Wheelbase – A high quality experience

Wheelbase is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of alloy wheels and performance tires. They have been providing the public with top quality products for over 15 years.

Upon entering the site, it is evidently clear what the purpose of the site is – to sell wheels. The layout is clean and efficient, and exactly what I expect to see on a motor based site. Design looks like a shopping cart site, but again, expected. The color scheme is pleasing, and fits well with the subject. The left side of the page is well designed offering clean images with suggestions about where to begin perusing their site.

Search Options
Fig1. Search Options

My eye is immediately drawn to the “alloy wheel search” located in the center of the page, and this is where I began browsing. The three pull down menus offer several makes of automobiles, followed by their models and finally an option to view sizes of wheels and tires. This worked efficiently with no errors. I was inclined to want to click a search button, but instead was immediately directed to a page of choices suited for my chosen car. I did note that many automobiles are not listed within their makes, as the car I currently drive, a Mercury Mountaineer, was not listed.

Search Results
Fig2. Search Results

I chose a “Ford” + “F150” + “Show all sizes” for my search. The results are displayed in order by size from the smallest to the largest. The thumbnail images are spaced nicely and are of a high quality. The prices are clearly displayed below the products in GPB, which is the default method due to the company being based in the UK. They have made it simple to change the price display option with a simple click at the page top converting the standard display to either US or Euro.

I was not looking for a specific brand of wheel, but the site has taken that into consideration by offering a concise drill down including display by brand, model, color and style. This makes it very easy for users who are comparison based on knowing exactly what they are looking for. I also found it smart that the company displays a Top 5 Wheels suggestion just to the right of the search results. I feel this is a good selling tactic for someone who does not know exactly what they are looking for.

I chose the first wheel displayed in my result listing, the Decorsa 20″ Alloy. The now larger image was of a high quality and nicely spaced to the left of the text description. The enlarged image, when you hit Zoom, is very clear and offers a detailed picture of the product. From here  you can add the product to your cart, or browse their suggested pairings for tires that fit the wheel you have chosen. They also clearly promote the ability to speak to an expert which is very smart considering that the purchase wheels and tires is a large purchase that someone would want to do right. I added this item to my cart and went through the checkout process up to where the final purchase is made. There were no issues, very simple and left me with no questions about my intended purchase.

Navigation Bar
Fig3. Clearance, Competition and The Zone

With my ordering experience final, I began going through their navigation bar. They offer a Clearance section that displays products that are discounted. When clicking on one, the system they have in place remembers your previous make and model selection and notifies you if the wheel you have chosen will not fit your car. You can continue to browse through, however they do want to get you back to the selections that are matched for your car and clicking OK in the prompt takes you back to the search results page mentioned above.

Friendly competition and targeted content makes for a sticky site:

They offer a monthly competition to win a set of tires, with the winner being selected by random draw on the last day of the month after answering a single question. I find this a very good way to engage a user, and keep the site sticky. They have a gallery of cars sporting their wheels, which would give a user a decent idea of how a specific wheel would look on their car.

My husband particularly enjoyed the site’s Wheelbase Zone, which I found to be a very good way of keeping their target market, men, entertained. They offer photos and profiles beautiful ladies, several modeling with the sites product, screensavers and news from the company.

Finally in the navigation bar, I went to the Wheels Advice section which I found a valuable asset, as it offered tips and suggestions for the care and maintenance of your wheels and tires. This is also great for the site’s organic SEO as the phrases found in the page are questions that people would search for.

Conclusion:

In closing, the point of site is clearly sales, no advertisements in sight. While I am not the person that would use this site, I do rate my experience here very high. I was not misdirected within my purchase path – it was very clear and easy. I was not offered ways that led me away from the point of my visit, to browse and possibly purchase their products. I was not offended by their display or content even though the target market is clearly men. I found this site to be rememberable and a I had good enough experience that I would refer it to others who were looking for products of this type.


Sitecritic.net award

* This is not just a typical ecommerce site. A lot of effort has been put into it to make it stand out from the crowd. Wheelbase alloy wheels fully deserves an award.

5 Star Flooring Supplies in UK

Introduction

As the url implies, flooringsupplies.co.uk supplies different types of flooring materials in UK. They are established for a long time and have had many big clients over the years. Their website looks professional, secure and very usable.

