NetSmart: What Makes America Click?

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Ninety percent of e-commerce Web sites are extremely un-intuitive, according to research from NetSmart America, New York.

In its fifth annual report, "What Makes America Click?" NetSmart asserts that most e-commerce sites are not properly designed to be easily navigable according to how consumers naturally prefer to shop, but rather according to the merchant's inventory. It reported that 83 percent of visitors leave sites in frustration.

When asked to provide a critique of e-commerce sites, 87 percent of respondents said they were unable to negotiate their way around most sites, 73 percent said they could not usually find the product they came to buy, 68 percent were frustrated with the number of clicks it takes to find what they were looking for and 54 percent of respondents complained they get lost in most e-commerce sites.

"And when you leave a site in frustration, nothing will drive you back there unless someone tells you that it has changed," said president Bernadette Tracy.

The report is based on half-hour telephone interviews with 1,000 Internet users who are online more than one hour per week excluding e-mail.

It found that most e-tailers' mistakes were grounded on the principle that they did not appreciate the differences between electronic business and traditional business. "Most e-commerce merchants make the mistake of using the homepage to advertise as many products as possible, as if it were the front page of a catalog, yet if someone has gone to your homepage, they are already there," Tracy said.

A common mistake e-commerce merchants typically make is to organize their inventory by alphabetical order rather than by where the shopper intuitively looks for something. And the problems this causes would not be as bad if they did not use jargon names in the process. "I don't wear apparel, I wear clothes," Tracy said.

It also found a pattern of new users taking about three years to become comfortable with e-commerce transactions, therefore predicting an explosion in Internet spending in 2002, with today's newbies -- made up of 58 percent women -- using the Internet to "save time and make life simpler."

New users are concerned about security, which puts them off posting their credit card details over the Internet, the report stated, with 32 percent of respondents saying security issues is the reason they do not spend their money online. This is down from the 91 percent cited in 1995.

Tracy said the press was responsible for the change in attitudes. And she said that with practice, people just get more used to it.

The research identifies respondents as being in one of three separate groups of users; newbies, who have been online one year or less; integrators, with two years' experience or less; and pacesetters, who have been online up to three years or more.

According to the study, the level of fear about giving out credit card details on the Internet evaporates with time: 46 percent of newbies will not give out credit card information, 32 percent of integrators refused and only 22 percent of pacesetters felt insecure about giving out their credit card details over the Internet.

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