Is Brick Owl confusing to use as a customer?

During the recent outage on the other site, I've been keeping an eye on the various user groups. I've noticed there is quite a variety of opinions on Brick Owl. Some feel it's great, easy to use, clean etc, and then others find it confusing and difficult.

We try to design the website to be easy to use for people new to the Lego world. I wonder if part of the issue might be that our user interface, names and categories differ from BL. So with a lot of users coming from BL the past few days, the difference may be jarring. I know our search, and sorting operate differently, some color name differences, as well as the default view within store.

I'm interested to hear any opinions on whether the website is confusing, and what part of it seems to be the issue.


  • 35 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • edited November 2023 Vote Up0Vote Down
    It is just different and I feel people do not like change. As a seller, I love the seller tools that are here on BO, BL is a dinosaur in that respect. Once you get the hang of it, BO is actually better in my opinion.

    Edit to add: One huge benefit of BO, the support from Lawrence is infinitely better than the BL help desk.
  • As a buyer, the naming of the dark bluish gray and light bluish gray disturbs me. And there is always room for improvement on the Brick Owl magic. But I like BO never the less for shopping compared to BL. If only prices would be the same in BO as they are in BL - especially for sets...
  • Wall of text alert - Split it into "things that are working" and "potential improvement" points. Please let me know if you'd like those put into individual feature requests and I'll post those.

    What's a bit ironic is that BL v3 in beta resembles BrickOwl's structure a lot more than BL's structure as it is right now. That being said, those that are longtime members of the community really didn't want to go in that direction because they liked the complexity, or should I say, the granularity of the way they do their catalogue right now. If ever they swapped it to v3 - I can already anticipate the riot lol

    IMO pros and cons to both catalogues... BrickOwl's design I find is far more "casual friendly" and welcoming to folks that are newer to MOCs etc and aren't familiar with all of the different brick/part types and nomenclature used on the other site. Or parents trying to replace a part in their child's set because they lost the beloved teddy bear for their minifigure. I'm going to focus on this target audience and what stands out to me.

    Things that are working:

    1. Frontpage asks the buyer if they know the part # they're trying to replace (and gives a hint about the instruction manual). Or allows them to view all items from a set. Perfect use case for those buyers. Unique to this site as well.

    2. Those who are new, or more casual, do not know the "real" nomenclature for a part. They never say tile or plate. I went through this recently with my friend who was helping her aunt who found a Pinterest build -- again, not folks that even know about Rebrickable. They will see a picture + a blog post that may have some pictures of the parts, but no other identifiers. They will say "smooth pieces" instead of tile, or "flats" instead of plates. BrickOwl already handles that. You test searching just "smooth", and you see a bunch of tiles (and parts with "smooth" in the name). BL does not do that. It'll only show the parts with "smooth" in the name that have nothing to do with tiles. Same with Plates when you search "Flat". You aced this keyword search capability for those buyers.

    3. You show the buyer other potential items they could add to take advantage of the same shipping price. Of course that's great for sellers as an "upsell", but also for buyers to make them realize that "hey, I came here for this specific thing, but let me see what else I might be surprised with and want to add that I never knew existed"

    Potential improvements:

    I find it a bit difficult to browse a store after I searched for a part to add to cart.

    For example, the teddy bear. I searched for it, then picked a store (using mine for the example), it takes me here:

    I can add to cart, but then after that, if I'm a buyer I'm a bit confused as to what to do next. It's not clear that I'm "in" the seller's shop and can browse from the upper menus. I see the Bought Together etc... but I think on this page just under on the left box should be "Visit <store name>'s store" or Browse.. something like that. I think many press back and it takes them to the catalogue and they can't figure out how to browse the store as they don't realize they're in it and there's no navigation on the the left side (only the top). I believe this is one of the most common things I've seen recently talked about and caused some frustration.

    I'd also recommend adding on the front page some "Browsing" options. Bestsellers/Featured is interesting, but I think not really helpful for many folks. But seeing like Sets, Parts, etc... (like on BL) with a generic image to represent each is a way to direct a buyer who may have stumbled across BrickOwl and doesn't even know what they're looking for and just want to check things out.

    Similarly, perhaps a section on the front page that lets you browse stores rather than items (I know there's features/popular on the right side). Even just a tile saying "Visit Stores" that takes you to the Stores search page. It may be more difficult to implement, but to make it more visually appealing, rather than just listing store names in normal text all 1 by 1, it could be tiles that the seller can modify for including their logo, name, slogan or a quick extra line like "same day shipping!" things like that (maybe even the background colour of the tile). Tiles tend to be more visually appealing than a list.

