In today’s competitive world, firms are compelled to work smartly to not only woe but also to maintain existing customers. Driven by a desire to stand out from the rest, almost every business is turning to the use of technology to reach its intended market segment. An approach taken by many companies is to advertise and market through the Web. With good use of web marketing, businesses have grown to greater heights. However, while the advantages of technology use are very obvious, it can be disastrous without proper implementation. Improperly designed websites can be very unprofessional and so difficult to use1.
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This paper takes a critical look at two websites; http://www.studentswapshop.com and http://www.homelink.org.uk. Several issues are discussed to establish how they meet or fail to meet key business requirements.
When designing a website, it is very important to think about who the target audience will be. This information is very critical when it comes to deciding on the kind of information to be included on the site. Without a good knowledge of the intended audience, one can end up with a site full of irrelevant information that adds no value to the customer services. This can lead to very devastating outcomes in the end.
The students swap shop site has college students as the main target. Their services range from linking like-minded students to swap what they do not need with what they require. The arrangement allows students to make huge savings as they get what they need at much-reduced prices. Others are food services, traveling opportunities, and updates on job offers.
Central to the operations of a home link is the provision of home exchange vacations for individuals, couples, and families. On payment of an annual membership fee, the company undertakes to do all the planning and underground work on behalf of the client. The company is committed to ensuring that clients are happy and they will go to extra lengths to provide any extra services if requested by a customer. The activities of the two companies seem quite similar though. Student swap shop allows students to swap items; home link is about swapping homes for families or any group of people wishing to travel. Again, both sites include some element of traveling. In support of their business, students swap shop argues that when a student swaps what they are no longer useful; to him/her and getting what they need, they are in a way protecting the environment and mitigating the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. The home link also does a very important job of introducing total strangers to each other. Families get a rare opportunity of interacting with a place that is completely foreign to them.
In both sites, photos are used to promote visibility and usability. There is evidence of several photos used in the two sites. Other additional features are also used by each site. Both sites, for example, use animated photos and the students swap shop site utilizes attractive colors as well. A study done by Sexton indicates that the use of high-resolution pictures will make it possible for customers to quickly answer most of their questions2. The students swap shop displays several images on the home page with brief explanations to provide information about the services being offered by the company.
A serene background is used on the home link site. This perhaps to take into consideration the type of clientele targeted. The pictures on the site make it easy for customers to figure out what the site is about and go ahead to look for what they need.
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Unlike the photos used by the student swap site that look dull; those used on the home link site are reasonably clear and purposefully chosen to communicate the idea of a family on vacation. A glance at the site is enough to help one make out what the company business is.
Price has a great effect on the level of access to a site. High prices will imply that the site will in the long run have very few customers. In the beginning, many will visit the site to see what is offered and try to compare prices against others in the market who offer similar services. If clients discover that prices are unfavorable, there is a very high likelihood that they will not want to return to the site. The opposite is very true; where customers find prices to be agreeable, this will be motivation enough to pull them back to the site.
When compared to others, the prices of products offered by the two companies are much higher. This is a threat to the existence of the companies. Unless the prices of products and services are revised, these companies will soon be out of business.
When it comes to making payments, the clients need to have confidence in the payment system. Users are always careful with their personal information and get so disappointed whenever there is a breach of confidentiality. The two sites use credit cards as an option for payment. Besides using credit, the home link also allows customers to make payments through the PayPal system. These payment methods have been around for some time and the assumption is that they have been exposed to different threats. A logical conclusion is that they have tried and found to be reliable. Save for a few cases, most credit card transactions are credible and so is the PayPal system.
The goal of any business undertaking is to make a profit. Without a good cash flow, no business will stand.
The primary business of the home link is to help customers plan exchange holidays. The home exchange arrangements are, however, not commercialized by home link. All that is needed is for a customer to register as a member and get an opportunity to access the company’s services. New members register by paying a certain amount of money according to what they can afford. Once the membership fee is paid, one joins the system and is then allowed to use the services offered by the company. The home link prepares individual web pages for all members. Older members do not have to register every time. They are only required to renew their membership in the subsequent years. Links exist almost everywhere on the site and members can initiate the renewal process from any of these. Members log into the members’ area to get a chance to carry out various activities. These are activities such as; editing membership their details, adding photos to a member’s profile, etc. At the request of a member, the home link is can provide support and advice to individual members at any of their branches worldwide. Income for home links therefore originates from the annual payments by its registered members. As explained elsewhere in this paper, there are two modes of payment identified on this site as acceptable by the home link. Clients are allowed to make payments either through the PayPal system or using a credit card.
The main focus of the student swap shop is to create an opportunity for like minded students to get rid of their old possessions and acquire new ones through a swap system. A student can make a list of all the items that are no longer of value and look for someone who wants to swap what he or she needs. Once a match is identified, a swap can then take place. There is evidence on this site of many other sources of income. There is income resulting from travel arrangements that are made for students, updating students about job offers, and proving food services among others. Just as it is with the home link site, students are required to register to be members and enjoy the services offered by the company. Immediately a student gets registered, they get a chance to participate enjoy the various services offered by the company.
