New Gap.com Redesign takes on Pogo-Sticking

Joshua Porter

September 21st, 2005

It’s always interesting to us when a major web site is redesigned. But when the story of the redesign makes the pages of The New York Times, we get really interested. The Times published an article last week about the recently redesigned Gap.com web site, built new from the ground up after being offline for nearly 2 weeks! That fact in itself was exceptional.

Here’s the article: New Approach From Gap to Cut Down on Clicks (Note: due to a very recent change, this article is behind a paid firewall. It costs $3.95 to view…however we have cited the most interesting bits below.)

But the story got even more interesting as we read that the new site boasts tons of features that “other retailers will quickly try to figure out how to copy”, according to Forrester analyst Carrie Johnson. As if that weren’t enough, Ms. Johnson then pointed out that Gap.com had largely solved what she called the “too many clicks” problem.

Needless to say, we had to take a look at the site for ourselves. If you’ve read Testing the Three-Click Rule, you’ll know that our research suggests that when people complain about the number of clicks they’re making, it’s often a symptom of a different problem, and that problem is that they’re failing to find what they’re looking for.

So we headed on over to Gap.com and took a look around. What did we find? We found the claim that people had to make fewer clicks than before is largely misleading. In fact, users have to make just as many clicks as before. The real difference with the design is that instead of reloading the existing page or loading new ones when a user clicks, a click might launch a popup instead. Here’s an example of one:

Gap Redesign Popup

This popup, used for selecting the size and color of jeans, is interesting for several reasons:

  1. You can select color and sizes by clicking on a size box, without a reload.
  2. Available sizes are highlighted and clickable. Unavailable sizes are greyed out and unclickable.
  3. The enlarged product photo shows decent detail.
  4. You can view a size chart and more product details if you need to.

In short, the popup contains enough information to select an item, customize it, and add it to the cart, bypassing the effort of visiting each product page in turn and doing it there. Presumably, this is why the redesign is so exciting, even though the Times article instead points to the number of clicks as the issue being resolved. (Lots of people blame frustration on clicks, but they’re often just innocent bystanders).

The design has some really neat features, though. When you hover over a waist size, for example, all the pant lengths that are out of stock for that waist size get greyed out. This is similar to one of our favorite sites: LLBean.com, who have done live inventory updating for some time now. They use dropdowns instead of hover boxes, however.

These sophisticated inventory features could explain the slowness of the site, although that could also be the result of a myriad of other things including a pent-up demand resulting from the 2 weeks offline or the increased traffic brought over by the Times article. Even still, if the features work as well as advertised the download time of the pages won’t matter to the site’s bottom line, as we’ve found that download time is not as important as you might think.

Additionally, a quote from a Gap executive concerning the project was really interesting:

“Toby Lenk, president of Gap Inc. Direct, the company’s corporate catalog and online division, said the mouse-overs and pop-up windows eliminated the need to bounce the shopper off her browsing path each time she needed information.”

This sounds a lot like what we call Pogo-Sticking, one of our favorite research topics here at UIE. Over the years we’ve seen hundreds of people become frustrated from the repetive act of looking at a list of products, clicking on one to get to a product page, then deciding to look at another product and realize the only way to do so is by clicking the “Back” button and doing it all again. In fact, in 2001 we wrote a whitepaper about it:

Are the Product Lists on Your Site Reducing Sales?

So we’re glad to see the Gap.com team take up the pogo-sticking challenge. Long a frustration on most of the web sites we’ve tested, it is such a core problem of web design that we’re sure that it isn’t going away any time soon. Here’s hoping the redesigned Gap.com might hasten its departure!

9 Responses to “New Gap.com Redesign takes on Pogo-Sticking”

  1. Per L Says:

    Looks like gap.com is still (or again?) closed today (Thursday)…

  2. Jared Spool Says:

    Per, Keep trying. We’ve noticed that they’ve got some sort of governor on the site that is keeping the active users down to a managable level. We get the refusal about 30% of the time. Persistance pays off in this case.

    (I don’t know if they are blocking certain domains, such as non-US visitors.)

  3. Ergopole / Architecture d’information et utilisabilité » Archive du blog » Le Pogo-sticking, qu’est ce que c’est donc ? Says:

    […] Alors qu’est ce qu’on fait ? – On minimise les allers-retours gluants, on peut citer effectivement l’exemple de Gap.com (à lire l’analyse de Joshua Porter sur BrainSparks) ou de bananarepublic.com. – En proposant suffisamment d’information dés les listes de produits pour choisir et ajouter au panier. […]

  4. Paul Petit Says:

    Interesting article. I went to test the gap.com website myself only to find that they dont use popup windows anymore. Therefore they dont bypasse the effort of visiting each product page anylonger. What a shame!

  5. Jared Spool Says:

    Paul, Interesting! I just went to gap.com and they still had the pop-ups.

    I clicked on Mens, then Pants. Then I moved my mouse over one of the pairs of pants. A button labeled QuickLook appeared. Clicking that will deliver the pop-up.

    I wonder if they are restricting which users get the pop-ups to do some sort of A/B testing.

  6. David Says:

    The new site apparently is checking the user agent and restricting ceartain broswers, including Safari. I can switch the user agent that Safari sends and the pages load fine.

    A call to customer services results in advice to download Firefox and a 10% off coupon.

    What good is their redesign if they only support Firefox and IE7? I would rather be able to use the site slowly than not at all.

  7. Jared Spool Says:

    No Safari support, eh? Maybe the Gap feels that mac users aren’t likely to be in their target audience? 🙂

  8. Nate Says:

    Isn’t .Net known for having issues with Safari? Judging by the .do tags I would say the new site is designed exclusivley with it. That might explain why they are blocking Safari browsers, as the experience might not be the same for those users.

  9. Usability Tuesday: Plate spinning kills my reading experience « The World According to Miles Says:

    […] that have been particularly vulnerable to this are banks and e-commerce sites. Joshua Porter wrote an article on UIE celebrating The GAP redesigning their e-commerce experience to combat pogo sticking […]

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