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I've always found it ironic that some of the most fancy hotels have some of the worst websites in the world. It's the same with restaurants. Both are long serving fans of Flash and autosound, and the result can be hellish.

If websites are particularly bad, and if I'm the one tasked with booking or buying something, then I can tell you for a fact that I will look elsewhere. The problem is that there isn't always an 'elsewhere'. Luxury brands pride themselves on their uniqueness, after all. If your better half wants some Jimmy Choo for her birthday then that's what you need to buy.

I've seen signs of improvement, especially in the restaurant sector, but many top class brands still have a lot of work to do.

Here are 17 examples of the kind of user experience issues that drive me mad, and which feel like a punch in the face when the brand in question charges a premium for the quality of its products and services. 

Mystery pricing - Hotel Casa 1800 Sevilla

Lots of hotels don’t tell you what the room rates are, and instead try to force you into the booking engine. This is a constant annoyance, whenever I’m trying to book a holiday. I think the word ‘book’ is more than a labelling issue. It may be meant to be persuasive, but I find that it has the opposite effect on me.

Contrast fail - L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Dark red against a black background? I think this is a bit crazy, for somebody who pays so much attention to the presentation of food. Is the restaurant dark inside too?

Annoying animation - Sketch London

Sketch recently updated its Flashtastic website but hasn’t entirely dispensed with its ‘Sketch Egg’, an animation that was previously used on the splash page (‘click to enter’). The egg now lives at the foot of its homepage, spins about a bit, makes an almighty racket, and I couldn’t see an ‘off’ button to get rid of the vile noise. Awful.

Hideous autosound - Hix Soho

This video that autoplays with sound turned on is like having your ears attacked by Cato. 

Begging for 'friends' - Gauthier

Gauthier Soho is a Michelin starred restaurant that is ever so desperate for you to be friends with it. I visited the website and not content with showing me a pointless page before it directed me to the homepage, it pushed a massive overlay in my face, inviting me to sign up to its ‘friends list’. Desperate times, and not the place to do it. Like Sketch, and so many others, its menus are PDFs. Which also sucks.

A flowery opening page - Bentley

On your first visit Bentley shows you a great big ad of some kind or other, and then leaves you staring at some wild flowers. You must search for the ‘skip to home’ button, located in the bottom corner, to proceed to its homepage.

Eat carrots, find the navigation - Givenchy

Givenchy might make more than EU 81m in annual revenue if it allowed users to navigate around its website without the need for night vision cameras. Black text against a dark grey background isn't cool, or classy. It's abhorrent.

Hiding the key information - Mont Blanc

It is best practice to avoid obfuscation when it comes to shipping and delivery details (and options), especially when you’ve placed a £2,795 watch in your basket. See that little ‘shipping’ link, in the bottom corner of this shopping bag overlay? It doesn’t do anything.

Style vs substance - Tom Ford

Maybe it’s just me, but the navigation is all over the place. Try to go to the men’s sunglasses page in under a minute. The dropdown menus with their tiny fonts have transparent backgrounds, meaning that you can’t read them if they appear above other text. Also, there’s no fluidity in the pages. Needlessly Flashy, capital F.

Movement and noise - Cartier

Wailing autosound, more whizzy animation than Pixar, and lots of loading buttons and hanging around. 

The slow madness - Dom Perignon

I could have opened a bottle of sparkling wine before this website sprang into life. When it did I couldn’t make sense of it. Up, down, left, right… eyes everywhere. It makes the Facebook Timeline seem ever so linear.

Pre-registration - Hermes

A mortal sin, if you care about your conversion rate. This appears after I click the 'complete your order' button. It feels like an unnecessary barrier, prior to purchase, and it is surely much better to capture this kind of information after taking the payment.

Scary - Tissot

Tissot displays a charming prelude to its watch collection by showing a nasty ‘Warning’ message, complete with overlapping navigation. After seeing it I am never ever going to buy a fake Tissot watch, for fear of a terrible demise.

Fiddly - Tag Heuer

This store finder won’t allow me to use the arrow keys in the ‘Country’ dropdown, and doesn’t accept the first part of a postcode in ‘Location’, so ‘W1’ returns ‘Sorry, no address found’. 

A big black rectangle of doom - Riva

Lovely yachts, but what’s with the darkness? Possibly a browser issue, but then again I am using the world’s most popular browser.

