I’m not a regular visitor to Boots’ website, so when I clicked on it recently, I was surprised that the number of usability issues and potential barriers to purchase I found. 

The site does appear to be due a revamp, and there are plenty of areas for improvement where Boots could reduce customer friction.  

Here, I’ve picked out some of the most serious issues, and what Boots can do to improve conversion rates on the site. 

NB: I have no inside knowledge of Boots and its online performance. It may make a fortune online, but from what I know, there is lots of potential for improvement, so here we go… 

A facelift for the website

Perhaps it’s just me, but Boots’ site does look slightly dated compared to some of its high street rivals.

There’s the way it’s shrunk for starters, with lots of blue space either side of the main content, while there’s a fair amount of clutter, as if every department wants a mention on the homepage. 

First impressions matter, and this isn’t the best way to start. 

Consider the carousel

The most prominent feature of the homepage is the carousel, which moves rather too quickly to be useful.

I did write an article about carousels, canvassing opinion from various ecommerce experts, and the overwhelming opinion was that can be a waste of time, as they often tend to be a compromise solution to allow various stakeholders a piece of prime homepage real estate. 

However, I’ve also seen examples where they can be successful if implemented correctly and tested for maximum effect. Here, Boots should consider slowing it down, adding clearer calls to action, and testing what works for different user segments. 

Why not set up a Twitter account? 

I might be wrong here, but I can’t find a Twitter account, either via Google or on Boots’ own website. It’s on Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube, but for some bizarre reason, no Twitter. 

Hey, it’s not obligatory, but given its sheer popularity, you would think that a well established retailer like Boots could find some value in it

Remove the email address barrier to checkout

I’m not a regular Boots customer, but one point in the past I must have created an account, probably for something connected to this blog. Or maybe I bought some anti-wrinkle cream.

Either way, I’ve no idea what my password is, and Boots doesn’t give me anywhere to go from this point. It tells me I can’t use that email address, and doesn’t give me the option of resetting. 

So, as an old customer, I have to register with a new email address or give it up as a bad job. Sites shouldn’t be presenting users with this kind of barrier to purchase. 

Sure, if I had entered my email address into the ‘existing customer’ box, then I may have a reset option, but I didn’t even know I was a customer. 

A better way to handle dormant accounts like this comes from Amazon, which offers to disable the existing account and start anew: 

Improve the confusing and cluttered basket page

There’s a lot going on here, and the overall impression is confusing, particularly the different colours/calls to action for checkout and checkout with points. 

Boots shopping basket page

Boots is trying to advertise the benefits of its Advantage card, which is fine, but does it really want to take customers away from the checkout to apply for a card? 

The form is nuts too. You have to work hard to get your card… 

Boots should consider simplifying the basket page and presenting only information which is important for the customer to complete their purchase. Advantage cards can always be advertised after purchase. 

Look at the coupon code box

All this box is saying to customers without codes is that they could be getting their purchase cheaper. So why would they checkout without searching for one? 

Boots coupon code box

So, if I see this, the next thing I’m doing is heading for Google. Then I enter the world of the coupon/voucher code site, from where I may never return to the Boots checkout, especially if I see another code for my item elsewhere. 

These boxes just prompt customers to interrupt the purchase process, so think carefully about using them, and consider how you can minimise the risk. 

Here are a few suggestions for dealing with coupon codes (more here):

  • Only show the discount code box to those customers that have arrived via affiliate links or marketing emails. 
  • Use the code entry box to build an email list. By displaying a ‘how do I get this?’ message next to the box, retailers can keep users on site to get their discount code, with the added benefit of gaining a customer’s opt-in for future email marketing. 
  • Link to your own coupon page. Again, this keeps customers onsite, and has the added SEO benefit of appearing in searches for brand name + voucher code. 
  • Place a discount code next to the box. This could be a less generous offer than those on voucher code sites, but it could keep customers within the process while still feeling they have bagged a bargain. 
  • Hide it below the fold. Those that have codes will find it anyway, but other shoppers won’t immediately notice it. 

