better software through user-centered design

Recently I was perusing the Think Geek online catalog when I came to an item that was out of stock. It seems like there is not really an industry standard for communicating stocking quantities on your website, but some of the leading e-commerce sites do partake. If  you come to an item you want that is out of stock, it usually says in some tiny words off to the side that it is out of stock.  Harder to find stock status is more likely to lure you into purchasing that item anyway.  If you know ahead of time the item is out of stock, you are more likely to skip the purchase in favor of a competitor who has your beloved item ready to zip out the door.  By getting you to purchase an out of stock item, the site manager knows you are less likely to cancel your order, and to wait the extra week for it to arrive.  Having managed an e-commerce site previously, I witnessed this time and time again and even utilizing this knowledge for my sites benefit.

Think Geek marks an item in stock if it is such, but takes an interesting stance when it is not.  Not only does it show out of stock in the area it would otherwise show in stock, a panel folds up from the bottom of the screen with a clever message letting you know they do not have that item.  It is great that they alert you, but they also have the ability to add to wishlist or email you when the product becomes available.  Perhaps the smartest piece of this feature is that they show similar and more importantly relevant items on the panel as well. The whole feature comes together and works well because it is non-intrusive.  There is nothing important on the screen being covered by the panel as well as I can still scroll the page without the panel getting in the way.  If there was some reason I needed the panel gone, there is a handy hide button removing it from site.

From a user experience standpoint this is great because the user was obviously considered in this design.  This type of feature creates interaction points with the user where if “feels” like the site is engaging  you and helping you shop instead of just showing some images and text on a screen and hoping you buy.  Bottom line is that to me this is a great implementation of honesty in stock levels and I hope to purchase from Think Geek again soon.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year you all who read this post!

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