Unlike many other sources of information, website users have to navigate through the site to access the necessary information. It is thus very crucial that the site is well organized and arranged in a way that facilitates easy access3. There is no doubt that customers will be frustrated whenever they encounter a complicated navigation structure on the website. No matter what format one chooses to use for the site, the goal must be to ensure consistency and accessibility. A poorly arranged site will end up being so useless. It is important to ensure that whatever the customer will require is well positioned on the site and getting to it must be easy.
The student swap shop site has a consistent layout throughout. Navigation links are tactically placed at the start of every page immediately below a banner at the very. This creates an impression that all pages form part of a detailed web site arrangement4. It is necessary to avoid any unexpected changes to the site’s navigational menu5. Another bar at the bottom of the site provides more details about the company such as the privacy statement, site map, and advertising, etc. Some links to external sites are also added to this site. These are links to sites dealing with areas of interest to student swap shop. There are links to sites talking about climate change and other relevant sites. The min navigational tabs are available on every page and this makes it easy to turn to a particular page of interest at any time if necessary.
The structure of the home link site is much like that of the student swap shop. At the beginning of every page are the main navigational tabs. As earlier stated, this arrangement makes it easy to move to an area of interest on the site. Several links are also placed at the bottom of every page to take visitors to other areas of the site where they can get more information related to the site. Still, at the bottom of the page, there are links to international home link branches. Various other features are available on the site. Among these are a means to contact the company in case more information is to be required, links to discussion forums, forms, registration, etc. There is no doubt that one can easily move around the site.
Understandability of the Websites
Given that there is an ever-increasing demand for information in the current business world that is so competitive, it is very critical that designers pay great attention to how they represent information on the web6. Always, one should remember that there is stiff competition in the market and a client who fails to get what they are looking for in a site will seek an alternative. Most of the time, the alternative is to visit a competitor’s website. If this goes on unabated, a company will end up losing customers to competitors and in some unfortunate cases, such a company may be forced to close down. To avoid this embarrassment, it is so important that information is presented in a way that makes it easy to use. Use of jargon should be avoided and all documents should be proofread to eliminate any possible spelling or grammar mistakes7.
This is a requirement that is not met by the student swap shop site. Getting information on this site is a nightmare. First-time visitors are forced to spend a considerable amount of time to first understand the site structure before they can fully get to use it. This is very disappointing and an impatient client will just close down the site and try elsewhere to see if their needs will be met. There is no clear explanation on the site to tell the customer what the site is really about and how they can befit from it. As a result, so much time is wasted as one tries to discover their way around the site. Although some messages appear on the site identifying it as a swap place for students, a closer look reveals that the company deals with so many other things apart from supporting the students in their swap activities. This is made even worse by the presence of many images on the home page. The images are each associated with a service that is supposedly offered by the company. To some extent, this is ambiguous and complicates the clarity of the site. It is therefore very difficult for clients to associate the company with a particular product. This vagueness can cause a lot of stress to people who wish to get information faster.
On the contrary, the home link site presents information in a very user-friendly manner and this greatly reduces the amount of time required to determine what home link is all about. A welcome message on the home page gives a clear and very simple description of the services offered by the company to the customer. Clients are therefore in a position to know what to expect. The use of clear images also makes the site meet its goal of communicating what home exchange holidays are. The choice of font size is just right and there is one can easily read the information on the pages.
According to USA8, a poorly thought of website design could keep away potential clients from the website and damage the reputation of the company. It is therefore very important for designers to see to it that information placed on the website is easily and quickly accessible to anyone visiting. This was so much a problem to appoint that the UK government made it a legal requirement. Companies in the UK now have this as one of the legal obligations that must be met9. This has been done so to take care of people with disabilities. It is therefore important that one pays special attention and exercises due diligence when placing any content on the website. Again, it is so disheartening for a customer to waste so much time trying to locate the information he or she needs on the website. Visitors who leave a site satisfied will always want to return. The goal is, therefore, to make sure that everyone who visits your site is attracted to it and cannot wait to return at a later time.
Major links placed on every page of the student swap shop site make it easy to move from one place to another. However, improvement is needed for this site to quicken the rate f access to information. There is a big challenge when one tries to locate information from this site. It takes a considerable amount of time to find information one is looking and this is so discouraging, to say the least. On the other hand, the design and organization of the home link site make navigation quite easy and one can locate information very fast and at any time as needed. There is a smooth flow as one navigates through the site moving from one page to another and accessing different pages at will. With only a few clicks, one can quickly get the required information. The appearance of major links on every page further makes it easy to move around the site. Both websites provide an easy to use registration form which appears among the first things you see on the home page. The form is also accessible through almost every page on these sites. The student swap shop also has a registration tab as part of the navigation menu.
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When it comes to access time, the student swap shop site takes longer to load than the home link site. This can probably be explained by the fact that there are so many images on the site. Generally, websites that contain lots of pictures will take more time to load than those with fewer images to display10.