Form & Function

Upon landing on the home page, I was greeted with a slideshow of all the flooring offers. Navigation was straight forward and standard – top and left. The categories in the top menu was easily understood as well. I was naturally drawn towards the flooring offers and green flooring tabs as they were highlighted. Spacing, layout and fonts were also very consistent. The colors used throughout the website was consistent with the logo colours. It looked like the site was using a commercial CMS. Even then, the designers and developers must have put in a lot of effort to create the graphics and making the site usable with ajax.

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fig 1. Diagrams and instructions are clear.

I liked the fact that they assume that their potential customers were complete idiots to flooring. There was a lot of information on every page explaining what each product was all about. The amount of text seemed to be just right – not too long winded. As a newbie to flooring, I wanted to know more and stumbled upon the glossary page! (I have to give them credit for this one). The FAQ page was also fantastically documented. The diagrams were clear and I thought even internet newbies would not be confused (fig 1).

The contact us page looked great with the google map. Anyone could reach them via any means… skype, google talk, email, MSN…etc. Again, how many websites support instant messaging? Check out the journey times – this is what I call customer service.

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fig 2. “Click image to enlarge” doesn’t seem to enlarge the image.

One thing I did not like is the pop up image on the product page (see fig 2). Clicking on “click image to enlarge” did not enlarge the image… The “enlarged image” seemed to be the same size as the displayed image. I would actually prefer the displayed image to be smaller and clicking on the magnifying glass would enlarge it. In fact, I found navigating the site really slow even with my broadband (might not be the case in UK).

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fig 3. Cool ajax updates the total cost.

It was easy to add items to cart. Entering the total area of the floor updated the total cost straight away. The fitting instructions were clear as well. Thanks to ajax at work again!

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fig 4. The checkout is also very user friendly.

Again, I liked the checkout process. In the first step, the customer enters the user details and delivery date. I could actually specify the exact date of delivery! The mouseover tip was helpful as well. The whole checkout process did not look cluttered and was straight forward. The only improvement I can suggest is to make the field checks ajax as well. That way, customers don’t need to have their browser refreshed to see the errors.

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fig 5. The identity of the website seems to be wrong?

The identity of the website was suspicious. I could not recall “Keswick Flooring Ltd” being mentioned anywhere in the website, not even in the about us or contact us page. Perhaps it was an old trading name?

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fig 6. I get occasional javascript errors in my IE.

Firefox seemed to be fine but my IE 8 sometimes showed some annoying javascript error… no biggy because it didn’t affect my browsing experience. I would be interested to know why if I were the developer.

Conclusion

flooringsupplies.co.uk is a trusted website that should have very good online presence in UK. Every page looks cool but in exchange, the heavy graphics and javascript can slow things down – not a problem with fast internet connection though. The company has great attention to details – every single graphic and word seems to have been well thought of. I believe the way they treat their website will be the way they treat their customers.

In terms of layout and design, flooringsupplies.co.uk does look like any modern day ecommerce website out there – There was not enough buzz going on and I didn’t go “wow” after spending 5 mins on the site. However, when I tried putting myself in the shoes of someone wanting to fix my floor, I did find the website extremely user friendly and helpful. I could already feel the 5 star service even before buying anything from them.


Sitecritic.net award

* We would like to congratulate flooringsupplies for putting in so much effort to create a website that truly communicates with the customer.

WRAL: A busy but competent website

Introduction

WRAL.com is an interesting name for a website and one that’s easy to remember. The website itself is easy to remember too, remedy with excellent navigation, design, layout and functionality combining to create a positive news reading experience.

Form

WRAL has absolutely packed the links into their pages while maintaining ease of navigation. With strategic use of headlines, boxes, main headings and positioning, it is very easy to find your way around the site and choose what to look at. As is usual on news websites, a lot of information needs to be passed onto the reader and it’s fortunate that WRAL managed to handle this tricky problem. A main heading at the top of each page gives a summary of what is on the page and this helps the reader to decide quickly whether to read the page or not.

The WRAL.com logo with the tagline “coverage you can count on” is a good logo for a news website as it is striking, simple and memorable. Beside the logo (in the banner) is a transparent newsy image set on a gradient background which is subtle and appropriate. The colour scheme for the site is blues, greys and whites and this is quite suitable, as attention is focused on the text and other colourful elements (such as maps and images) that need to be seen by the viewer. Layout is handled well with left and right columns that branch into more columns on the left when needed. Consistent layout, navigation and presentation make WRAL a “trustworthy” website. Additionally, the cute corner on the top right which shows temperature, a map and subscription options is interesting to look at and a good example of what can be achieved in a small space.