    For the browse stores page (assuming it was revamped like mentioned above), it would default to showing their own country, and have easy to use filters to pick options like country (or region/continent), even city. If we wanted to get a bit crazier, something buyers on the other site would love is to be able to see local stores for pickup. Even on BrickOwl, when I see they're close by and I ask them, they're always so happy and surprised I'm so close and would have loved to be able to search for local stores. So by including the city, if there was an option to also search for stores that allow local pickup, it could be something sellers identify if they have it (like a flag set in our settings).

    It could expand to filters for things like has free shipping offers, differentiates mold variations, and "Ships to me" -- I think Ships to Me should also be a default. You already do it for the payment methods that can be selected, but I'd also recommend moving away from those little icons for clarity and instead having options/dropdowns for the variety of options that a buyer could filter on to really narrow in on stores. I'd also recommend putting in a randomizer for the order that stores will appear in these views (by default) to avoid stores using 0 or numbers at the start to always appear first in the list. There can be an option for a buyer to sort alphabetically after, and of course they can filter by name.

    Perhaps the Help pages could be more clear, and have pictures included - but much lower priority as I think few get to the point where they're looking for a help page just to buy. I'd split the topics into buyer/seller and less of just a list. More of a visual thing really.

    Promote the Wishlist feature (especially the public one that people can share and have folks buy for them). I think it's a bit hidden, but maybe it's just because I'm not browsing the same way as buyers (or even being referred from Rebrickable and places like that). I just tested it and I personally didn't like the frame part of "Add item" that shows up with the X in the top right. I think it would be nicer visually if it was a separate kind of overlay or pop-up that's more central to the window and not the whole length.

    Alright I think I'll stop here as I've already been brainstorming too long on this, but we really appreciate how much you listen and implement feedback from the community :smile:
  • I think it is never best to try to assess a situation when the audience is both fearful and angry, and the BrickLink audience was definitely that for several days. Are you getting an open-minded reaction to what you are providing in that situation? Probably not.

    Listening to that audience while they're fraught with the prospect of the unknown there and the unfamiliar here…I think you're getting maybe a lot of emotion and not a lot of level-headedness in regards to an accurate comparison and assessment of the pros and cons.
  • Thank you for the comments. The issue of people not realising they’re “in” a store and how to navigate is something I should think about more. Making that distinction between catalog and store clearer.

    I think for really new users, the marketplace concept isn’t clear. Many people don’t even realise Amazon is a marketplace.

    Having a sort of store filtering tool is an interesting one. The store page hasn’t changed much in 10 years and was more suited when we only had 100 stores. I also shop based on items, whereas I forget others may shop by store.
  • The marketplace comment is very true. I recently had a brand new buyer place an order here on BrickOwl and then also make an account on BL for different items there too a few minutes after. When I asked if they wanted it combined when shipped, they didn't even realize I was the same store on both platforms (and the prices would have been identical, so I think it was for 2 different builds) as they were referrals from Rebrickable. They just think they're buying from BrickOwl until they become more accustomed.
  • Wonderful question Lawrence. This is some of the things i like about Brickowl. The open talk and community.

    As "Emporiosa" have mentioned. The top menu line, which have great navigation, would be nice to have and see when you are viewing a shop, because it might be difficult to know how to come "out" of it and back to main page, or where else you want to go.

    Now for me, i have from the start been on Brickowl. I can not remember how i found it, but it was to be bigger and get my Lego out in the world. Since then i have tried to be on Bricklink, but when coming from here, i found Bricklink to be some form of a fossil, with a very "text-based" layout, and for me at least, very difficult to understand and navigate. I recently deleted both my store and profile, and now only work from Brickowl.

    Now and then i do get orders from brand new accounts, like hours old. And it always fascinate me, how they found my store / Lego / set. But none the less i am a small store, and always welcomes new buyers and want them to have a nice experience.

    In my daily use of Brickowl, i am not having that many thoughts as to what could be better, or changed. But when i do i always found it to be done quickly or at least have a nice talk about the possibilities if so.

    The only known "problem" if it is even a problem, is to have Brickowl, more known out there. But with the reason downtime of Bricklink and reading on Facebook how many stores and users have problems, i will only love to see what it can do to us here at Brickowl.
    Just over this week we have seen about 170 new stores, may not be anything more than that. But if just a small part of those stores becomes actual active stores with new customers coming in... I would only think Brickowl could win in becoming a great place to shop.
    And by that, maybe new people asking for stuff they find confusing, new features or something in between.

    But thank you Lawrence, for being such active on this platform. That is by far the most important thing for me :-)
  • If you want to get into the nitty gritty of the UI, then I'm willing to offer some observations.

