Having seemingly taken its time to get its online strategy together, shoe retailer Clarks finally launched its first transactional website at the end of last year.
I had previously highlighted Clarks as an example of a company that was failing to make to most of the web by not offering its product range online, so I've been having a look at the new site from a user experience perspective...
Elsewhere, navigational links are clear, and Clarks has done well to give prominence to its newsletter sign up link, which should help the retailer get a few more subscribers on board.
Clarks hasn't made all of its stock available to buy online; you can search through the children's shoes on the site but you cannot order for home delivery, only to collect and fit in store, to prevent people from buying shoes that don't fit their children's feet properly.
This is made clear on the front page of the site, though perhaps it could do with more explanation on product pages for visitors that arrive through search and bypass the homepage.
Site search / navigation
The site search function is good, returning accurate results for the searches I tried out. It also handles misspellings effectively, asking 'did you mean..?' and showing alternative results rather than making users search all over again.
It also handled searches for colours well, which some sites don't do, such as this request for 'black boots'. Search results are well presented too, with good product thumbnails. There are options to refine searches, but users need to click a link to access the sorting options; it may be better to display these options automatically.
Other navigation options are at the top of the page, and these have been kept to a minimum, with drop-downs used for sub-categories.
While Jakob Nielsen says that huge drop-downs can be good for usability, I'm not so sure about smaller menus like these, though at least Clarks has ensured that the menu doesn't instantly disappear if you move the cursor outside of the menu area, which makes it more user-friendly.
After choosing an option from the homepage, Clarks is an excellent site to browse, thanks to good use of filtered navigation to help shoppers to narrow down their product search.
For instance, after selecting 'men's shoes' from the homepage, I can then filter by category (smart, casual, sports..) size, features (Gore-tex, active air etc) or function (everyday, formal...), all of which was enough for the searches I tried out.
Also impressive is the fact that the number of products for each filtering category is shown in brackets. This is something which helps customers to narrow their searches but avoids the annoyance of returning no results at all.
Product pages have plenty of detail on them, containing detailed descriptions of the products, materials used etc, as well as links to information about deliveries and returns. It could make delivery charges clearer though; as there is a flat fee of £3.50, why not display this on the product page so users don't need to click on a link to find out?
Elsewhere on the page, the product photos are excellent; users can zoom in and out to get a good idea of texture etc, while seven different views are provided so that shoppers can see footwear from all the angles they could wish for:
Clarks has also added user reviews to the pages, though it's early days yet and a lot of products have yet to be reviewed. They are displayed in a meaningful way to customers though, with an average score summary, while Clarks is not afraid to show negative opinions of a product; something which adds authenticity to the page:
Basket / checkout
After selecting an item to purchase, a small basket preview appears with the option to head to the checkout, though this vanishes if you click elsewhere on the page. The basket/checkout link could be made more visible; though it is at the top right where users expect to see it, the text is small:
The basket summary page contains the information most customers will be looking for; price summary, delivery charges, as well as links to security and returns policies:
Registration is compulsory before entering the checkout process, and this does form a bit of an obstacle for customers. After initially entering an email address, users then have to give their names, phone numbers, a security question and answer, and more; 10 fields in all, while the reasons for and benefits of registrations are not explained to customers.
If e-commerce sites are going to insist on making users register first, then it should be made as easy as possible and limited to an email address and password, asking for more is a risk in terms of increased abandonment rates.
Also, if you have selected to collect from a local store, then the option to enter your postcode and find the nearest outlet only comes up once you have registered, meaning customers have to go through a long registration process before finding out this crucial information.
There are a few annoyances during the checkout process. For example, after already entering name etc to register, I was asked to re-enter my name when selecting home delivery details, while it also asks me again at the payment stage. This is annoying and unnecessary.
Also, Clarks has a rule that users cannot order more than one product of the same style, something I only noticed when I came across this error message after beginning the checkout process:
If Clarks insists on these rules (there is also a limit of 6 items per order), then this should be made clear on product pages before customers are allowed to add items to their baskets and begin the checkout process, as finding out at this stage and being forced to remove items and update the basket will irritate customers.
It is odd that Clarks has opted to have the basket summary taking up the majority of the page width, leaving just a quarter of the page for checkout data entry. While a summary of basket contents during the checkout process is a useful visual reminder to shoppers, having it take up so much of the screen means that users have too much scrolling to do, especially when selecting addresses and local stores from drop-down lists.
One final criticism: the checkout process has not been enclosed on the site, and the main navigation menu is still available, providing a potential distraction for shoppers. Also, if users do click on a menu option and leave the checkout they will have to re-enter an email address and password to start again.
There are some good points in the checkout process, such as a clear display of the number of steps in the process, and the ability to go back to previous stages and adjust details, while all relevant delivery, security and returns information is provided throughout.
Having taken so long to launch an e-commerce site, Clarks.co.uk is a good effort. It has a quality look and feel and plenty of good features, like effective search, navigation and filtering options, good detailed product pages containing reviews and quality photos.
It is let down by a number of usability issues before and during the checkout process though, and I would definitely recommend a few tweaks to make the purchase process smoother and less complicated as a way of improving Clarks' conversion rates.