These website review examples were created in 2012 - a lifetime ago in the world of ecommerce and online shopping! Some, like Country Road, have changed significantly. While others like ASOS have largely kept to the same format and layout.
See what the following sites used to look like and get an analysis of what they did right and what could be improved:
Did they get it right in the years since? Click on a link above to jump straight to that website review example.
Good for fast, affordable fashion for those seeking a regular fashion fix.
Bad for selling each item with engaging product descriptions and imagery.
Sportsgirl began operations in Melbourne in 1948 as the younger, more vibrant alternative to big sister label Sportscraft. They now have over 110 retail outlets, still target a younger demographic and have a reputation for offering a reinterpretation of the latest designer trends at affordable prices.
Founded by Wolf Bardos, the company grew and expanded under his son David and is now owned by Sussan Corporation, a private company owned solely by CEO Naomi Milgrom.
Sportsgirl retail the majority of their products under their own brand and in recent years have also launched collaborative efforts with a number of Australian up and coming designers like Romance was Born, Cohen et Sabine, Ellery and Amsdorf.
In an interview with the University of NSW in September 2010, Naomi Milgrom stated that the Sportsgirl site was the number one online site for 16-24 year old women and received 9-12 million visitors per month.
The home page is dominated by a large rotating graphic with models in alternate Sportsgirl looks in different locations within a home. Clicking on each one, gives a visual breakdown of the style elements in each picture and an option to 'shop the look'.
However, clicking on 'shop the look' didn't go through to a specific page with links to each item from the home page image but instead to the new arrivals clothing homepage. So if you wanted to buy the items featured you'd need to take note of what they were and then try to find them yourself. The home page pitch of 'This is our place' is obviously part of a broader advertising campaign and not tied to specific products.
The homepage has a clean look to it with a white background and simple navigation bar at the top. A rotating bar above the main image highlights the current free shipping offer.
The first thing that stands out is there is no search box on the home page or on the main shopping pages. This is unusual on an e-commerce site and given the volume of traffic to the site, I can only assume that a search box wasn't working or they've never had one.
The product images load quickly and are displayed in small frames 3 high with a side to side scroll bar. The images enlarge to display the product name and price when you scroll over each item. Clicking on a particular product displays a larger image and limited description.
The product pages were disappointing given the effort that has gone into the styling pages accessible from the main homepage. Fabric care is a generic pop up that applies to all products on the site and isn't adapted to each individual product. There is no information on the length or fit of the product and not all products have alternate product images (for example, images of the back, side, modelled with accessories).
On the product pages I viewed, there were limited links to related products with many products I looked at only displaying lipstick as the additional matching style pick. There are no options for reviews on product pages either.
There is an option to add a particular item to a favourite list which unlike some other sites you don't need to login to begin. However, the trade off is that your favourites are forgotten once you close your browser.
For those who haven't shopped Sportsgirl before and saved their details on their PC, checkout is a 3 step process with a 4th step as the confirmation page. This is OK but could be streamlined into one page plus a confirmation page especially as they are targeting speed over substance in other areas.
As mentioned above this information is clearly displayed on the home page above the fold in a flashing yellow graphic on the home page and a small yellow banner at centre top throughout the shop. Strangely, clicking on either banner jumps the visitor to the shop home page and not the shipping page. There is a link to 'shipping and delivery' in the footer.
If you receive a product and the size or colour isn't right and you want to replace it then you're responsible for the return shipping costs for the unwanted item and the replacement. This places the risk on getting it right with the customer. Given the limited product information and imagery this seems a little unfair.
There are links in the footer to returns, sizing, fabric care, finding a store, shipping and help. The contact us page is extensive offering many different choices for customers to get in touch depending on what they want to say. Even a physical address is provided if you feel up to writing an 'old school letter'. Social media links are tucked way down the bottom which is odd given the target demographic and their desire to share.
From the style heavy home page and interactive links (style snaps, lookbook, comps, events, forums) across the top nav bar on the homepage, I expected the shop to be more engaging than it was. The Style Snaps and Lookbook pages were very well done, although each only offered two-three different looks.
Given that Sportsgirl is all about fast, affordable fashion pieces with high design turnover, perhaps this is why minimal effort is put into selling each item.
This is a site for a younger female demographic to get their inexpensive, weekly fashion hit. And because they visit often they want change and variety over substance. The Sportsgirl target market aren't looking for long term investment pieces and the items will probably be pushed to the back of the wardrobe in a month or so when something more eye catching emerges.
While it's an understandable strategy, it's important to remember that they are competing with pure play etailers like Asos and Shopbop that also offer fast fashion and make a big effort to inform customers about their products.
Offline: 110 retail stores
What they sell online: clothing and accessories for women
Who's in charge: Elle McLauchlan, CEO
Good for creating an accessible, helpful and easy to navigate site.
Bad for full range of Big W products found in retail outlets and product reviews.
