If you haven’t been to Costco.com or Costco.ca in the last couple of days, you should swing through and check out their new look. Both Costco online stores have gotten a whole new look and feel. And it is much nicer than the previous version. Aside from the much cleaner look of the site, they have also added several new features that should make it far easier to shop on the site now.
I think the changes to the navigation are probably the most noticeable improvements (but that could just be the User Interface designer in me). They have five sections of the homepage that are all about navigation and getting the information you need quicker: service centers, tasks, products, search, and the global navigation footer. I really like how they have clearly separated the product navigation, the task navigation, and navigation for the Costco service center sections (business delivery, pharmacy, travel, and photo). This makes it more user-friendly if you have something to do on the site aside from shopping. Splitting the navigation up like this, also helps clean up the page design or layout by dividing the page up and using different colours and font sizes to delineate the key areas.
The area for navigating to the various service centers is right at the top of the page in a grey bar. I like that they use color to separate it out for the other areas of the page because this way you notice it, but if you aren’t looking for one of these areas, it quickly fades into the background in your mind. In what I would call the header of the page (the big area to the right of the logo), all of the online tasks are listed for you so that you can jump right to those areas very quickly without getting lost in the rest of the page. For instance, you can easily look up the balance on your Costco Cash card, or start a search for a location near you right from the homepage. Also from that area you can quickly find the place to renew your existing membership or sign up for a new one. You can also sign up for the Costco.com emails. Other task oriented things that you can do from this area: jump to Customer Service, look up your account, find an order by number, or check on your order status. And lastly, there’s a big link to the current warehouse coupons.
The search box remains pretty much as it always was, but is bigger and more prominently located now. To the left of the homepage, next to the rotating features section, you can find all of the product navigation options. They have the products split into 17 main categories and each of these has a number of sub-categories to further help you pinpoint right where you want to go. The product categories are alphabetised now as well, and that makes it just that bit quicker to find things, plus when you place your mouse over the category you get the fly-out of all of the sub-categories that you can use to jump directly to the right page. For instance, you can put your mouse over the big Appliances section and see that there are 15 sub-categories underneath that umbrella category and most of those are split into smaller groupings as well to help you get right to something like Appliances:Laundry Suites:Gas Laundry Suites. That would have never been possible before and it would have taken you several clicks to get to the right area.
The global navigation footer appears on every page and will link you to pretty much any Costco information you could possibly need or want. Some of it is duplicated from other navigation areas on the page, but a lot of it is to less frequently visited information that they still want to share and have easily found by users.
There are a couple of disappointments too though. I don’t like that they have the product navigation headed with the useless “Shop All Departments” that looks like a link and changes your mouse cursor like a link, but isn’t actually a link. And really, where would it link to since you have all that information right there beneath it? I can see where it makes sense on the actual product or category pages because at that point it toggles the product navigation to be shown or hidden, which is great for the goal of improved navigation and I think it’s very useful. However, on the homepage it is useless and should not be a link.
But the biggest issue I’ve found is that they have gotten rid of the “What’s New” category completely. There’s no longer a quick way to see all of the new products in the online store and I think that is a real shame. I’ve already had a couple of people email me to raise that as a big problem with the new layout. I think this just keeps people from easily finding those unexpected items that Costco was always adding online. I know that I browsed that section every single time I visited Costco.com to see if there was anything that caught my eye. If I’m only there to shop, I’m probably just going to look through a couple of categories or more likely, just search or navigate directly to the product that I want and not do as much browsing now. I did a lot of browsing that stemmed from looking through the page of new items. It’s taken the “treasure hunting” out of the site, I fear, or at least made it so much harder that it makes it unlikely anyone will want to do it, and that makes me sad. Maybe we’ll all be lucky and they’ll bring it back.
On the category pages, you benefit from the redesign with bigger images for the products (or at least it seems that way to me) but there is also additional information provided in the tool-tips or fly-overs when you move your mouse over a product. This is great for providing a bit more information about the product without making the shopper click to view the product and then click back to the category page when it wasn’t quite what they wanted. However, I did notice that not all products have useful information displayed in that way, but the majority do so it is certainly an improvement.
When you get to an actual product page now, the layout is cleaned up tremendously. It’s all the same information as before, but the presentation is so much better you feel like they must have added information too because you finally notice it all. The price seems to be in a bigger font now, which is great because that is one of the key factors in a purchase.
But you’ll also notice a few little new bits too. From the product pages you can share products via social media or email via links from the product page. I also really like that they have added a “Wish List” option. I love a wish list if for nothing else than keeping track of things that I am considering, like a shopping list. I also think it is great that they have added links to the PDF version of the owner’s manual or energy guide, as well as links to product videos, where available. I find it very helpful to have that kind of additional information when I’m buying something, especially things like appliances or electronics. For things like diamond rings they have added easy to find links to the very necessary information like the GIA reports and IGI certificates. The best thing is that all of the additional information like manuals, certificates, reports, etc, is always in the same place from product to product, no matter the category. All of that is definitely a big plus from the user-friendliness side of things.
One of the other outstanding new features is the product comparison. Now you can compare up to four products to make sure you are picking the best product for you, and that certainly makes for a more effective and better shopping experience. I have to say that they have one of the cleaner comparison pages too. It still has all of the necessary information, but it is much better laid out with bigger pictures and fonts than a lot of the comparison pages. I think that is because they were smart enough to limit it to just four items in your comparison list at a time. There’s nothing more unfriendly or useless than a comparison page that forces you to scroll to the right, in my opinion.
All in all, I think the new design is great and a vast improvement over the previous look of the site which had seemed like it was in a state of flux for a few years now with various designs on the different product pages. Previously, it was hard to count on consistent information and certainly it was not always to be found in a consistent location on the pages. But now, everything has a cohesive feel and the pages feel cleaner somehow, even though they have the same amount of information, if not more actually. And I love the bigger images. I find it much easier to look at and that makes for a more enjoyable online shopping experience. So, congratulations to the Costco online team for updating the look so nicely. But please, bring back the “What’s New” section!