One often-used cliche about Hong Kong is its position as a shopping destination. While locals and visitors are apparently spoiled for choices, shopping malls try to outdo each other in many aspects, including discount offers and decorations.
A common touchpoint between a mall and a shopper before the latter’s foot traffic is recorded at the impressive entrance is the shopping mall’s website. It is aimed at helping a shopper find the right retailer branch address, directions to parking garage or transportation options. If it succeeds in providing this initial request, the website offers value and is closer to bringing the shopper into the shopping mall.
I think, in many cases, search engines are the starting points of offline shopping. By default, it’s almost a given that a mention of the name of a mall will yield its official website on top of search results. But the real battle begins when a visitor enters the website.
What’s the intention of the query?
citygate outlet – Find the address of citygate outlet?
ifc cinema hk – Find the current movies shown at Palace ifc’s movie houses?
festival walk glacier – Find the location of Festival Walk’s ice rink?
thai basil pacific place – Find the location of Thai Basil restaurant at Pacific Place?
These sample queries, along with potentially million of others, seem to tell us what people are looking for. Sure, we have information about these shops or facilities, but are they enough?
- ikea megabox hours – Do we indicate sufficient amount of information such as contact phone, shop hours or which floor it belongs?
- elements hk parking – Is the website responsive enough to display information conveniently even if accessed through mobile devices, for instance a driver already on the road?
So what are my top eight mistakes committed by Hong Kong shopping malls?
1. No prominent placement on Google Maps
A common query that includes a name of location (hong kong shopping mall, tsuen wan gas station, etc) often yields maps in Google, with corresponding location of businesses plotted neatly. For shopping malls to be overlapped by hotels, as shown below, is just a big let down.
Quick Fix: Set up Google Places (now Google suggests to attribute it to Google Plus) and fill as much information as possible (operating hours, payment options, photos and verified address).
2. Not suitable for mobile users
There are dozens of shopping malls in Hong Kong and I have yet to find a mobile-friendly site (did not visit all anyway). One thing that bothers me is that instead of providing a mobile user experience, these websites try to invite visitors to download their mobile apps. While I have no problem with apps, they are not a guarantee to provide what information users want to find. Case in point is Elements Hong Kong website whose app was about games for prizes and not a virtual directory of the shopping mall.
Not so quick fix: Do a research of shopper behavior and commission development of of mobile website. I don’t think malls don’t have a budget for this, it’s just they need to see the importance of such online presence in a mobile environment.
3. Does not distinguish priority content
Websites sometimes try to put as much information as possible without proper consideration who are their main audience and put emphasis on content they want to find. In the case of New Town Plaza, its homepage is littered with boxes at the bottom promoting their extra offers (Facebook page, wedding service) while information about shopping and dining are de-emphasized with small fonts at main navigation. Main navigation elements such as Promotion and Privilege sound quite synonymous, and Phase III is what?
Websites need to assume audience are unaware of many things and simplify how websites (design + wording) as much as possible.
Quick fix: Do a research on consumer behavior and identify their most immediate need. If most of them visit the site because they want to find the closest MTR station or parking facility, consider such information be prominent in the homepage.
4. Ask for extra clicks
Sometimes, shopping mall websites highlight more of attractiveness than usefulness. Harbour City’s entry page features full page view of its picturesque surroundings. For me (and maybe many other visitors), these photos are not as important as the content itself. The problem is that unless you can see that ‘Enter’ text and click on it, you’re stuck in that perpetual slideshow. Get over this gimmick, the last thing you’d like to see is the high bounce rate of this page on web analytics report.
Quick Fix: Remove the splash intro pages.
5. Content embedded on images
I’ve given numerous tips to clients, website owners and developers over the years. One of the most fundamental advise is to provide enough text content and make them visible to search engines. Understandably, not all have gotten the memo. Cityplaza and Metro City Plaza in my neighborhood continues to be enamored with Flash and/or text on images. Again, search engines cannot easily access content inside Flash and text embedded on images.
Quick Fix: Replace Flash with HTML version and free the text that’s embedded on images and transform them into HTML counterpart.
6. Do not provide enough shop information
For shopping malls that don’t care enough about user experience, a common manifestation is the lack of information and on how they’re being presented on certain pages. For example, Plaza Hollywood’s retail shop directory displays ‘Shopping Directory’ in bigger font than the shop name ‘Sanrio Gift Gate’, which I believe is the focal point of this page.
Not only that, the shop detail does not reveal information such as shop hours and where is shop number 310 is located (shall we always assume shops starting in “3” is on third floor?).
Quick Fix: Mall stakeholders can put themselves into a visitor’s shoe and ask as many questions as possible, hoping that every time the page does not answer them, malls have an idea what information is missing on their web pages.
7. Lack of security and maintenance check
Maybe too busy accommodating other concerns? It’s a PR disaster for the brand to see a website looking as though it was hacked, and pose as security risk to visitors. Now, do I want to visit Sogo website again? Maybe, I’ll take a pass.
Quick Fix: Get a website monitoring tool that notifies website administrators in case something unexpected happens.
8. Website issues
We can sometimes tell if there is a problem with the website even before we visit them. A quick query for popcorn mall (a mall in Tseung Kwan O) displays its customer service page. Seems normal, it’s a page from the website, right? No, sorry. Typically when you search for mall name (in this case without the ‘customer services’ modifier), the homepage shows up. Now why isn’t it showing here?
No wonder if I search for shopping mall in tseung kwan o, Popcorn website doesn’t show up.
Quick Fix: Review the website structure, links and content. (I know not everyone is able to figure it out or cares about it but it needs to be done.)