As the marine industry raises the bar for itself online, companies are constantly upgrading and redesigning their Web sites. In this section Boating Industry’s editors review these sites, pointing out things the industry can learn from and outlining areas for potential improvement. If you’d like your site to be considered for a review, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strengths: Clean, attractive, intuitive design; quick and easy access to information
Areas for improvement: Organization of product information
Summary: When marine electronics distributor SeaWide Distribution redesigned its site this year, it got a lot of things right. The design is clean without feeling bare and attractive but also highly functional. It offers a ton of useful and easily understood information, and it’s organized so that visitors can find what they need without wading through pages of unrelated content.
A good example is the home page, which summarizes the company’s mission for newcomers, allowing them to select from two menus for further information. However, it also was designed for the company’s current customers and business partners. They can download its catalog, request one be sent by mail, sign up for its e-mail flyers, and log into its password-protected B2B portal from the home page.
Once inside the portal, dealers can view their account summary; search SeaWide’s catalog by keyword; place new orders; check the status of pending orders; search by order, shipment, invoice or payment; change their account information; and get help using the site, among other options.
The product information on the site is located in three areas: within the downloadable catalog, under the “manufacturers” menu listing and through use of the order entry tab within the B2B portal. Both the catalog and the “manufacturer” section are organized by manufacturer, not by product type, and this was the one area of potential improvement we identified. In reviewing other distributors’ sites, about half are organized this way. The other half are organized by product category. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
In its B2B portal, SeaWide does give dealers the option to search by type of product. When we entered the order entry section and searched on “GPS,” for example, we received a list of dozens of GPS units and GPS-related products. By clicking on a specific product, users can view the price of the product, a small picture and the warehouse(s) stocking the product. We found the photos were hit and miss. Sometimes we could view them, sometimes not. And the size and quality of the photos left room for improvement. In a real world scenario, most users not already familiar with the product would find themselves referring back to the catalog for better photos and more information.
In an ideal world, distributors would give visitors the ability to choose whether to search by manufacturer or product category. We also found links to PDFs of particular sections of the catalog, which open in a separate window, a good way to provide high quality photos and detailed product information quickly and easily.
Overall, SeaWide’s redesigned site is one of the better distributor sites we came across because of its easy-to-navigate design, the depth of information it offers and its overall functionality. Stay tuned for further developments. The company said it plans to add to the site going forward, offering more marketing materials for download.