No matter how successful an e-commerce site is, there are often ways in which a site can be improved to maintain its appeal to customers and maximise conversions.

We have looked at M&S, Amazon and Tesco already, now we take a look at Next to see what improvements could be made to their website…

More filtering options

Searching for items on sites with large ranges can be made much easier by allowing customers to filter out items they are not interested in. This makes a product search much more manageable, and helps to narrow the choices.

As well as making it easier for them to find what they want, this narrowing of options through feature filtering helps to funnel the customer towards the checkout.

Next has a couple of filtering options, but nowhere near enough to take away the pain of searching through a large number of products. In this search for trainers, for instance, I’m left with 18 pages of products to look through:

Next filtering options

Lose the drop down menus

Drop-downs can be very annoying for web users, and though they do have the benefit of freeing up space on the page, there are better options for navigation.

I would prefer to browse a site using a navigation menu at the top or the left of the page, as with Amazon.

Next’s drop-downs are better than others though, and the site at least gives you the option of selecting a category and browsing that way, instead of using them.

drop down menu

Clearer checkout link

Why not make the checkout link as clear as possible, so it stands out when users are looking to buy? This is something that Amazon does well, where shoppers can see exactly what they need to do to complete the purchase.

Next provides a link in the top right corner, which is where web users are accustomed to seeing it, but the text doesn’t really stand out compared with the other navigation options.

Next checkout link

In addition, once a customer has added an item to their basket, why not provide a clear checkout link on the product pages, as Amazon does here?

Amazon checkout link

Registering before checkout

Ouch. Pre-purchase registration places an unnecessary obstacle in front of shoppers and seems a bit pointless… after all, the shopper needs to enter an address details before the purchase, so why do it here?

There are a number of reasons why customers choose to abandon the checkout process, and having to register first is a common complaint. It’s pretty much a certainty that Next’s conversion rate will increase if it removes this.

Next registration

Enclose the checkout

This is about removing as many distractions as possible from the customer to keep their minds focused on the task of purchasing. Ideally, all links that are not needed to complete a purchase should be removed.

Next has removed a lot of links, though customers can still get back to the homepage if they click on the logo. In addition, Next has not included some potentially crucial information in the checkout process.

This includes returns policies, security information, as well as a contact number for customers who may have a question about the process.

Lengthy email response times

Next has made its contact details tricky to find for users, but they can be accessed via a link at the bottom of the page, which opens up a pop-up window.

What is really shocking here is the promised email response time given by the company. Customers choosing to contact Next by email are told to allow up to 20 working days for a reply. This is a bit of an outrage by any standards.

Next contact details

Why would anyone bother emailing them with this kind of response time? This could be a customer with a question about an item they are thinking of buying, so why can’t Next respond more promptly? It would be better off not saying anything about response times, if 20 days is the best it can do.

More information needed on product pages

These pages, arguably the most important on any retail website, contain sparse amounts of information and it feels a little bit clinical. There’s not too much unique content on Next’s product pages, meaning that the retailer is unlikely to do especially well in Google relative to its competitors.

Next product page

Clear returns policy

One thing customers may want to know before purchase is the company’s returns policy: Do I have to pay for postage? Can I return an item to a high street store?

This is something that may affect the decision to purchase an item, so making this information easily accessible is a good idea.

Ideally, this kind of information should be accessible via a clear link on the product page, or from the homepage.

Next terms and conditions

This is not the case with Next, instead it can only be found via a ‘terms and conditions’ link, and from there you are forced to scan a large page of text to find the returns policy.

Accessibility

A top UK retailer like Next should be taking more care over usability, especially when you consider that they are potentially losing millions of disabled customers who may otherwise want to shop online with Next.

Next doesn’t appear to have looked at its site design from an accessibility perspective, and contains many problems, such as text that is difficult to read when resized, unclear links, and form design which makes it difficult for users with screen readers.

Indeed, a recent Webcredible study (PDF) gave Next a score of just 47% for accessibility. It came fourteenth out of twenty UK e-commerce websites.

Email sign up

Next has a very simple email sign up option, which is displayed halfway down the homepage. Easy enough to sign-up, but Next is missing a trick by not giving subscribers a few options to choose from.

Next should be giving options, such as text or html, preferred frequencies of emails etc, as well as taking the opportunity to find out about customer preferences in order to target emails more effectively.

This may be a longer sign up process, but this kind of information could prevent unsubscribes further down the line.

Related research:

Online Retail 2007: Checkout Special

Web Design Best Practice Guide

Related stories:

How to retain customers in hard times

Site review: Halfords.com