Product comparison sucks and loses companies money

What’s the issue?

How many times have you been looking for a product, and seen a couple of options on a website, and thought, ‘what’s the difference?’. I’d guess many of you have. I’d also guess that many of you haven’t been able, or haven’t easily been able to find out. Often, you need to go to other websites, such as product forums, to find out. I’m almost in despair at the appalling design and thought put in to sites that want you to buy their product, but do so with the equivalent of the salesperson turning their back on you. Sometimes there’s a product A and a product B with slightly different model numbers, and it turns out they are for the blue and the black version, but they don’t tell you that.

Dell

My wife asked me to source some desktop computers for the company she works for. One of the obvious places to look is dell.com. The main navigation starts off well with clear signposting to desktops for business, but it all rather goes downhill from there.

Range of Dell desktops for business

Here’s we see the range of desktops for business, with a couple of words for some, but not for the Alienware on the right. The words that are there, are useless, and mean nothing. There’s no attempt at this point to help the user figure out which range is best for them.

Now, it may be that everyone going to the Dell site knows what they want, or uses the filters above, but doing so requires a good level of technical understanding. I have very good technical understanding of PCs – I’ve built my own – and I struggle to understand what’s going on here.

If you scroll down the Dell page, there is a section on each range, but no easy comparison. It’s hard work.

I scrolled down a little and decided to look at the OptiPlex desktops.

OptiPlex jumping off point

Clicking on the ‘learn more’ button, told me almost nothing more. It’s just a load of useless pictures, and useless text. Maybe it’s there for SEO, but it’s just clutter. I clicked the back button.

The 3000 series seems to comprise of just two variants of the 3050 (oh no, there’s an all-in-one below in a separate section). There’s a standard and a ‘Micro’. What’s the difference? I can guess Micro is smaller, although confusingly if I just click through to the non-Micro, it’s described as ‘small form factor’, so I immediately wondered if I’d made a mistake. No. But there’s no help at this point about whether there’s anything else that’s different, and if there are any other implications. After a lot of digging, it seems that the Micro is slightly cheaper, and has fewer expansion options. That wouldn’t be hard to say, would it?

I click the link to the Micro, and come to a page that offers comparisons between the models. At last, a comparison. Note that ‘View all configurations’ jumps the page down an inch or so. They would do better to design the page with less white space, and get rid of the button.

3000 Series landing page

The comparison table (I haven’t shown all of it below) is ok, but the differences aren’t highlighted. You have to pick them out.

Maybe I want one of these with 8GB of memory, so it’s good there’s a ‘customise’ button.

Product comparison

I go to the customisation page, and immediately don’t know what I’m looking at. I was expecting a list of options to add to or replace the standard features.

Customisations page

What I get here is a load of useless stuff at the top, again. I’ve been offered the video before. I don’t need the marketing blurb – I’ve clicked a button to customise and buy. Don’t make this hard for me now if you want my money. There is no link on the page to ‘customise’ my PC. There is a link to ‘Build My Dell’ that opens a closed section, that should be already open. It’s a key rule to maintain consistency of language. Don’t change ‘customise’ to ‘Build My Dell’.

Ultimately I found the whole experience too confusing and draining, and took my wife’s business elsewhere.

Sony

I love consumer electronics, and gadgets, and have owned many Sony products. I am therefore also in a position to tell you that the manufacturers of electronic products have no better idea as to how to help their customers find the product that best suits them. Even if they are flogging £3000 mp3 players, as Sony are.

It’s easy to get to the mp3 player page on the Sony site. It’s not bad, clearly laid out, nice picture of each product, with a few useful details, sorted on price. It’s when you tick the boxes to add to the detailed comparison that the problem appears.

Sony mp3 player comparison table

The first point of comparison is ‘storage capacity options’. Does that mean it’s just the storage capacity, or does it mean expansion options, or what? It’s not clear. Even worse is that two of the players here have no data. There is actually nothing in the table to tell you what the storage capacity is of each player. That’s one of the first things that customers will want to know. There’s also no weight provided for two of the players. Why not? This is just shoddy work.

Further down the table, we can find out about battery life, and display ‘features’. Or not.

More mp3 comparison

How can you not list the battery life of your own product? And when you look at the display features, whilst the information is there, it’s in a different order, and not displayed in a way that allows for easy comparison. I want to bang my head against a wall (so do other people, but that’s a different matter) – this is a comparison table that has been built into the site, but Sony haven’t taken care to ensure that it’s populated with useful information.

In principle, it really quite easy to produce something like this. You have standards, and process, and a structured data set. The standards dictate that, for example, every mp3 player must have an attribute of ‘capacity’ or ‘memory size’ (whatever is decided, but they must be the same, and coded into the content management system), and that this must use GB as the measure (rather than GB for some, and number of songs for others, as I’ve seen elsewhere). Don’t allow free text as in ‘display features’ above. Create separate required input fields for the type of screen, whether it’s touchscreen or not, etc. It should be impossible to publish a product onto the site if the relevant details are not filled in, using correct units and format. That ought to be the very least requirement.

I happen to have picked on Dell and Sony here. The same problems abound across commercial sites that want your money, but don’t want to put in the effort to make it easy for you.

If you can’t describe your own products, and make comparison easy, why should anyone have any trust in you?