Does Rakuten’s Move Mean E-Tailers Should Re-Think Web Design?

Written by Evan Schuman
June 10th, 2013

When global e-tailer Rakuten told IRCE attendees last week of its plans to more aggressively push into the U.S. market later this summer, it spoke of its differences with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and specifically stressed its preference for much longer pages than is the U.S. online norm.

Have times—and shoppers’ preferences—changed so much that a complete reversal is a wise move? Should e-tailers (including Amazon) be rethinking their fundamental Web design strategies? Has this $4.7 billion global retailer—operating in 27 countries—figured out something that others haven’t?

The argument really comes to a simple choice: scrolling versus clicking.

The argument for clicking is that it makes for a cleaner and shorter page and that all of the additional detail is there, but it’s not cluttering up the page until the shopper wants to see it. There might be a link for technical specs, but those numbers will only appear when it’s clicked on. No need to distract the reader who doesn’t care about those specs.

The argument for scrolling (or using a lot of the PageDown button) is user apathy or lack of awareness. If the shopper truly thinks the product is complicated, that shopper would have no interest in clicking the demo button. But if that really simple demo just autoplays, it might persuade the exact shoppers who would have never been likely to click.

The other key part of this debate is shopper desires/expectations. A lot of these minimalistic page design strategies—best exemplified by famed design guru Jakob Nielsen—were first championed back in the mid-1990s, when E-Commerce began, almost 20 years ago. Have shopper expectations changed radically in that timeframe, fueled by dramatically faster bandwidth and machine speeds? Or will the desire to not be overwhelmed not change with the years?

To try and figure this out, reached out to Jakob Nielsen himself, who connected us with the interface design director of his group, Amy Schade. Schade argued that bandwidth and machine changes are helpful, but that “people’s behavior doesn’t really change that much. A long scroll is still going to be overwhelming to a user, if it doesn’t make sense for that page. It’s information overload.”


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