May 08 2008

User Experience Review: Petco.com

We received great feedback from our first UX review spotlighting SignOnSanDiego and are really looking to keep the momentum rolling. At dt we are focused on bringing the community together and highlighting the companies and the people that make them up. So for this edition we’re staying local and taking you on a ride through PETCO.com…Brand Strategy 3 Stars PETCO is one of the most recognizable brands in San Diego, and really across the country. As they say on their website “With over 850 stores in 49 states and the District of Columbia, chances are there’s a PETCO store in your neighborhood.” Besides having a large presence in San Diego county, including 22 retail stores, they have their name on one of MLBs most beautiful ballparks.

Design: PETCO very recently did a design facelift so the site has a fresh look and feel. There were a few confusing elements we ran across related to the homepage design and the promotional boxes that we wanted to highlight.

  1. The border design on the large promo box makes it look out of place, like it doesn’t belong with the site. It could also serve it’s purpose if it were smaller, a bit too big for the page. The calls to action aren’t clear on these promos. Users may stare at them, but what are they supposed to DO? Nothing looks like a button to click. The blue text on the bottom right should be click-able and it would help if it had an arrow or was a button, so it looked click-able.
    gift cards
  2. The links under the promo box all look like gift cards. Their style and shape make them all look like gift cards even though only one of the link takes you to the gift cards.

Style: While the style is not going to win any awards it isn’t terribly bad either. The style is a little bland but consistent with most ecommerce sites – the point is to get you quickly to the product or page you are looking for in the least number of steps. Some of the styles are a little conflicting as in the case of the DIV containers which go from (rounded corners) to [square corners] to (rounded corners) to [square corners].

Quality of Material: The site has been well planned out and has a wealth of information. PETCO has a lot of products and they have done a good job organizing most of that information for their users to find. It takes a few steps to find it but sections like The Answers Den has specific questions and answers from the community which really add value to overall experience. There are numerous product reviews and general comments on the site that help you make informed purchasing decisions.

3 design recommendations

  • Update the border design of the promo box to be consitent with the style of the site
  • Add in calls to action and click-able looking links to encourage flow
  • Promote The Answers Den more to curious shoppers through the large promo box

Social 3 Stars While the website is far from a social network, there is a very social (and viral) aspect to the site because of the customer interaction through product reviews and question and answer sections – much like an Amazon. The loyal customer base has created a wealth of content for visitors to read before they buy pet-related products.

The Answer Den

Community: PETCO ‘s The Answer Den offers a community aspect similar to what you see with Yahoo Answers – post a question about your dog, cat or ferret and chances are somebody in the community has an answer. Note: I noticed that there are prizes given away for people that contribute the most content in form of answers. Since they are doing this transparently it does not feel as forced as if they were secretively paying people to generate content for the site.Petco Viral Elements

Viral Components: PETCO does a great job implementing many of todays most popular viral and social networking components. See a great cat tree that you think your friend might like who is also on Facebook? You can post it to them through the system. There are links for del.icio.us and digg.com as well as a forward to a friend link to facilitate both push and pull marketing.

Blog: PETCO has a company blog although its not easily found. Can you find it? The name isn’t exactly descriptive but if you do a little searching you’ll find a link called “PETCONews.com” -That’s it! This takes you to their separate domain where they update you on what’s going on in the community. Its not a very good blog though, no comments, no RSS and seems like a half-baked idea – especially the minimal design and lack of functionality.

Email Sign Up: Wording here should be changed to emphasize the benefit instead of the feature. No one really wants more email. I’m turned off by “Sign up for emails” but rather I might be interested in “Exclusive Online Discounts, Pet Tips & More!”

4 Social Media Recommendations:

  • Update the blog with RSS
  • Add the ability to click and read individual posts and subscribe via email
  • Change/test the wording “sign up for emails” CTA – explain the benefits of getting another email in your inbox
  • Post the blog feed to areas of the site including the homepage

Technology 3 Stars

XML/RSS Feeds: Good implementation for RSS feeds. Most of the target audience visiting this website is not going to be familiar with RSS. The addition of an interim page to explain what RSS is, how to use it, how to sign up for it, and what applications to read it in is a good ramp for un-informed users to get into using the technology.

