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Web Site Quality

It's hard to believe that the Web has only been commonly used for about five years. Since that time it has grown from a curiosity shared by technocrats to an essential part of the business world. At first, most companies put up web sites just to "establish an Internet presence". Today, many companies do all (or most) of their business online, making their web sites of great importance.

When you use an online vendor you will in fact rely on their web site to provide most of the information needed for your order: product and pricing information, stock status, company policies, customer service, order tracking and more. How well the company implements their site will have a direct impact on your experience ordering from that company. A vendor that has a web site that is of poor quality, or that is difficult to use, or that is frequently down, may be one that you will wish to avoid even if it is great in other respects.

Here are some of the different quality attributes you will want to look for in a web site.

  • Accuracy: Is the information presented correct? Most sites get product information correct, but not all, which can cause confusion. Most accuracy problems relate to pricing and especially stock status--some companies have a bad track record of saying items are in stock on their web sites when they really are not. You find out the truth when you order (or even later).
  • Completeness: Does the web site include all the products the company sells or only a selection? Some companies that don't do most or all of their business online include just a "selection" of their products on the web site. Such a site is fine for casual browsing, but of limited use for real-world shopping.
  • Detail: How much information does the web site include about the products being sold? Is it just a one-liner, or a complete description? Are photographs provided? For a vendor, can you find out the model number of a product easily, and are there links to the manufacturer's site for more information? For a manufacturer, is there a place to find out where the product is sold?
  • Speed: Does it take forever for every page to load? Is the company's server overloaded, especially during busy times? Does the company load down their pages with fancy graphics and splashy nonsense that makes every page take forever to load?
  • Ease of Use: Some web sites are just inherently easier to use than others, due to better structure or a design that is simpler. This is largely a matter of personal taste, but a primary reason why some people avoid certain vendors is that they find their web sites hard to use.
  • Up-Time: Is the site usually up and running, or are there frequently periods when it is down and not accessible?
  • Search Capability: Does the site let you search for particular products, or products by specific manufacturers? How well does it work? You'd be surprised how many otherwise useful vendor sites have search functions of dubious usefulness.
  • Help Facilities: Does the web site include assistance on navigating the site, a site map, a place for feedback or to ask questions, and other support features? You may need them at some point.

There's more, but that's probably enough. :^)

Evaluating web sites is best done by using them. You will be able to tell quickly if a given site meets your needs or if it does not. Also compare web sites of different vendors against each other to see how useful they are, and look for comments on web sites when doing your vendor research.

Note: There are some companies that have very limited web sites, but that make up for it in other ways. For example, if the company has truly excellent phone or email support, and good salespeople, this can compensate for a limited web site in most ways. However, it won't make independent shopping any easier.

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