The Big W chain of retail outlets was founded in the 1970s and is a division of Wooworths Limited. They have over 160 retail stores around the country making Big W one of the largest discount department stores alongside Kmart and Target.
Price and stocking a large range of brands is their stated point of difference and they guarantee to match a lower price advertised by their competitors.
The first thing you notice on the home page is the large rotating graphic taking up half the real estate of the page above the fold. Like walking into a Big W retail store, it is visually busy home page with a lot of graphics and if new to the site it can take a moment or two to take it all in.
However, it is a clean looking site in terms of layout with a white cloud background and clearly marked sections. It could be even cleaner if they had kept the colour choices for the site to a maximum of 3-4 - I counted 9 different colours for headline or highlighted text, although some are of a similiar tone so for the most part it doesn't seem too jarring.
The main departments are listed across the top of the page below a big search box and checkout status.
The search box is clearly displayed in the middle of the header which is great, especially for a site with a large product range like Big W. There is also a prominant 'Contact us' link on the top right that states 'We're here to answer your questions'. There has clearly been considerable thought put into making the site accessible, one way this is obvious is through the use of language across the site that is friendly and inviting.
I visited the electronics area within the online shop and found a slightly altered navigation setup with detailed listings down the left including filters like price and the ability to shop by brand. There is also an advice section which contains useful tips mainly for those not used to online shopping. It's a nice touch and answers basic questions like whether you have to have an acocunt to buy online and the minimum age for opening an account. Those that don't need it will ignore it and those that do will be glad of the help.
The individual product pages have a clean, crisp layout that makes it easy to find relevant information. Delivery is calculated for each item and this is done by entering your postcode on the product page. I wondered how this worked when you buy more than one product but I saw a clear explanation when I clicked on delivery.
Each product page has tabs for specifications, reviews and delivery. At the bottom of the page they ask visitors to help with any errors if they spot a mistake. Again friendly language makes the site seem helpful and not as impersonal as shopping at a large department store can be. The product I looked at didn't have any reviews and this is something that maybe worth encouraging (perhaps offering a prize to a random reviewer each month?) as having a tab for reviews and then no reviews feels a bit hollow (are other people not buying the product? is there something wrong with it?).
There was only 2 photos for the item I viewed - a digital camera - the front and top. Not sure why they wouldn't include a back photo as well?
I also checked out the Digital Camcorder section and noticed that they have a buying guide and definition of common camcorder jargon which is a nice touch as buying electronics be a daunting prospect filled with acronyms and detail overload. It doesn't replace talking to a camcorder specialist but it does create trust (creates feeling Big W know their stuff when it comes to camcorders) and demonstrates thoughtfulness and a positive feeling towards the site for providing helpful resource for the visitor.
For those not registered with the site, checkout is a 3 step process with a 4th step as the confirmation page. This is OK and probably a trade off between presenting a long form and risking higher cart abandonment rate vs shorter forms on each page that at least capture contact details (name, phone and email) on the first page so follow up can be done if the cart is abandoned during the next 2 steps.
This information isn't clearly displayed on the home page above the fold. There is detailed information available if you scroll to the bottom but it would probably be a good idea to at least have a link to a pop up in the header which explains how shipping works.
While there is no customer chat which is surprising for a company the size of Big W that employs over 17,000 people around Australia (couldn't spare a couple of extras to staff a customer chat line?), they do provide a detailed help centre and Big W information section, including information on store locations and opening hours and other services they offer.
Compared to their two largest competitors, Kmart and Target, the Big W site is vastly superior not only in terms of range but also ease of use and accessibility. They could improve the site by adding a link in header to shipping info, more photos, including a live chat option and encouraging more reviews from customers.
In the longer term, adding more categories would strengthen the site further and create a destination site like Amazon. Amazon has become so good at what they do that they are often a first choice site for purchasing pretty much anything. Also Amazon's large product range, detailed product information and extensive reviews create a sizeable barrier to entry for competitors.
Big W have laid the foundations to become the Australian equivalent of Amazon and have an advantage over Amazon in that they already stock and warehouse a large number of products for the existing Big W retail outlets. Amazon's reliance on third party suppliers to ship and supply products can make for a frustrating shopping experience with staggered delivery times for products coming from different suppliers.
Name: Big W
Offline: 164 retail stores
What they sell online: electronic, baby, beauty & health, home & garden, entertainment, toys, sports & leisure.
Who's in charge: Julie Coates, Director
Good for Country Road clothing
Bad for creating an enjoyable and engaging shopping experience.
Country Road began in 1974 as a business specialising in women's shirts. It grew from there into an iconic Australia brand that has had its ups and downs. They have 60 retail stores and 80 concession outlets and are now owned by Woolworth Holdings South Africa.
Country Road is one of the staple brands you'll find in most large shopping centres around the country. They are known for streamlined tailoring and quality fabrics with prices in the mid range.
