As you might expect, British Airways has a large and sophisticated site offering many features, including the ability to find and book tickets online. It uses advanced Web technology to produce clean and efficient pages. Particularly praiseworthy is the simple step-by-step process of booking tickets, with plenty of explanatory information for each stage.
Nonetheless, there is something rather impersonal about this site - rather like the airports that form such an important part of its subject-matter. The problem is that it is too business-like: visitors feel as if they are being herded through the purchasing process. What is needed is more richness.
The site certainly contains the right sort of ancillary information - plane seating plans, airport information etc - but it is tucked away. A tighter integration between the different elements - booking, seating plans, airports information - as well as more editorial content about the destinations would enliven this site no end. A sense of community - currently there is none - would also help greatly.
Another big name with a generally successful site is Marks & Spencer. This is notable for some very clever Web programming, though happily it stays just this side of being obtrusive. The design is generally excellent, with plenty of white space to keep things light.
The purchase process is rather long, perhaps inevitably so given that information like the size and colour of clothes need to be conveyed for each item. But if response times slow down the time for each element of the transaction to be completed the overall effect can become frustrating.
Like the BA site, though, editorial information is sparse, which is not likely to encourage online shopping. After all, potential customers need as much re-assurance as they can get that they do really want the item in question.
There is also no sense of community. A obvious way of rectifying this omission and of adding some useful editorial would be to encourage visitors to comment on items that they have already bought, and then to include selected comments alongside the goods.
This would also have the added advantage that it would offer scope for various kinds of visitor promotions and market research.