Make out of stock messages clear

This is one of the worst out of stock messages I have seen. At first, I thought Boots had forgotten to add a call to action to buy the razor on this page, but after some detailed investigation, I finally found the out of stock message.

Can you spot it? 

Yes, it’s underneath the price. In fact, it’s probably easier on the screenshot than the actual page. 

Now, this should be clearer (obviously) but Boots could also offer alternative products to visitor, offer to check stock at local stores, or perhaps to email customers when the item is available again. 

It does none of these things and just leaves customers at a dead-end. 

Don’t charge for in-store collection

Absolutely bonkers. I can think of no other retailer that does this. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially as many of these products will be held in stores anyway. 

Instead, Boots should focus on the advantages that reserve and collect services offer for multichannel retailers, such as the edge it gives over pureplay rivals, the way it fits well with consumer research and purchase behaviour (research online, buy offline) and the potential for cross-selling while customers are in-store. 

It’s surely not worth deterring customers and negating these benefits for the sake of a £1.99 charge. 

No registration before checkout

This not-so best practice does seem to be on the way out, so it’s a slight surprise to see this from a well-known retailer. It even wants your date of birth: 

It’s a barrier to purchase, an interruption to the user experience, and it’s completely pointless when you can capture the same customer details and ask them to register quickly at the end of the checkout process. 

This article, referring to HMV’s checkout process explains in more detail why this is a very bad idea. 

If Boots needs further convincing, it should check out the example of ASOS, which halved its abandonment rate at the registration page simply by removing any mention of creating an account (NB: it still got customers to create an account). 

If more is needed, a famous example from Jared Spool explains how one retailer added $300m to its annual revenues simply by removing the registration button. 

Don’t ask customers for information they’ve already entered

This is frustrating, time-consuming and unnecessary. I’ve already registered, in the course of which I’ve entered my name, address and date of birth. So why can’t the site remember my address and offer to pre-fill the field for me? 

It does the same for the billing address so, if you do end up buying something, you’ll have entered your address three times during this checkout process

This is making customers work too hard, and risking extra checkout abandonment through sheer frustration. It is mind-bogglingly bad. 

Enclose the checkout process

Again, more distractions for the customer, when Boots should want them to concentrate on buying and paying for something.

Thus enclosing the checkout process and removing distractions from customers can increase conversions. 

All the standard navigation is still visible: search boxes, big drop-downs, store locators, you name it. Lots of ways to leave the checkout. 

(To be fair, the delivery options, including the named day delivery, are pretty solid…)

Instead, Boots should remove the navigation options, leaving just a help link, and perhaps a route back to the homepage, as John Lewis does here:

Enclosed checkout 3

Place the basket link where people are likely to look

Unlike most ecommerce sites, where the basket link is somewhere around the top right of the page, Boots has placed its basket right in the centre of the header. 

Also, by making the Advantage Card link pink, it makes the basket even less visible. In cases like this, there’s something to be said for following convention.

In summary…

It does seem to me that Boots hasn’t updated this site for some time, and perhaps isn’t doing enough testing and optimisation work, as otherwise you would think issues such as registration, resetting email addresses, and the confusing basket page would be flagged up. 

Or perhaps the ecommerce team has identified the issues but is unable to get senior management to approve the changes. When most major retailers have vastly improved their sites over the past five years or so, it does seem that Boots has fallen behind. 

Perhaps, since it is the most famous high street chemist, with a regular customer base, it has managed to make enough from the sheer growth in ecommerce that conversion optimisation has been overlooked or set to one side. 

Whatever the reason, there is little doubt in my mind that there is vast potential here for improving the overall user experience on the site and therefore increasing conversion rates. 

I’ve picked out 11 problems, here and I could have picked more. While it’s necessary to be critical, I hope I have also been constructive in offering solutions for the issues. And, of course, it’s about testing and finding what works and what doesn’t. 

Do you agree with my assessment of the site? Please let me know below…

Econsultancy’s JUMP event on October 9 is all about creating seamless multichannel customer experiences. Now, in its fourth year it will be attended by more than 1,200 senior client-side marketers. This year it forms part of our week-long Festival of Marketing extravaganza.