They specialise in work and casual clothing for 25-45 women (ubiquitous showing for certain demographic can make it easy to spot a Country Road piece at 50 paces) and have solid, though not particularly inspired, homeware and menswear ranges.
They have an advantage over other sites in that they stock all their own brand and can maintain pricing consistency between online and offline. They don't have to worry about customers buying their stock at a cheaper price elsewhere as many other retailers do. They do, however, have to be concerned about competition particularly from overseas and pureplay online retailers.
The first thing you notice on landing on the site is the percentage counter before the flash homepage fully loads. Country Road has had a flash homepage for as long as I can remember and I'm not sure what advantage this offers; it certainly doesn't make it easier to shop.
The homepage is an abbreviated bridge page with a large black surround, two images and menu options. The navigation menus are white text overlaid on the photos, at present a beige/tan background which makes them difficult to read.
As most people would be visiting the site to view the online store I'm not sure why they offer so many choices rather than taking the visitor straight to the shop. The main choices include shop online, new collections, cardholders, what's new, trenery and then other options are listed along the top and bottom.
Within the online shop, the site keeps to the same basic structure as the home page of a large black border with pop ups overlaid on top for the different categories. This is a marked difference from the filter/sorting capabilities of many other online clothing shops and I'm not sure that it plays to their advantage. It takes a lot of clicking to actually view any clothes and then more clicking to scroll and sort compared to one to two clicks on a site like ASOS.
In the women's section there is a choice of apparel, accessories, footwear or sleepwear. It's unclear why they use a term like 'apparel' when most of their customers would be more familiar with the term 'clothing'. Are they trying to educate consumers by using the more technically correct term? Perhaps they don't realise how jarring it sounds?
The clothes are displayed in small boxes that enlarge when the mouse scrolls over them and the larger version includes a price and brief description below the image. This is an improvement on an earlier incarnation when you had to click on each item in order to see a larger image.
After clicking on a particular item another pop up appears displaying the item. There is limited photos (flat product shots of front and back only for some pieces and a model shot is included with others) and minimal description of the piece. There is no care instructions, no styling suggestions and no fuller description of things like length or sizing (eg slim fit, fuller cut).
Checkout is technically a 5 step process that again overlays on top of the main home page but as the first page is a check of the cart and the last page is a confirmation page, it's really only 3 steps. This could be simiplified further because one of the pages deals with shipping but as there is only 1 choice it seems an unneccessary step.
This information isn't clearly displayed on the online store. It is available by either clicking on the FAQ page and then finding the question about shipping half-way down, by clicking on 'deliveries' from the bottom menu or by adding items to the cart and going through the checkout process.
The site does have an 'about us' page which is surprisingly frank - 'The US business failed' - is how they describe the company's foray into the US market. This is likely because those moves were by the previous owners and draws a line between the current 'bold new vision' charted by their South African owners. Unfortunately, there is no link to this page from the shop. Those that have made it into the shop know all about the company?
They do have links to other information like FAQ, Stores, Deliveries and Returns which is good.
While the site has improved over the years, overall it is still largely disappointing. There is little attempt to personalise the site and inject it with warmth and personality. It feels like a corporate site that is out of touch with customers and what they want; they have a transactional site because they understand they should but haven't put in the effort to draw new and existing customers into the Country Road world and engage with them.
It's a shame really because the advantage they have over other online shopping sites that stock a range of brands is that no one else sells Country Road clothing online. They are the exclusive outlet for this well known brand yet they have not capitalised on that strength and created a compelling shopping experience. While that maybe fine for those loyal customers that value the convenience of shopping online and don't need any extras, others will more likely be tempted to click away to competitors.
Name: Country Road
Offline: 60 retail stores and 80 concessions
What they sell: womenswear, menswear, childrenswear and homewares
Who's in charge? Howard Goldberg, CEO and Managing Director
Asos has now launched an Australian version of their online retail website. It's not massively different to their UK version with the main differences being that prices are now all in Australian dollars and returns are to a Sydney address not the UK.
Any clothing retailers that knew Asos would be launching should have been studying their site to see why they were popular and what changes they needed to make to their own site in order to remain competitive. It seems that hasn't happened. Not yet anyway.
Being a pure-play online retailer means that Asos approach to their website is a lot sharper and more focussed on customer service than many bricks and mortar retailers who happen to also sell online.
What makes them so different? The key differential is that they are trying to create an offline experience through their website. They aren't supplementing their retail outlets with an online site, their website is it, their only opportunity to make a sale and it shows.
What are the differences that sets Asos website apart from the traditional retailers' sites?
The emphasis is on making every effort to ensure customers are comfortable with their purchase before they buy. They know they don't have a retail experience to fall back on. While bricks and mortar retailers seem to assume that customers supplement their offline purchases with online, that isn't always going to be the case. This is especially true for interstate or country web visitors.
How does your favorite online retail store measure up?
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