    1. The navigation line below the store name is redundant.

    1a. All the items in the horizontal dropdown navigation is offered in the left column.

    1b. The cart status/contents is offered directly below the cart button. If there is nothing in the cart, there is little need for a cart button to take you to an empty cart page when it is clearly stated that there are no items in the cart.

    1c. When there is something in the cart, the view cart button is available, making the cart button in the navigation line unnecessary.

    2. Better distinguishing between the "store" space and the "catalog" space.

    The blue header could be eliminated in the "store" space. I don't know what chaos that will create relative to the white label offerings, but I would imagine that having a "brickowl" css sheet and a different "white label" css sheet would resolve that.

    2a. I find the search box problematic as it toggles between "store" and "catalog" spaces within the "store". Don't offer the ability to jump people out of the store from within the store that isn't obvious.

    2a1. Add a "back to BrickOwl Catalog" link or something like that to exit the store. I know the functionality is there now by clicking the BrickOwl logo, but there is no labelling and the user has to scrub the page and…well, it's not obvious.

    2b. The content of whatever fields the search box polls doesn't necessarily return relevant results. The drilldown functionality of the left column is superior to that of the search dialog box.

    2c. To reinforce the marketplace branding but keep the "store" space distinct from the "catalog" space, I would suggest adding a tag line after the store name. Something like "a member of the Brick Owl Marketplace".

    3. Regarding people not knowing what to do after putting an item in the cart from the item detail page, I believe this would be solved by keeping the left column present and persistent throughout the storefront, perhaps minus the cart and checkout. I know that the breadcrumbs are present and the horizontal nav I want to lose is present, but if that left column (which is obvious) is what I've been using to navigate the store is suddenly missing, then how do I get that back? I would want consistency in the navigational interface. I argue that the ease-of-use of the left column is greater than the dropdowns. Including the left column on the item detail page may also eliminate the need for the breadcrumbs.

    4. I'm not sure what the benefit is of having all the sections and subsections in exploded view on the home page of the store. It makes for 100 miles of scrolling and is just too much to cognitively parse at a glance. I would argue for consistency in presentation of this navigation. Either it is always exploded as currently shown on the home page (I would not recommend) OR it is in the collapsed/last used state as set by the user (I would recommend). To start with the section exploded and then have it collapse after clicking a link seems counter-intuitive to how the process works otherwise.

    That's a start.
  • The change is jarring, but after some poking around I found this site much easier to navigate. However the outage "made" me learn it. Normally I would have given up. I think there's nothing wrong with the interface, just peoples habits.
  • I found Brick Owl WAAAAAAY easier to use than BL when I started looking for Lego pieces online. I find it has a much better user interface. It's more intuitive than BL. Trying to find something on BL can be like trying to read hieroglyphics before the Rosetta Stone was unearthed.
  • I agree with @ladyiolanthe - I found BrickOwl a lot easier to use than Brinklink, and I still do. If nothing else, the fact that BO is usable on a mobile device is awesome (maybe not for my wallet :D ); Bricklink is... an experience... on anything other than a desktop.

    I'd say one of the few annoyances is wishlist sorting. If I sort by color, then the sorting within that color seems indeterminate. In other words, I don't get the same list of parts every time if I have a list where a color spans more than one page and I refresh the current page.

    If I had one "want" that could be granted, then adding a search to the "Buy Wishlist" page would be awesome - I have a handful of stores I prefer to order from, but they're not always in the top 100 shown on that page.
  • @mfav You touched on all the perfect points, and especially love all of the #2 examples. I'm assuming Lawrence was seeing a lot of the same comments I was in groups, and the #1 frustrations were all related to confusion from within a store, or how to get back to a specific store to browse, etc... Great suggestions!
  • edited November 2023 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Regarding customers not realising they are "in" a store, I have added an experimental bar that will show when customers enter a store from the catalog

    @mfav thank you for your comments, some of those have gone into the new bar. Some of the redundancy you highlighted is due to the website being responsive, and elements moving around depending on the screen size. And also to make it more clear it's a shopping website when users first enter
  • @tiesontrowbridge thank you for reporting the issue with the WishList, that has now been fixeed
  • I think a lot of the negative comments were as a result of frustration at the other site been down, maybe coupled with the realisation they had not got alternative options like some sellers had with Brickowl. Like any new site it takes getting used to, but I am confident that the vast majority of web users would find their way around Brickowl a lot fast that BL, it is more intuitive, logical and modern.
  • @Lawrence "Regarding customers not realising they are "in" a store, I have added an experimental bar that will show when customers enter a store from the catalog"

    I'm not sure of the intention on this one, but while the experimental bar shows up when entering from the catalog, it is not showing up when entering from other vectors like following a user's store link from their info page or coming in from an off-site link.

