Whether you’re a new user looking to see what the fuss is about or a subscriber looking for the unrated cut of last summer’s Jessica Simpson flick, it’s immediately obvious why Netflix.com has been ranked the top website the past two years for customer satisfaction by ForeSee Results and FGI Research, why it was a two-time Webby Award nominee and why Fast Company gave it the magazine’s 2005 Customers First Award. The site is obviously…intuitive.
The home page is astonishingly clean. Four simple calls to action cover all needs: “How it Works,” “Browse Selection,” “Start Your FREE Trial,” and “Start Now” (The latter two send the user to the same page.). Stare at this page and try to come up with any necessary information that is not covered. You have five minutes…
“How it Works” is by far Netflix.com’s messiest page, although some disarray is to be expected when doing all the heavy lifting. The page wisely does away with subtlety, offering an idiot-proof four-step pictorial of “How it Works.” The FAQ section and a customer service phone number are displayed prominently on the right side of the page. Best of all, and sadly against the norm, specific details are posted in naked, simple-to-read HTML system text. The other sections are also refreshing exercises in design and communication simplicity.
Think this all seems obvious? Intuitive? To see just how out of kilter “intuitive” can go, surf on over to Blockbuster.com, Netflix’s major online competitor. Like Ben Affleck replacing Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in “The Sum of All Fears,” the execution shows a hubristic attempt to improve perfection. From the blank space to the font sizes to the scattering of images and copy, it is clear which site is “design by committee” and which is “vision.” From a subscriber experience, Netfix.com is just as user friendly and its “browse page” seems to put more of an emphasis on function than Blockbuster’s “browse page.”
Netflix has also done an excellent job of embracing, at arms length, the so-hot-right-now concept of “Web 2.0.” The site is eager to help its users have a better experience through ratings and recommendations—the interactive, participatory, community-building foundation of the Web 2.0 concept—but it also makes these advances very easy to decline. Netflix understands that some users don’t want to be bothered and would rather just continue browsing the site.
Many brands have complex business models, multiple product lines or products that need more consumer education (e.g. not DVD rentals). But Netflix.com can still serve as inspiration, even if it’s for something as simple as button placement. Netflix might even condone it, considering a quote from an April 2006 MarketingProfs.com article co-authored by Netflix co-founder Jim Cook: “Why reinvent the wheel if someone has already come up with an easy-to-use, useful, and elegant solution? When designing the Netflix website, we turned to the best: Amazon. Some of the ideas that we adapted [included]: Product and button placements; Overall color schemes; Size of DVD images for fast page loading; Customer reviews and movie reviewer articles; Easy-to-use search with categorized searching by movie genre; Overall Web site navigation.”
Just make sure, like Cook, you “adapt” it. At time of publication, Netflix has a lawsuit pending against Blockbuster for copying its business model.