as possible. You’ve already convinced your customer to buy so don’t deter them at the last moment. Instead, fulfill their expectations.

Recently our Conversion Analyst team came across this shopping cart:


Despite the fact that the error was in bolded lettering, it stumped several people when they came to the point of checking out and forking over their money. Many of us immediately clicked the “Update Total” button only to return back to this screen. Others tried valiantly to find this illusive “Proceed to Checkout” button mentioned at the top of the page, but to no avail. The problem was I had not entered in the minimum number of bottles of wine into my cart, but rather than focusing on the message that was in plain English in front of me, I, and the rest of the team (all smart folks), focused upon the lack of a call of action button.

Bottom line: Visitor expectations were not met. Give your customers what they want, even if it’s “wrong.” If the “Proceed to Checkout” button was made available, perhaps, I would not have spent more time reading the error message rather than searching for something that I was prepared to buy.

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Comments (7)

  1. Hello Natalie,

    Thanks for the write up…
    In your comment “Give your customers what they want”…

    Are you suggesting that the customer should be allowed to order less than 6 bottles? Or are you suggesting that the “Update Total” button correct the number of ordered items? Or, perhaps, both?

    Thanks in advance

  2. Hi Joshua,

    What I mean by “Give your customers what they want” is not to allow them to order less than 6 bottles if this is your policy but rather present your customers with a “Proceed to Checkout” button. On the following page you can have an error message explaining why their order could not be processed, but the key lies in providing the error message (or any information that is) in a format that your customers are familiar with, or expect. In such a situation, if the error messages had been in red type at the top of the active window, I believe that this confusion would have been avoided. By providing your customers with a format that they expect, they are more likely to move seamlessly through your site and that is a win-win for both you and your shoppers.

    Hope this helps clarify!

  3. Natalie,

    Definitely a good point. While there’s always a new method to test, I don’t suspect this site, or many, had testing in mind when they put their error messages in place. Ignoring convention when it comes to errors tends to be a bad thing yet a lot of sites do it. I can’t understand why people resist using red, putting the message at the top of the page or on a subsequent page — understandably it impacts the design asthetics but from a usability point of view but that’s where it’s expected and few things are more likely to make me bail than not finding the error or reason why the checkout process is failing — except perhaps when the error makes no sense (“Could not process request” in 24 point red font won’t help me at all).

  4. I would be willing to bet that the product / marketing / design team did not account for error messages in the specifications that were provided to the developers. Error message design was, as I have seen all too often, probably left to the developers to write or designed by the product folks at the last minute during the QA phase when somebody stumbled onto this scenario.

    I think that a great product team will design for both the positive scenario (user thinks like us and follows OUR approach) and the scenarios when the user does not follow instructions or proper procedures. When somebody gets an error message it is, in the customer service world, the classic moment of truth – will this company help me in my time of need or fail me.

    Your example shows a failure. But think about if the error message was a visual with a half-empty wine glass and a big message that said “We would love to sell you one bottle, but in this case the glass is half empty as the vendor will only sell in lots of X. We hope you will consider increasing your order or looking at our fine selection of other similar wines.” We’re humans, we make errors – good designers account for and plan for that in help us in our moment of need!

  5. I do agree that the error message should have been atop the page in red. Or even before you hit the cart, logic could be added to the product listing pages, stopping you before you got to the cart, saying 6 are required.

    There clearly is no “pre-emptive” validation going on, as you can see by and how I was able to add 12,345,678,901,234,567,890 bottles to my cart. I’m sure even having a limit of 9,999 would suffice. Or better yet, what about doing the math for me and converting 25 bottles into 2 cases and 1 bottle? That’s the kind of stuff that differentiates your site from the dozens of other wine sites out there.

    The product folks could also put the 6 bottle requirement in the winery description at the top of the page, vs. buried at the bottom.

    @David, true, the marketing/design guys probably didn’t account for error messages beforehand. But that shouldn’t get developers and QA folks off the hook either. They too, should be hip to best practices (send them a link to this blog!).

  6. Eric,

    I like your very last comment to David… Too often I find that when we [marketing/ usability/ design people] miss something like an error message, the development team just puts in their own message without funnelling it back up. Now if the developers were trained on best practices and knew how to place and write these messages that may not be a problem but ideally the working relationship should make them comfortable funnelling this “ommission” back over the wall so it can be addressed by the people who are tasked with insuring the site is usable.

  7. Thanks for your clarification Natalie.

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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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