A few years ago, I ran the Sorry State of the Web series of articles to promote good web design/development practices by pinpointing shameful ones that should be avoided (an approach inspired by Web Pages That Suck).
Websites today are very different from when Vincent Flanders started Web Pages That Suck. Things like Mystery Meat Navigation are almost gone entirely, as modern websites embrace more minimal designs and are often built on foundations such as Bootstrap or Material Design.
However, after a series of very frustrating experiences today while trying to buy a mobile phone, I am convinced that the state of professionally-built websites has not really improved. Websites may have converged to similar designs that overall are less painful, but the user experience is still miserable because of a lack of professionalism.
As a result, although I would have preferred not to continue this series, I feel there is still value in doing so. In this article, we will focus on websites of companies that sell mobile phones in Malta, where the technology and customer service are both still very medieval.
Let’s start with Sound Machine. When you first visit this site, you get one of those cookie notices at the bottom-left. That’s pretty normal, especially in the GDPR era.
However, part of this notice sticks around even after you close it. It’s particularly noticeable if you scroll down so that the background is uniformly dark:
This is pretty strange, and probably unintended. But wait… do you notice something in that dark footer area? That’s right — this website was made by none other than Cyberspace Solutions, to which I had dedicated an entire article 3 years ago. I guess this explains a lot.
But the worst blunder of all is that the Contact form does not even work:
In fact, when you press the Send button, a spinner runs next to it and never stops. There is no indication of the failure, unless you open the Developer Console, which most people obviously will not know how to do.
The result of this is a poor user experience, because (a) the form does not work, (b) there is no indication that anything failed, and, to make matters worse, (c) there is no email address given as an alternative. A customer therefore has no option other than to give them a call or show up in person, which many prefer to avoid for various reasons.
The takeaway from this is that when you build a website, you should always double-check to make sure things look right and that things actually work. Customers aren’t very happy when they don’t.
Direct Vision has a nice e-commerce website where you can look for products and eventually buy them online. Let’s say I’m interested in the Samsung Galaxy A40… I get a lot of options:
Let’s take a look at the black phone on the left:
Great! It seems to be in stock!
Except that… it isn’t! It turns out that this phone is not available at all in one of their shops, and in the other, it’s only available in a couple of colours (Coral and White). The black one, as it turns out, is not in stock. They need to order it.
So why do they say that it is in stock when it isn’t? The salesgirl tried to give a dumb explanation, and also suggested I go with one of the other colours and get a cover to hide the undesired colour. Naturally, I didn’t buy that (pun intended). It’s truly shameful to waste people’s time in this way.
Tablets and More
Tablets and More is another consumer electronics store. Browsing around, it’s easy to notice a few things out of place. For instance, the thing at the bottom left that fails to load:
…and which, after a few seconds, becomes something else but still fails to explain what it’s supposed to be:
Even the product descriptions seem to be a real mess…
…in what appears to be a copy & paste job from GSM Arena:
What shall we say, then, about the creepy practices of harvesting people’s email addresses via the live chat feature (something that is becoming increasingly common in live chat products nowadays) or of not displaying prices and expecting people to get in touch to find out how much an item costs?
It’s almost as if this store is intentionally doing everything it can to keep customers away.
The minute you land at Phone Box, you can immediately tell that something is wrong:
If a site isn’t being served over HTTPS, then it’s possible for requests to be intercepted by a man in the middle and arbitrary responses served as a result, as Troy Hunt demonstrates in his article about HSTS. This is particularly risky for websites that require you to submit information, and Phone Box does indeed fall in this category:
As I’ve written ad nauseam throughout the Sorry State of the Web series, it is not okay to accept login credentials insecurely over HTTP. While other information being sent insecurely may or may not fall under GDPR and Data Protection laws, I think we would be a lot more comfortable if such details (such as one’s personal address) are not leaked to the world.
At least, this site does not take credit card details, since the only payment method available is cash upon delivery. Let’s hope they don’t decide to accept credit cards as a new feature.
Even from a small sample of websites, we have seen a range of issues going from simple negligent oversights to serious security problems and broken features. In 2020, businesses are still paying a lot of money for web design agencies to do a half-assed job. They probably do not realise how much business they are losing as a result.
How can we make things better? I have a few ideas.
- Web design agencies: test your website’s functionality and content thoroughly. Get up to speed with the latest security and data protection requirements, as there may be legal repercussions if you don’t.
- Businesses: choose very carefully who to work with when building a website. Take a look at their past work, and get a second opinion if you don’t feel you can evaluate it. Make it easy for customers to reach you and give them a good service. Otherwise, don’t complain that you are losing business to online marketplaces such as Amazon.
- Customers: do not buy from businesses that have insecure websites, shady practices, or salespeople who think you’re stupid. Things will only change when they notice that their behaviour is detrimental to their own survival.