    So, I have to rate that implementation, at this point, some improved clarity, some times, in certain situations, maybe.

    I'm also aware that while the programming is relatively straight forward, figuring out all the various situations of when to and when not to display something or other is a pain in the brain.

    I would also try to be more sensitive to the labeling of things. Your button in the experimental bar says "return to brick owl" which I find ambiguous. I clearly have NOT left brick owl.

    1. that would make more sense if the top banner with BrickOwl logo and the search bar had disappeared.

    2. Given that the BrickOwl branding persists on the store page and is effectively identical to that of the catalog pages, I would label that button "return to brick owl CATALOG"…emphasizing the distinction between catalog and store at every opportunity.

    3. The notice does not persist, so if I don't notice it when I first enter I don't notice it. And as it is the same color as the store header…and relatively small…I don't think I would notice it if I were not specifically looking for it. If it were an invasive prominent overlay or one of the fly-in top bars that appears and disappears like the "added to cart notice" I think that would be more likely to register in my consciousness. Maybe @Emporiosa or some others have an opinion. Anyway. You have my opinion for what it's worth.

    I understand that there may be space constraints you're dealing with relative to the responsive design, but I think the point is to eliminate the ambiguity between when one is in a store and when one is in the catalog.
  • @Lawrence Oh, wow, awesome! That was quick! :)
  • I just checked the bar right now and it mentions returning returning to the BrickOwl catalog @mfav - does it look closer to what was you had expected?

    I hadn't noticed the bar at first either. I tested on mobile to see that experience and at least for my own settings/phone/Chrome/etc... I think it still may be more visible and intuitive if we have it below the item as you need to select Add to Cart. And the page doesn't refresh or scroll back up when you do, so your eyes remain there. @Lawrence, you probably have the stats but I suspect a rather high % use mobile - and especially for new users.

    Crude Paint example included for thoughts
  • I guess it's a tradeoff. The more obvious/persistent we make it, the more annoying it is to users who already understand the system. I do need to do more styling for mobile though.
  • @Emporiosa I would have to think on things for quite a bit. I'm approaching this from the perspective of a veteran user trying to fit myself into the head of a new user. I generally work from the Wish List. Navigating in and out and around with a fresh perspective would take some "unlearning" of my established thought processes. Then I would want to try to view the issues from the perspective of "every user".

    That said, the more I look at things, more tweaking and modifying of little things come to mind. Primarily, however, is addressing the labeling of things. Following your latest comment and looking at your rough, I now want to question the button that says "Return to Brick Owl Catalog". That doesn't make sense unless I actually came FROM the catalog…and it is possible I ended up on this page from Google or Bing or the Forum or a post on social media or what have you.

    So what is the best possible label for that button that communicates correctly? I would have to think on that some. Exit Store? Go to Catalog? Go to Main Catalog? There are probably other options for that label.

    The "Shop the Emporiosa Store" or "Browse Emporiosa" button I think is unnecessary if the main navigation is added to the item detail page.

    It appears that @Lawrence has moved the bar to a new position since I last looked. My take is that he is attempting to address the situation in a low-effort quick-fix as he says experimental way. And I'm not knocking that because what I proposed earlier is probably something like two weeks worth of work to sort out and I don't know how long to test and iron bugs out.

    So, back to the bar. Is it there: yes. Is it the most effective solution possible: probably not. I don't know if a contrasting color would help or not. If the store banner is green and the bar is green and the navigation is green, then I think it is lost in the green from a visual standpoint. If it is in a contrasting color does it communicate more effectively or does it just create more visual noise?

    In my mind, changing the store page emphasis at the top to relatively minimize Brick Owl and maximize the store name would be important. Now they are about the same weight.

    It's easy for me to suggest "do this and do that" but for Lawrence that is combing through 40 javascripts and 10 css files and who knows what else. The other thing for Lawrence to consider is the effort to reward ratio worth it.
  • I just placed my first BO order. Been lurking for awhile. I find it easier to find parts on this site, but there was not an intutive way for me to place an order. Is there a tutorial out there to walk me through it?

    When I did find a store to make a purchase, the search for specific parts was really nice, and will likely set up a wishlist.

    As for selling - being way to familiar with the other site, I am not finding this intuitive, and would be welcome to viewing a tutorial for this also. The walk through, while it was straight forward, is difficult to figure out how to make adjustments/corrections/updates.
  • @mfav Just a quick reply as I'm in meetings; but for your question about where the user was coming from - it was from the catalog.

