A user interface is the part of a computer program that is displayed on a computer screen for the user to view and allows a user to communicate with the operating system. A good user interface enables the user to interact with what they see on a computer screen in an easy manner. A user interface can appear as text or in a graphical or pictorial format called a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Its components include the keyboard, mouse, and menus of a computer system like windows for example (www.webopedia.com). User interfaces enable swift and easy maneuvering over the Internet especially for consumers who like to shop.

Book buying over the World Wide Web has become very popular with the rise of the Internet. Many book lovers have been able to find competitively priced books in the comfort of their own homes via the Internet with the added convenience of having their purchases shipped directly to their homes. Two popular websites that many consumers visit daily to purchase books are Barnes and Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com) and Amazon (www.amazon.com).

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These two book buying websites have become very popular due to their low prices and advanced user interfaces that make it easy for consumers to find and purchase the books they desire in a matter of minutes. In order to contrast and compare Barnes and Noble's website and Amazon's website, I randomly selected ten different popular books as seen in Table 1 and tested the ease and maneuverability of finding and purchasing these books on each site in addition to comparing the price of these books on each site. My results are explained below.

Price Comparison

Business conducted over the Internet can be very competitive. As seen in Table 1 the prices of the same books found on the Barnes and Noble website as compared to the Amazon website are the same with the exception of two books highlighted in red on the table. The difference in price between these two books on the two different websites is less than a dollar each. These two companies are selling directly competitive products which would explain why their prices match so closely. So how will customers choose one company over the other? Price is a major determinant for many customers as to where they will spend their consumer money.

Not only are the prices of the same books from each company competitively priced, but the shipping and handling charges are the same for each company as well. For example, both Barnes and Noble and Amazon charge a flat rate shipping fee of $3.00 for domestic, standard delivery plus $0.99 for each item. Since the prices of similar books are competitively matched on both sites, consumers may use other criteria to decide where they will purchase their books online such as reputation, visibility, word of mouth, and ease in completing a purchase from beginning to end (Berry-Parsons, 2004).

User Interface Comparison

Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble are reputable book sellers within the book selling industry. Since both companies price their products competitively they have had to place an increased emphasis on creating user friendly websites through advanced user interfaces in order to attract customers. So, what makes these two companies stand out to customers?

To begin with, www.amazon.com sells many other items besides books, but when logging onto their website each particular group of items can be easily accessed through tabs or various menus located at the top of the window. I can easily use my mouse pointer to select the "Books" tab. Once I select the "Books" tab I have even more options I can select to help me narrow my search such as: Bestsellers, magazines, used books, etc. There is also a "Search Books" option on the top far left of the screen where I can type in an author's name or title of a book either partially or in full. Within seconds of typing in my search words I am presented with a plethora of results.

Each result has a hyperlink so all I have to do is use my mouse pointer to select the book title I want at which point I am brought to a new screen that highlights the book I have selected. I am then presented with a photo of the book cover, edition options and prices, product details, editorial reviews, and similar book referrals. There are many different hyperlinks presented so that with the touch of my mouse pointer I can further explore more works by the same author or most importantly purchase the book.

On the top right-hand side of the screen is a blue window and another user friendly tab: "Add to Shopping Cart," which I can select to begin purchasing the book. The next screen confirms my selection and I can select yet another bright user friendly tab: "Proceed to Checkout" to begin entering my shipping and billing information. The entire process can be completed very rapidly and a nice feature is that once I have added an item to my "Shopping cart" it stays there if I select the "Save for later" tab unless I immediately complete the purchase or use the "Delete" tab. This is a nice timesaver option.

Next, the Barnes and Noble website is set up similarly to the Amazon website in that the top of the window has various tabs or menu options that a customer can select to begin shopping. Unlike Amazon, Barnes and Noble sells primarily books so customers are less distracted by other options. A customer can select various options such as a general "Books" tab or "Bestsellers," "New & Used Books," or "Recommended" to name a few. Barnes and Noble like Amazon makes use of a powerful search engine. The search window is located noticeably at the top of the window and all I have to do is enter the author or title of the book I am interested in either in partial or full and I am met within seconds with a host of search results.

Similarly, Barnes and Nobles makes use of bright colors, book cover photos, prices and many different hyperlinks so that I can explore many details like other works by the same author, customer reviews, and different edition formats. Again, with the swift click of my mouse I can select the "Add to Cart" button on the top right of the window to begin the purchase process. Like Amazon I can save a book within the Barnes and Nobles website to my "Wish list" if I want to purchase it at a later time.

Conclusion

In conclusion, both websites are similar in appearance and employ similar user interface functionality composed of easy to use tabs and multiple menu options that quickly bring me from one window to the next with the ease of my mouse pointer. I can easily use my keyboard on both sites to enter my search words and billing information. Bright colors help guide my visual movements through the windows. I particularly like the customer reviews of the different books on each site which helps in the decision making process.

Both sites have competitive prices and offer matching discount specials, like the current "Free shipping when you spend $25 or more. " In addition, both websites are set up so similarly and are created to be extremely user friendly due to their user interfaces that choosing one site over the other more than likely comes down to personal preference, buyer experience, and word of mouth recommendations from family and friends.