In my journey through the Internet, exploring various Websites devoted to tea, I visited the Arizona Tea site. As an avid tea drinker, I am not usually interested in pre-packaged tea beverages. However, the Internet being the perfect venue to cruise and explore new things, I took a chance and clicked on the link to their site on the list of search results. The purpose was to learn about the company and its products. What I got was a lesson in how NOT to build a Website (something I am keen on as a Website designer). That lesson can be summed up in one word: Flash®. (Maybe I should use two words: Adobe® Flash®.)
First, I have to say that Flash is a great program and there are some very creative and user-friendly things be done with it on lots of Websites. However, it’s sort of like cayenne pepper, i.e., using a little can spice things up a bit, but too much can be hard (if not impossible) to take. In the case of the Arizona Tea site, the whole “dish” is “cayenne pepper.” The whole site has been built using Flash.
Now, I like spicy food, especially curries and southwestern dishes, but a whole dish made of the hot stuff is a bit impractical. The Arizona Tea site is a dizzying display of overlapping background images, scrolling text, and products displayed in “carousel” fashion that goes faster or slower depending on where you put the cursor (making the act of selecting a particular product a very “iffy” proposition). All of this is accompanied with music that seems to play on even when I hit “Pause” and sound effects when I mouseover a menu item.
A big usability issue is going from one site “page” to another. Because the site is basically a Flash movie (and, therefore, doesn’t have real “pages”), you can’t use the “Back” button on your browser to return to a previous page.
The site breaks about every standard of usability there is, something to be expected from the company founders (John Ferolito and Don Vultaggio), who are mavericks in the beverage market. Chasing potential customers away from a site that is meant as a sales tool, though, may be a bit self-defeating. Certainly, a few minutes on the site, and I was no longer interested in purchasing any of their products, even if I were inclined to do so. Just like brick-and-mortar stores that play loud music and in effect keep out would-be shoppers like me, Arizona Tea is keeping away potential converts and maybe even people who already like their beverages but get dizzy watching those product “carousels” and grow weary of the wait while the next “page” is slowly displayed.
Whatever happened to a straightforward yet attractive site?
I did manage to learn a bit about the company in spite of the challenges presented by the site design. Arizona Tea, always devoted to making the best tea drinks, starts with tea leaves (not tea “fannings” or “dust” like is found in many bagged teas) and uses the best flavors in their products. They are also focused on making their tea drinks healthy, starting with their Ginseng Tea in 1995, and are continually striving to improve their product line. This commitment to quality includes a hot fill process that pasteurizes their beverages, eliminating the need to use preservatives, and their brightly colored package designs really attract attention. They are currently the #1 pre-packaged tea drink in the United States, in spite of the head start by their competitors: Snapple (Cadbury-Schweppes), Nestea (Coca-Cola), and Lipton (Pepsi and Unilever).
© 2009 A.C. Cargill photos and text