User experience basics for online record stores

amoeba music - real record store user experience
Amoeba Music – San Francisco

Due to the fact that I am tremendously hungry for music, I visit a lot of online shops, record labels, and artist pages to get what I neeeeed. Although the user experience of those sites has developed during the recent years, most of them still suck. Basic functionality, essential for record collectors and music consumers in general, is either not available or hardly usable.

Artist pages don’t necessarily fall into the category of an online shop. Though in the end, all these sites pursue the same goal: to sell music. A little bit of user research could help to make  your customers happier and more likely to come back. I encourage you to embrace the following user experience advices to make your online record store just right.

It is all about listening

It is the most natural part of every traditional record shop visit: grab some vinyl and listen to it. In contrast to vinyl, your digital piece of data is resistant to dust and scratches. Why is it then, that pre-listening is so hard to use or even not possible on so many sites? If you are unable to show what you’ve got, you are expecting too much from your potential buyer or fan. Show what you have to offer, make it a prominent part of your site. Make all tracks of a record available for pre-listening. You can offer tracks at a lower quality, but make sure that they are available in full length. Just as in traditional records stores.

No, it is not a Technics

It is a good idea to internalize how effective it is to listen to records on a good old Technics 1210. You can skip through tracks, find specific parts of a record by just looking at it. You can go back and forth easily and precisely. But that does not mean that you have to mimic a turntable interface digitally. I have never seen a good skeuomorph turntable on a site which is efficient and easy to use. You sell online, so optimize for it! Have you ever tried yourself to use those tiny-tiny-tiny controls in your player? Make controls easy to hit. Show the waveform of the current track or record. Make tracks skippable. Let users jump around in the track. Make it fast. While we’re on it, don’t rely on plugins!

It takes some time

In traditional record stores you are often in a hurry since others want to use your turntable as well. Don’t copy that. You disappoint your users by emptying their cart if they take too much time to listen or if they are away to get a coffee. It is your digital advantage to take easy on that. If you can afford it, never reset a session. Keep your customer’s cart saved as long as you can. If they come back later, they don’t want to start over again completely. Show them their cart, show them what was removed and why. Give them a warm welcome back.

Mobile is important

Wouldn’t it be comfortable to sit on the couch while listening and shopping some fine tunes? Nowadays users would prefer using their tablet or even their mobile phone for that. That seems to be unimportant for all sites I use regularly. Although I can not say how your users or fans tick. But a quick web data analysis can tell you exactly if you should care or not.