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In the world of big tent e-commerce, few can compete with Amazon. Actually, that’s not true. No one can compete with Amazon. That hasn’t deterred a number of companies in attempting to provide a compelling alternative to this behemoth.

One startup currently making the attempt is the speedily named Jet.com. Launched this year, the site offers everything from dishwasher detergent to snack food to laptops for five to six percent less than the competition, which includes free shipping over $35.

You get a percentage back of each purchase, which is tabulated as a credit called Jet Cash. The more purchases you make, the faster your Jet Cash accrues.

Sounds promising. But have they created a user experience to make a real run at Amazon’s customers? We enlisted six individuals in their twenties, thirties, and forties, all of whom were avid online shoppers yet unfamiliar with the service, to give it a shot.

Then, we gave them two tasks — get familiarized with the site, then as find an item to purchase, and go through the shopping experience. While responses ranged through a number of areas, here are the findings around which they tended to coalesce.

What is Jet and why should I care?

All but one of our study participants were Amazon Prime members, which encapsulates the bias that is Jet’s first hurdle.

amazon vs jet 2As one respondent said, “Is it similar to Prime?” That’s another way of saying, is it good?

While intrigued on first visiting in the site, our users expressed an initial confusion on the basics of the Jet.com value proposition, down to whether or not it’s a Costco-esque offering or, like Amazon, more of a Walmart-type superstore—at the time of the study Jet had an annual fee, but they have subsequently ditched it.

Still, the response was generally positive.

While our respondents described the site as “nice” and “very clean,” and were able to quickly browse and find items they were looking for, locating information about membership was difficult, and that hurt the overall credibility of the user experience.

One user even described it as “shady.”

Another simply wasn’t sure what items Jet sold, asking, “Is this like a grocery store?” due to the prevalence, on that particular day, of food items.

To that point, several respondents noted that the organization of items seemed random.

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Where are the reviews?

One of the major aspects of e-commerce is reviews — of the shopping and delivery experience, as well as the products themselves. So while Jet.com offers just about everything, the site offers exactly nothing in the way of customer feedback.

Granted, for paper towels or beef jerky this doesn’t matter that much, but for expensive tech items like laptops and tablets, it’s essential. Without them, why would someone even consider making a big ticket purchase on Jet?

While it’s true that an e-commerce site in its infancy has yet to accumulate its own reviews, the site could still find a way to display reviews from others. Just a few reviews of bigger-selling items would go a long way.

On a related note, testimonials would help create a sense that others have tried Jet, and are coming back for more — customer enthusiasm is the coin of the realm here, and the site needs to convey more of it.

Prove the savings. Prove it fast.

Since the nucleus of the Jet.com value prop is savings, they need to demonstrate that shoppers will immediately see some it no matter what they buy.

While our respondents did generally give high marks to the shopping experience, figuring out if it made sense to actually purchase anything was less clear. “I don’t see a way to increase my savings,” said one. “I’d like to see [an example of] a real person’s savings in a year,” remarked another. Also, the whole Jet Cash concept was less-than-understood by all our respondents. One simply said, “I don’t understand what Jet Cash is.”

This is the equivalent of someone on Amazon saying, “So this Amazon Prime Now—how does that work?” This lack of clarity on an essential part of their value robs the company of a powerful sales message.

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What’s this video and why is it hidden?

A great deal of the confusion that our respondents had about Jet.com could have been alleviated if they’d just watched the hilarious video of comic Kumail Nanjiani explaining the site’s ins-and-outs, which is actually entertaining enough to drive people to learn more. Problem is, it’s very easy to miss it.

To find the video, you go to the top right of the nav, where you find a link that’s not part of any other navigation element, a 10-point type link that says, “How Jet Works.”

Instead of this less-than-maximal callout, the video should be a standout element of the home page, or at least more integrated into the shopping flow, even in a pop-up way.

Like, why wouldn’t you want to make it easy to explain how your e-commerce site worked and how great it was? One of our users said that the video “…was funny and clever. Perfect, dry, sarcastic. Have it right away…on the front page.”

 

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Is what Jet is offering worth the switch? Wait, what exactly is Jet offering?

While our users did ultimately determine the value that Jet.com brings to the space and would definitely give it a go, it’s fair to assume that in their everyday lives — say, when they’re not being asked by researchers to look at a web site — they would not be so patient.

People love Amazon and they don’t want to change, so Jet.com needs to clearly demonstrate what makes them a real alternative, quickly explaining their raison d’etre out of the gate within a visually unified execution that compels users to action.

Only then will the startup have a shot to play David to Amazon’s Goliath.

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