Nearly three quarters of UK shoppers are now going online for their purchases, spending an average of £89 a month. But more than half of them are unhappy with the lack of phone contacts on websites, citing it as the major disappointment in shopping sites.

A survey from SciVisum said the disappointment about phone contact was typical of a wider unhappiness with the web experience.

The study pointed out, there was a growing ‘web rage’ among the heavy online shoppers, warning ‘etailers’ to improve the shopping experience fast, or risk alienating their customers completely.

Other factors included slow sites and usability issues, and poor technical performance.

The phone experience was the biggest concern, however. "There is this gap between theory and practice," said Deri Jones, CEO, SciVisum.

"The etailers think if their websites are designed carefully, they don’t need to put up phone numbers on the site. The problem is that in practice, this does not always work."

"It is a mistake to think of a website as fast or slow in totality," Jones explained. "[Online shopping] Websites are made up of different computers, networks and other components. The database catalogue is on a different computer for example, the checkout journey is different….so it is common to find certain parts faster or slower than the others.”

He said that "websites are never down as such," adding that when a website is busy, customers often experience problems shopping. "But we call these 'sporadic errors.' By not waiting long enough, users too can tend to cause more problems."

Results from the SciVisum survey echoed previous reports by other companies that explored, for example, why poor websites fail consumers, while examining buying and spending habits of people, frequency and attitudes to online shopping and delivery, and customer service.

Interestingly, SciVisum’s report revealed a chasm between the shopping habits of people in the north and south of UK.

“Perhaps central London has a good selection of shops on the high streets, that is why shoppers don’t need to go online yet,” said Jones.

Those in the north spent more, even buying cars and houses online, and one in five (north westerners) admitted they would splash out £5,000 or more on a single purchase, closely followed by Scots and Londoners. However, their counterparts in the south west and south east said they absolutely never would.

78 percent of the northerners were less tolerant and frustrated with retail websites that didn’t function.

59 percent of southerners on the other hand, were more tolerant (“compared with an average of 34 percent nationwide”) and would shop at a website even if it "failed them five times," the report said.

Jones said there are many advantages of shopping online, beginning with "avoiding the hassle of driving out to the shops or finding a place to park…" and so on. Shopping is speedier on the Internet, he added.

SciVisum had some recommendations for online retailers as well. These included:

  • 24/7 functional monitoring, running multi-page user journeys that mimicked real users' product finding and purchasing transactions online:
  • Reviewing key transactions such as the 'add to cart' function on websites - to ensure that the server and database load is kept to a minimum.
  • Analysing web systems for 'database locking' type flaws, (eg is there is a limit on how many users can concurrently add a database line representing their purchases), which can confusingly produce errors at load levels well below the capacity of the server hardware, making it harder for the IT team to identify the problem.
  • Performing simulated-user load/stress testing of the functionality to expose underlying problems that cause more sporadic failures.
  • To respond to marketing demands, and to add to capacity and performance.

Complete details of the findings, issues raised and recommendations for retail companies can be found here