Function

WRAL is an immense website with a lot of helpful aspects that haven’t yet been implemented on some of the other major news sites. Traffic reports (and maps), TV Guides, weather reports, sports, business and news coverage, restaurant ratings, consumer section, horoscopes, contests, lottery results, events, health & lifestyle section and an entertainment section will no doubt keep viewers interested for hours. Advertising is usually expected on news websites (they are prime real estate) and WRAL has quite a few ads, but at least these are non-intrusive and kept to the top, right and bottom. It was pleasing to see there were no popup ads.

Loading times are fast and the pages and subdomains are organised well. The coding is a combination of xhtml, javascript and css and has no obvious issues. I am not sure where the page script came from – the words “Do not alter anything below this line!” lead me to believe the script came from somewhere else but it’s hard to tell as WRAL might have had a head webmaster code the script for the team.

Conclusion

WRAL is a fine example of how a news website should be done and I highly recommend a visit, especially if you are an aspiring news website designer. The amount of work that has gone into this website is astounding and inspiring (although I suspect WRAL has a team of web people working on it) and readers can certainly look forward to a superior news experience. I had only one question about this website – call me an ignoramus, but what do the initials WRAL stand for?


Sitecritic.net award

www.wral.com.1
fig 1. Traffic Maps

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fig 2. “Cute” Corner

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fig 3. WRAL Logo

BBC News website

Introduction

The BBC, ailment the British Broadcasting Corporation, case aka the Beeb or Auntie to its friends is the UK most important media organisation funded through licence fees producing TV and Radio programmes for the UK and internationally. The volume of what the BBC produces is truly gargantuan, with eight TV channels and eleven main radio stations, plus local programming and more commercial channels broadcasted internationally, and all this has to be represented under one website. So how does it stand up to the challenge?

Form

Two of the most important factors are, as always, navigation and branding, but the site also wins with a good search option, functionality, and surprisingly few dead links. Let’s start with the branding, at which the BBC have been traditionally – and necessarily – excellent. Their logo and navigation bar is visible on all pages, and each channel (eg. Radio 4) and classification (eg. Arts) has their own bar with its own logo and look which holds consistently with the BBC brand. Each of these sections has their own complimentary colour scheme – funky colours for Children’s pages and more muted colours for the ‘serious’ stuff such as news. The consistent layout style helps to keep everything cohesive while allowing each area to maintain its unique feel and does this without falling into the trap when using content management systems of looking boxy and bland.

Function

With the volume of content – and the Beeb have decided to be enormously generous with both current and archived material – the navigation of this site is absolutely key, and the BBC’s answer has been to use a number of approaches. The major sections are always available at the top of all pages, as is a search box. On the left side of the page, a navigation bar is present and options change to fit with the context of the page. The right hand side of the window provides useful links for recommended programmes. In true British Institution Tradition, filing has been fully embraced and one of the most useful features is to be able to browse from an a-z listing of programmes, both current and off-air. The keyword search feature works very well, though this is a section where the branding of the site seems to fall down, looking a little incongruous and clunky by comparison to the rest of the site.

The site’s best feature is the Radio Player, which opens in a new window and allows you to stream live or archived programmes using the free-to-download RealPlayer media engine. This works very smoothly, and contains its own navigation, making it incredibly easy to jump between channels using drop-down menus and a-z listings. Streamed TV clips of news, weather and programming is available though a similar method, but is less successful and the quality can be quite low. Well-maintained forums and a great deal of further information on programmes offer a feeling of depth and community to the site – check out www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/archers on the famous Archers radio series – there’s even an interactive map on the fictional village of Ambridge!

Conclusion

This is an excellent example of how to manage a massive amount of content effectively, bringing together a disparate range of programming and genres under one well-branded umbrella. The generosity of content ensures browsers return to the site regularly, and additional features really go the extra mile. As a victim of its success, some areas might be missed due to the size of the site – make sure you visit the Collective area – www.bbc.co.uk/collective which is a fantastic site on contemporary culture in the UK.


Sitecritic.net award

www.bbc.co.uk.1
fig 1. Progessional layout

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fig 2. Arts section

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fig 3. Another section

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fig 4. Another section