It is a good practice to ensure that the page design is relevant to the contents of the site. Different websites will have varying design needs. When creating formal websites, the designers must try at all costs to avoid the use of superfluous language and excessive colors11. This is because most of the clients who will visit these types of sites are mostly concerned with getting the information that will fix their problem. They are less interested in unnecessary details. Visitors to non-formal websites will, however, not mind the use of as many features as possible as long as they do not make the website look clumsy.
The overall design of the student swap shop site is very appropriate for the target audience. The color scheme, artistic drawings, and images certainly make it very appealing to students. There is, however, a need to enhance a serious need to enhance the appearance of the fonts on this site. Currently, the fonts are too small and one is forced to strain while reading content. Similarly, the background appears shady and contributes to the site being so unclear. Another recommendation is to increase the line spacing. The lines of text are so squeezed and this combined with the small size of the fonts makes it very challenging to read. A visually impaired person will suffer if he or she was to visit this site and try reading it. This already is an indication that customers can easily move to other sites simply because they cannot read the information on the site.
The home link site looks quite attractive to a visitor. The site makes use of less striking colors throughout. Given the type of audience expected for this site; mainly couples and elderly people with families, the design is very acceptable. The font style and size used to serve to simplify the reading of the site. Nevertheless, to cater to a variety of visitors to the site, the spacing should be adjusted. There are pictures of happy children, couples, and families as well as nicely built homes on the site. To a great extent, these are playing a big role in communicating a very straight forward message to potential customers about home exchange holidays.
Hidden Aspects of the Site
Given that most of the time clients are in a hurry to find what they need, it doesn’t help much to put extra details on pages. Time can be saved by ensuring that only relevant and useful information is made available to customers. As an example, the registration page of the student swap shop site contains so many unnecessary lines that could be avoided. A customer may not have time to look at all of them and at the same time, this can be very confusing for anyone trying to fill. Although the required fields are identified, some clients may still dismiss the registration process with the assumption that there are so many details required and this might take time to complete. This is unlike the home link site that has a streamlined registration page with a smaller number of fields to be filled. Important fields are also clearly marked out.
For a customer to come back to a site there must be a need. Client requirements are different and how they look at things will certainly differ. Personally, given the above facts about the two sites, I would want to revisit the home link site and will hesitate to go back to the student swap shop site.
When creating a website, it is always to consider how to make it striking to leave a lasting impression in the minds of the customers. The well designed and attractive site will serve to pull back quite a several customers. On the contrary, a poor design will drive away any potential client. Several features on the student swap shop site are quite captivating. The images on the banner, for example, are such an interesting piece of art that has been used. With this kind of appearance, it is very possible to get interested clients to come back just because of the attractive features they saw on the site when they visited. The color scheme used can also easily draw the attention of students who are the main target group for this site.
The home link site seems somewhat flat on this one. Apart from having animated images, a visit to the site leaves one with the idea of a very calm site. This is expected given that unlike the student swap shop site, the home link site is directed to a much elderly group of people. A majority of people visiting this site will therefore be interested more in the content rather than the outlook. They will be happy as long as their information needs are satisfied. However, the site can also do with a few fascinating features to kill the monotonous appearance.
Following from the above discussion, adjustments to both websites are very necessary for better performance. Even though the home link site is designed to reach a more mature audience whose main interest is to get relevant information regarding home exchange holidays and make their choices, there is a need to include some features that will create a lasting impression in the minds of potential clients who happen to land on the site for the first time. It is to the company’s advantage that after visiting the site, a client should go with some memories that will stay with them for some time. Hopefully, this will make them desire to return to the site.
The student swap shop site is very stylish and considering what its target group is, one can conclude that this is very much in order. College students will want to be associated with fashionable things at all times. Nevertheless, some improvements to the design and appearance of the site are very necessary. Even though the font style used looks quite alright, the font size is very small and needs to be increased to a much better size that can be read easily. The background of the pages is also very dull and unfriendly to the eyes. A recommendation will be to get rid of the shady background and this should be replaced with a much lighter one. The number of fields on the registration page should also be reduced to make the page less crowded than it is at the moment.
As had been noted earlier, this site does not clearly state what is supposed to do. This makes it so difficult for clients to quickly locate the information they need. So much time has to be spent to try and make sense out of the site be the relevant information can be accessed. It will suffice to provide a clear message that will enlighten customers about the services offered by the company. Furthermore, it will be helpful to separate the company’s core business from the rest of the services they offer. The site also takes too long to load and this can work against the success of the company marketing activities. A recommendation will be to try and reduce the number of images on the site. With a reduction of the number of images on the site, it will possible to bring down the amount of time needed to load the pages on this site.
Alexa. 2010. Slow Sites May be Penalized by Search Engines. California: Alexa Internet, Inc. Web.
Bala, Venkatesh. 2010. Going Global Means Going Mobile in Emerging Markets. New York: The Nielsen Company. Web.
Sexton, Jeff. 2010. Merchandising with Pictures and Videos. USA: Wilson Internet Services. Web.
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