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The importance of e-commerce

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E-commerce applications support the interaction between different parties participating in a commerce transaction through the internet. The increasing importance of e-commerce is vivid in study conducted by researchers at the GVU (Graphics, Visualization, and Usability) Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In the summary of the findings from the eighth survey, the researchers report that “e-commerce is taking off both in terms of the number of users shopping as well as the total amount of customers are spending via Internet based transactions”.

Although the issue of protection/guarantee remains the main reason why more customers do not purchase products online. The GVA survey also indicates that faith in the security of e-commerce is increasing. Since more people gain confidence in current encryption technologies, more and more users can be expected to frequently purchase items online.

A good e-commerce site should present the following factors to the customers for better usability

  • Knowing when an product was saved or not saved in the shopping cart.
  • Returning to different parts of the site after adding an item to the shopping cart.
  • Easy scanning and selecting items in a list.
  • Effective categorical organization of products.
  • Simple navigation from home page to information and order links for specific products.
  • Obvious shopping links or buttons.
  • Minimal and effective security notifications or messages.
  • Consistent layout of product information

Another important factor within design of an e-commerce site is feedback of customer query. The interactive cycle between a user and a web site is not complete until the web site responds to a command entered by the user. According to Norman, “feedback–sending back to the user information about what action has actually been done, what result has been accomplished–is a well known concept in the science of control and information theory. Imagine trying to talk to someone when you cannot even hear your own voice, or trying to draw a picture with a pencil that leaves no mark: there would be no feedback”. Web site feedback often consists of a change in the visual or verbal information presented to the user. Simple examples include highlighting a selection made by the user or filling a field on a form based on a user’s selection from a pull down list. Another example is using the sound of a cash register to confirm that a product has been added to an electronic shopping cart. Completed orders should be acknowledged quickly. This may be done with an acknowledgment or fulfillment of order.

The amount of time it takes to generate and download this page, however, is a source of irritation for many e-commerce users. Users are quick to attribute meaning to events. A blank page, or what a user perceives to be “a long time” to receive an acknowledgment, may be interpreted as “there must be something wrong with the order.” If generating an acknowledgment may take longer than what may be reasonably expected by the user, then the design should include intermediate feedback to the user indicating the progress being made toward acknowledgment or fulfillment. Finally, feedback should not distract the user. Actions and reactions made by the web site should be meaningful. Feedback should not draw the user’s attention away from the important tasks of gathering information, selecting products, and placing orders.

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