I am in the market for a new laptop. Unfortunately, each of my attempts at researching the best model to buy have resulted in me slamming my (old) laptop closed in frustration. Every manufacturer’s user interface for researching notebooks is so arduous that I’m starting to wonder if they don’t do it on purpose.
Problem #1: What is the difference between a Small Business Notebook, a Medium Business Notebook and a Large Business Notebook?
Why does a visitor have to answer this before they can see the notebooks? Is there a physical difference between the PC needs of a C# Developer at a small startup versus a C# Developer at a large corporation? Am I missing out on cool gadgets?
I contacted Dell through their website to ask, but nobody got back to me. I can only suspect that as I made my query from the “small business notebooks” section, that I am not considered an attractive enough sales opportunity to be worth the time. Perhaps a query from the “potentially lucrative corporate order” section would’ve elicited a response.
Nevertheless, by this time I had encountered the second problem.
Problem #2: Is there really a difference between product lines?
Let’s use Toshiba as an example this time. They have 3 different product lines that are roughly the same size. Using the descriptions from their website:
Tecra: “power and mobility: with seamless connectivity”
Satellite: “feature-packed value: quality and performance for at home or on the move”
Satellite Pro: “Perfect for SMB’s: exceptional value and high performance to keep your business growing”
Unlike a car, where different models have clear-cut purposes (would you like a 2-seater sports car, a family SUV, a compact hatch or a large luxury sedan?), the exact differences between these laptop models is rather unclear to me. I’m relatively certain that everyone wants a laptop to be mobile, powerful and good value. Why can’t they just combine these three models into a single, customizable model that does everything? Does the marketing department have to polish this stuff? My head explodes when I try to figure out which one to choose…
Problem #3: Narrowing the results
This is by far the largest design issue I have and seems to be the most widespread.
When faced with buying a laptop, one typically has a list of requirements, such as:
- Price below $1,000
- Smaller than 15″
- At least 2GB RAM
Yet on every conceivable website I’ve found, your search options are in a dropdown box that only lets you choose a specific range:
- Price Range: $800-$900 OR $900-$1000 OR $1000-$1100, etc.
- Monitor size: 12-13″, 13-14″, 14-15″, 15-16″, etc.
- CPU speed: 2Ghz OR 2.2Ghz OR 2.4Ghz OR 2.6GHz
- Manufacturer: Dell, HP, Apple, Sony, etc.
No manager ever says to you “Your budget is $1000, but whatever you do don’t spend less than $800.” Does anyone honestly have a problem with a PC that is too fast or too cheap?
The solution to this problem – one which is rife on vertical searches all over the Internet – is to actually cover more than one range based on the context. For example:
- Maximum Price: $800, $1000, $1200, $1400, etc.
- Minimum CPU speed: 1.8Ghz, 2.0Ghz, 2.2Ghz, 2.4Ghz, etc.
- Minimum screen size: (none), 11”, 12”, 13”, etc.
- Maximum screen size: (none), 13”, 14”, 15” etc.
See the trend yet?
Companies like Dell, who have clearly spent a lot of effort on their product customization engine, should take this one step further and simply have a button on their front page labeled “Find My Ideal Notebook.” You’d choose your minimum requirements and nice-to-have’s using dropdowns like I’ve mentioned, and the website would then display the different models that can be configured as per your criteria, along with the price and a clear list of differences between the models.
I for one would be a lot more likely to buy a notebook from anyone who addressed these 3 problems.