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September 28, 2007 | eCommerce , Site Design and Management | WineDirect Admin

A Flash in the Pan

A couple months ago I was cruising the Serramonte mall in Daly City when I spotted an iPod Vending Machine for the first time.

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “That’s so convenient. You can buy an iPod, bottle of Gatorade and pack of gum and be right on your way. You don’t even have to deal with an overly attentive salesperson breathing down your neck following you around the store.”

And that is just the way I like to shop. I am a no frills, no nonsense kind of shopper. Give me what I want and don’t make too much small talk. I like to get in and get out.

The same principle applies to shopping online. I refuse to be forced to spend excessive amounts of my precious time waiting or searching a poorly constructed site. Based upon this commonly shared distaste for sluggish, messy, disorganized stores, an e-commerce site must have heightened awareness of their users’ shopping experience.

It’s for this reason that Flash is so heavily frowned upon when it comes to e-commerce. Who wants to stare at a blank screen while a movie you don’t even want to watch is loading?


Think about it. When you are out shopping would you rather:

A. Hang around a store while you watch a product demonstration. Wait politely as time tick-tocks by until the moment you can do what you initially came in to do. SHOP.

B. Zoom by a vending machine in you rollerblades, toss in some change to the machine and WHAM-O!

The former might be interesting the very first time you buy from that store. But it’s going to get old-real quick. And those feelings of awe are going to be replaced with aggravation and frustration.

If you need proof of this, simply browse through any popular e-commerce sites. At most there may be a banner or two including some light Flash, but it will most likely be relatively small and/or quick to load. Even www.adobe.com, home of Flash CS3, does not include a Flash splash page that you need to ‘click to enter’. They know.

There are numerous other reasons why Flash should be avoided for e-commerce sites.

Information embedded into Flash is virtually invisible to most search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and others. These search engines are your gateway to the outside world as an overwhelming and increasing number of users rely on search engines daily to find information.

Assuming that your site is found, Flash splash pages can deter users from entering your site. To elaborate, your homepage is your most important page within your entire site. It receives more hits than any other page. If you use a Flash splash page, it becomes a wall between your user and your homepage. If your user never makes it to your homepage, then your chance to make that sale will undoubtedly be flushed down the toilet. Not to mention all those purchases which would have inevitably followed. In addition to all of the other referred customers you could have gained through that one customer that “X”ed out of your Flash splash page.

Moreover, Flash breaks down the web’s most fundamental and powerful features. Web features are built to allow their users to sit in the drivers’ seat. We go where we want to go. But most importantly, we get to make the decision. Flash forces its users into the backseat at the mercy of whoever built the site.

Listed below are a few examples of this dilemma:
- The “back” button doesn’t work.
- The ability to highlight, copy and paste text doesn’t work.
- Link colors don’t work.
- The “Make bigger. Make smaller” function doesn’t work.
- The “Find in Page” feature doesn’t work.

These reasons only skim the surface as to why you should avoid Flash in your website. To prevent these issues from arising, I suggest two alternatives.

1. Rather than using Flash to grab the attention of your users, focus on the quality of your photography and illustration. Coca-Cola is an example of a company which uses its images to capture the attention of its users. Its simple, clean site with plenty of white space gives breathing room to its users allowing them to better focus on the information of the site.

2. If you absolutely must use Flash consider keeping it contained within a banner and be sure to keep it under control. By that I am suggesting that “just because it CAN move doesn’t mean that it necessarily SHOULD move.” While Flash can be useful with its ability to display a series of images all within a neat, contained box, be sure that it is not overly “flashy” and does not make a nuisance of itself. Moreover, if you opt to use some light Flash within your site, be sure that it does not include any critical information that could be better communicated in text which is scannable by a search engine. Apple is a good example of a site that utilizes Flash in this fashion.

So, while Flash may win a few initial “Oooo”s and “Ahhh”s, remember the purpose of your site. If your goal is to improve your users’ shopping experience and to bring them back again and again, I advise to make your site as simple and as easy-to-use as possible.
 

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