In October, Coles launched their redesigned online supermarket. They seemed to release it to the hungry masses fairly quietly, considering the drastic changes they’ve made to the user experience. I’ve actively used Coles and/or Woolies click and collect for the past two years and it has really helped me and my fiance save money.

 

The fresh food people baked an unsavoury product

Soon after Woolworths launched their online shopping product, B&T wrote a scathing review of the platform focusing on major experience issues like confusing information architecture and distracting design patterns.

When I first landed on the page, there was no clear direction. Where do I go? What do you want me to see? If you want me to shop for groceries, then show me the way.
— Excerpt from B&T article, July 2015

I mostly agreed with the feedback from the article but I also believe Woolworths didn’t set out to intentionally develop a confusing experience. Undoubtedly the designers had to walk a fine line between guiding customers to find great deals and unbiasedly representing a gigantic product range online. I’m sure requirements for the project trickled down from all areas of the company, and trying to cater to every demand can really upset the product design process. I’m not defending the design but I wonder how far the designers went testing their concept with real users and whether UX decisions were made by unqualified stakeholders.

 

The simplicity of Coles won me over

Before the redesign, Coles was my online supermarket of choice. The straightforward navigation and conventional tabular list layout appealed to my need to shop quickly. It allowed me to scroll through dozens of products and easily scan for recognisable words or images in each row. Although the Coles platform looked dull and had few features to personalise the experience, it worked perfectly and served my needs. When I shop in person, I’m on a mission to seek out and bag what I need without distractions. I’d pay more for my groceries if it meant I could shop without distractions or constant product upsells.

 

Product comparison is a hard nut to crack

Fast-forward to today and Coles have completely tossed out their former online store like Christmas puddings in January. Side-by-side, the average customer would struggle to see the differences between the Coles and Woolworths online supermarkets. Both companies have opted for tile-based layouts to promote their products but design patterns for tiles and tables provide different ways to navigate content.

When a user needs to compare products based on specific attributes like price and weight, it is best to provide the information in a tabular format.

When a user needs to compare products based on standalone or non-sequential attributes, it is best to provide the information in a tile format.

What is most confusing is there is reason to display grocery products in both tabular and tile formats. Customers need to compare products based on price or weight as well as compare products based on their unique attributes. For example, if a customer wants to purchase steaks, they might already know which weight they need however they might choose the more expensive steaks as they can see they’re already marinated. The two display formats cater for different user needs. This leads me to believe the experience issues surround empowering the user. Depending on the type of product you’re shopping for, it would be worth providing customers with the ability to toggle the view from tile to tabular and back.

 

Final thoughts

Similarly to their real-life counterparts, Coles and Woolworths online both suffer from cognitive overload. You can barely move your cursor without finding another special or discount and this can be overwhelming for customers. Obviously shoppers respond to this kind of in-your-face promotion but it’s wasted on cynical people like myself. I’m starting to see how niche grocery chains like Aldi are growing in popularity as they limit your choice in preference for a simple, easy shopping experience and that’s all I really want. I still lean towards Coles as my preferred store though.