Code: Strange that PETCO is still using the HTML 4.01 Transitional DOCTYPE, but at least they aren’t using a <table> layout! While this is odd, it may actually increase accessibility for more browser types, especially mobile browsers, which (with the exception of the iPhone) usually don’t read the newer XHTML DOCTYPE specification. Coding methods and standards are very antiquated and mixed. Tons of deprecated implementations, but modern DIV based layout – either the time was not taken or even worse, the victim of computer generated development.

URL Structure: Ugly urls – these are not human friendly at all. From the look of things everything is being tracked in the URLs for analytics purposes – here’s an example of one for the homepage: http://www.petco.com/petco_Page_PC_home_nav_1.aspx? cm_sp=hdr-_-logo-_-050208

Web Standards: The site is not valid HTML or CSS. More of the benefits of Web Standards can be read here.

Load Time: Site speed on database heavy pages could be a little quicker. Pages are very heavy code wise.

Analytics: Using Google Analytics to track visitor behavior on the site which is great. I know they also do a bit of landing page testing to improve conversion rates.

SEO: PETCO has done a pretty good job with search engine optimization. They rank in very high for the keywords in their title tag but could improve with making more of their website and blog search-able.

Browser Compatibility: Good cross browser compatibility for Firefox and IE7.

Technology Recommendations:

  • Updating the site using current WC3 web standards depending on objectives
  • Make the Answers Den indexable by the search engines
  • Use search engine, and user friendly URLs
  • Lighten up the page code and speed up database times

Functionality - 4 Stars The site navigation and functionality performed well overall. We liked the search result screen when searching by a particular pet type. Most likely you are visiting the site because you already have a specific pet. You should be able to search a pet type and find everything you need for that pet. PETCO.com supports this mentality with the way they organize the search result screen. What would be great which you see has worked so well with other ecommerce giants like Amazon is the similar products suggestion. If I am looking at particular dog bed it would be nice to have a link that says: Want to see more products like this?

Site Search: Like most ecommerce sites they’ve got it and it works ok, but not amazingly – My search for “cat tree” (yes those hideous and expensive pieces of feline furniture) didn’t turn up a lot of results for the products I know they stock. Either fix the database querying to be able to get more concise results or use third party software – like that offered from Google to power your search features- See Google Appliance

Navigation: Good main navigation organization and logical categorization – easy to find what you’re looking for but a few things stuck out. – The top navigation doesn’t really look like a button until you hover over them. The red text links are misleading. Sometimes red text is a link but sometimes it’s not. Switching to a consistent blue text link would be helpful. The breadcrumbs that are on the page are helpful, but only if they work. I found myself on a page for cat trees but the breadcrumbs were all messed up.Cat Tree

Sitemap: An HTML sitemap exists in the footer but I couldn’t find a Google Webmasters XML file which helps in identifying dead links and 404s as well as telling the search engines when you update specific pages.

Security: Certifications from Hackersafe and Goodmail

Features: PETCO’s Bottomless bowls is a really neat feature for those of you who are very busy and sometimes return home to your anxiously awaiting pet forgetting to pick up the cat litter, dog food or chew toys!

6 Funtionality Recommendations:

  • Improve search functionality
  • Give the top main navigation a tab style for clarity
  • Update link colors for consistency
  • Need to have a link on an individual product page. Want to see more products like this?
  • If missing, add a Google Webmasters XML sitemap
  • Fix breadcrumb issues when browsing

Overall Score – 3 Stars out of 5

Brand Strategy – 3 Stars

Social – 3 Stars

Technology- 3 Stars

Functionality – 4 Stars

ConclusionOverall PETCO.com has done a great job implementing the latest web technology into their site and have also kept it clear and relatively easy to navigate for such a large ecommerce site. Acting on many of these recommendations will do small but effective things to improve user experience as well as generate additional traffic through Search’s Long Tail. We welcome comments and additional questions into our review of the site and any information listed here.

About the Author:

Leave a Response

3 Responses

  1. May 08 2008
    Sushant

    This is simply a great post and a very deep thorough analysis.

  2. May 08 2008
    William Fernandez – CitrusByte

    Great to see you doing this level of analysis. Looking forward to reading more!

    (BTW: the giftcard/call out design blunder was a great thing to point out…something that I would imagine could result in a measurable ROI number.)

  3. May 09 2008
    Michael Lambie

    very cool site analysis. i’d love to see more of these. way to be objective!