Boo's Demise

by Jakob Nielsen on May 28, 2000

Sidebar to Jakob Nielsen 's column on Alertbox Five Years Retrospective , May 2000.

On May 18, 2000, the BBC reported that Boo.com had gone bankrupt . Good riddance. Boo was one of the very few high-profile sites to launch in recent months that dared violate my design principles and aim for glitz rather than usability.

Contrary to some analysts, I don't think that Boo will drag other e-commerce sites down with it. The collapse of Boo does not prove that e-commerce doesn't work. It proves that overly fancy design doesn't work. I do agree that the story ought to teach investors some lessons about reading the business plan. They need to check two things:

  • Is the site aiming at simplicity or complexity? Does it follow or violate the guidelines for usable sites?
  • Does the site have a credible usability strategy using approved methodology or will it be relying on "voodoo usability" methods?

If these two issues are not spelled out in the business plan (or if the answers are the wrong ones), you will most likely be wasting your investment. Users just don't want to take it anymore.

Mini-Review of Boo Written December 1999

Miss Boo comments on a feature Boo.com takes itself too seriously. Instead of making it easy to shop, the site insists on getting in your face with a clumsy interface. It's as if the site is more intent on making you notice the design than on selling products. Boo should be congratulated, though, on running a site that supports 18 countries equally well in terms of both language and shipping.

  • Screen pollution: Boo insists launching several of its own windows. My own browser window is left with the message "Nothing happens on this page-except that you may want to bookmark it." Fat chance, especially since the windows forced upon me are frozen and can't be adapted to my window or font preferences.
  • This site is simply slow and unpleasant. All product information is squeezed into a tiny window, with only about one square inch allocated to the product description. Since most products require more text than will fit in this hole, Boo requires the user to use a set of non-standard scroll widgets to expose the rest of the text, 20 words at a time. Getting to a product requires precise manipulation of hierarchical menus followed by pointing to minuscule icons and horizontal scrolling. Not nice.
  • Miss Boo, the shopping assistant: She is prettier than Microsoft's Bob but just as annoying. Web sites do need personality, but in the form of real humans with real opinions and real advice. I prefer the interactive content experiments in the site's magazine section, such as a feature on the similarities between stone-age living and some current fashion products.
  • What's a boobag? It's a shopping cart, actually, and unlike other carts it contains miniature photos of your products. It is also possible to drape the items on a mannequin to see how they look as an outfit, though too much dragging and low-level interface manipulation is required.

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