    What I was testing is someone is new and has found Brick Owl (or can be regular users too - I struggle with this too at times). They search at the top in the catalog, find a part, and scroll through stores. They click on one of the items, and it takes them to the page I showed. That's where users are confused - they don't know that they're in a store.

    When they press Add to Cart, they simply remain on this page. But many comments were people saying they couldn't figure out how to browse that store for more items so they abandoned. Some press back and end up back at the catalog for that item unable to remember the name of the store or figure out how to get back.
  • "Rares n Spares is part of the Brick Owl family of independent stores." Hyperlink on Brick Owl to the catalogue.
  • @Emporiosa: yes, thus the suggestion to put the side nav on the item detail page. I've been on the site for years and never noticed the horizontal bar store navigation until this discussion started. Maybe that's more for mobile, I don't know. Anyway, for me on desktop, might as well not be there at all.

    @Hoddie: similar to my thinking for sure.
  • I am honestly baffled by the notion that BO is confusing to people. I find BL very difficult to navigate at times, but suspect both of my sentiments are the result of comfort of use. I started with BO, I sell on BO and I rarely buy from anywhere else. I'm sure there are tweaks to be made that can ease things up for the others, but I honestly think everything is straightforward and easily navigated for myself personally.
  • Funny story, when I first started doing this 4-5 years ago, I found BL difficult to use. Hadn't even heard of this wonderful site yet. I would use BL to search a particular part to get the correct number, then go buy it on Ebay. I just didn't understand what BL was. New users don't always realize that BO and BL is a collection of thousands of individual stores much like Ebay and even Amazon. If there is a way to convey that easily, it would be a good place to start.
  • I'm an occasional buyer. Found BO 3 years ago when needed to replace a lost figure for my kid. Fell in love with BO, the whole concept and the fact that i can keep my whole collection easily online, connected via API for backup or more flexible reporting. Never even tried to use BL.

    It's been a while since i was in BO last, and, just like in my first time(s) i did get confused with some not-so-intuitive tricks, like changing the color of a part in a wishlist, naming of piece-categories when trying to search by name instead of number, trying to distinguish between two options when i'm registering pieces of a set and have no idea what the differences mentioned mean.

    Browsing also is not so smooth at times, e.g. when editing a wishlist and trying to get back to it, or to remove pieces from the wishlist after purchase.

    I've liked and agree on many of the comments posted above.

    Intuitiveness could possibly be improved arranging a few sessions where fresh buyers would share their screen on Teams/Zoom/Meet (a promotion/discount could encourage that, e.g. when Lawrence or someone else assigned is available, then the text "click here to join an online meeting with our developers, sharing and commenting your purchase journey and get 5 eur discount on your order!").

    I also see possible improvement on the reporting side, and even deeper collaboration with Rebrickable, so their piece count for building MOCs would source directly from here.

    That's my two cents for today, hopefully they add a little value :-)
  • This issue has come up a couple of times over the years, but the "Notes" section on orders sometimes confuses buyers. I just had a case where the buyer did not know how to reach out and thought the notes could be seen by me (as a seller). It's not the first time I've heard this from buyers. Perhaps some clarity in how its displayed could alleviate some of the frustration from the buyer's perspective as it appears like the seller is ignoring them.
  • edited December 2023 Vote Up0Vote Down
    I started out on as a buyer on BO a few years ago. I found it easier than BL. I purchased there a few times when I couldn't get what I needed because the store selling the item on BO had a minimum purchase amount. I find BO a much more enjoyable experience, both design and the sellers. I have had several really negative experiences with sellers on BL. I decided last year to start putting a store together. A slow process to enter all the inventory.
    I like it here!
  • @Emporiosa I have heard this is an issue, but the field is called 'Your Private Order Note', and is right at the bottom. I'm not sure how to resolve that, other than being excessive and writing "Your Private Order Note that is private and only you can see and not the seller"
  • edited December 2023 Vote Up0Vote Down
    It may need to be more explicit, English is not everyone's first or even second language. Maybe: "The store cannot see these notes."
  • @Hoddie Okay, I've made that even clearer
  • @Lawrence Thanks Lawrence; that'll help tremendously. I feel bad pointing this out to not cause you any headache as the buyer side is the one that matter much more IMO, but I think the "Your Note" box is the same one used for both the seller's and buyer's view because when I open an order I've received as a buyer, the "Your Note" box I see also has the comment about the comments not being visible to the store.
  • @Emporiosa thank you that's now fixed
  • I completely relate to your journey from being a buyer on BO to starting your own store. The ease of use and positive experiences on BO contrasted with the challenges on BL resonates with many.
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