Usablenet by name, unusable on Windows Phone

E-commerce usability has been written about for ages, so it might come as a surprise to some that Usablenet who claim to have the "best in class" mobile websites have numerous basic user experience failures.

I visited Sports Direct's website today with a simple goal of looking for a sports drink bottle. This should not be a complex task. On opening www.sportsdirect.com I was redirected to the mobile version, it had ignored my browsers desktop website preference and redirected the domain. Redirected domains are commonly the worst start in terms of user experience. Here are just a few of the common issues a mobile user will experience when they are redirected to the "m." domain:

  • Failure to take into account the exact entry link. e.g. A directly link to a specific article is selected form a Google search and instead of reaching the mobile version of the article the domain redirect goes straight to the home page.
  • The redirect creates a new set of http request slowing down the experience.
  • The content on the mobile and desktop sites are different, most commonly some "pages" do not have mobile versions available.
I was greeted with a classically bad carousel banner on the page, as I attempted to scroll down the page when the carousel timer kicked in the page was forced to scroll back to the top. This is hideous in terms of usability, I literally can only see the 3 carousel items everything else becomes inaccessible.

I looked at the side menu and none of the categories struck me as likely to contain a sports drink bottle. So I thought lets use that search magnifying glass. I clicked on it and it opened up a screen with nothing but a text box. I selected the text box to gain focus and in doing so was forced back to the main screen. Yes that is right the most useful feature on the website was broken.

I scrolled to the bottom of the page to see that it was made by Usablenet and I could supply feedback. As the carousel was forcing the page to scroll back to the top it took several attempts to actually manage a successful click on feedback.

On entering the Feedback page I reached a generic form which had the first field already filled out. This field was labelled "domain" and the value "www.sportsdirect.com" was in the text box. I filled out the remaining fields with my feedback and then submitted the form.

The form did not submit and the focus of the form was forced back to the first field. There was no error message and no indication that any of the fields were incorrect. I tried to submit again and received the same response of the focus jumping back to the first field. I click out of the first field and the text box outline went red. The label of the box was domain, it had been pre-filled with www.sportsdirect.com and there was no help text indicating the format that was required for domain.

After trying sportsdirect and sportsdirect.com I found out that the form would only submit with an http:// prefix. This is a pretty unforgivable double failure. The pre-population was incorrect and there was no error message assistance to help get round the issue.

I then decided to visit the Usablenet homepage, sadly this is not viewable at all on a Windows Phone, the page will not scroll and all you can really see is a chunk of their hero banner. Visiting the site on a Nexus 7 is not much better. Their site includes what I generally consider one of the worse pieces of code to put in a webpage "user-scalable=no". When looking at this site on my Nexus 7 I found the text a little small. This is normally easily remedied with a quick pinch zoom, but if you include "width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0, maximum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=no" then this wonderful feature becomes disabled.

An additional unnecessary feature is the scroll back to the top on orientation change. If you were to have scrolled down to a specific section and then accidentally triggered an orientation change, well you have to find that part again. Additionally if you have switch to a different orientation to view a specific piece of content (an image perhaps) you then need to scroll back and find that image.

While I understand that Windows Phone is only 4% of the market, surely this should at least we worth a cursory test to confirm it works, especially for a company that claims to be industry leading. Additionally the sites appear to provide a weak user experience even on the most common mobile platform.

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