Teasing but not pleasing - Hennessy

Once you find your way into the collection (made harder because the product names in the right menu aren’t actually links) you’re presented with a weird scrolling text box, which gradually reveals information about a particular cognac. Meh.

The destroyer - Chanel

The first thing that happened for me was that Google Chrome told me that the page was in Ukrainian (it wasn't), and would I like to translate it.  Navigation seemingly changes on a page to page basis. Pagination of products is a mess - there is the vaguest sense that you can scroll using your mouse, but no arrow or 'next' buttons, and the font size used is far too small. After a couple of minutes I needed to lie down for a bit.

Chris Lake

Published 2 October, 2012 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Eric

If you had to guess, do you think the site owners will grasp that you're helping them to understand issues that they need to address and test? Or will they just get their feelings hurt and claim you're picking on them?

over 3 years ago

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Per

Many of these findings are exactly why it has become so popular to UX with eye tracking solutions. You don't need 1-200 respondents to find all the designer silliness in the examples presented here. Question is as Eric points out, will they do something about it????

over 3 years ago

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Alexander

Whilst I agree that all could be so much better, I feel you have not understood the concept of a Luxury brand where function is not as important as form.

over 3 years ago

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Jon Dodd, Managing director at Bunnyfoot Ltd

It is common for site owners to claim that usability was not a major consideration in the design and it was all about brand experience (form rather than function). This position could be reasonable if the site experience actually did that - in my experience (testing usability, brand perception, engagement) though problems such as those highlighted in this post often impact negatively on aspects of brand perception.

Basically it's the whole experience that is important and people get that experience from interacting with the sites not through seeing snapshots of static pretty (such as some unenlightened marketing directors might sign off on).

over 3 years ago

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Fred Crehan, Client Success Director at Bazaarvoice

interesting feedback on the article - while i agree that Luxury brands place image at the top of their list of priorities... there is absolutely no reason why they can't make a website useable for their customers. It is fact that luxury consumers do more online the average consumer: shop more, buy more and more often. Addressing their eCommerce needs is an absolute no-brainer...and some of the elements highlighted in this article are basic to say the least...

over 3 years ago

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Sandra Pickering, Founding Partner at opentoSmall Business

Perhaps these ultra-exclusive brands just don't want us plebs buying from them :)

To be serious: many luxury brands have internal cultures built on marketing through personal relationships, events, experiential involvement.
Many still see a website as a thing to box-tick rather than a valuable part of their marketing They are incorrect of course.

Sandra
@opento

over 3 years ago

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David

Agree with many of the comments - particularly Eric... let's hope they can take some constructive criticism! I appreciate usability and especially the navigation on some of the luxury brand sites can be a little "creative" at times to say the least, however you need to look at the agenda. Is the site a direct point of sale, or is it simply a pretty brand brochure/portfolio experinece? When it comes to Ecommerce, usability is key no doubt about it.

over 3 years ago

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Brian Mathers

I don't know Charles but he has just brought to us probably one of the best critique articles of the year. One person commented that the author has not understood the concept of a luxury brand where function is not as important as form. In reality even one was rich, do I have the time to sit and be entertained.

People have a need, they simple want to tap in and find the information they want or the goods they wish to purchase. I can guarantee these brands above were swayed by those who insist they are the market leaders in the 'digital age' this is the luvvies of the industry who are more taken up by this WOW factor and think like a magazine shoot when web marketing is totally different.

Everyone should read the book written by Steve Krugg called Don't Make Me Think. When you start to take into account how search engines work, the accessibility guidelines, people with poor or low quality eyesight, and then the busy life style most people in general have. All they want is the right information at the right time on the right page and not have to fight through to much fluff, that these 'darlings' of the 'digital marketing' sector want those brands to pay thousands for.

I am in Scotland but can hear those luvvies from here with their mouth full of strawberries "Oh darling you must get those people to do your site - everybody knows them, and daddy plays golf with the CEO". (Don't worry that it will cost a fortune and look ridiculous, we just have to be seen spending the money on having the best people - and those with big marketing egos).

OK I am off my soap box now, the message is simple just aim to achieve OnlineXcellence - withouth the fluff! Great websites don't always cost a fortune to build and without the fluff get much more traffic, sales and profits.

over 3 years ago

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Tony Edey, .

I understand the comments above about luxury brands setting themselves apart by being a little more arty. but to actually make their sites hard for anyone to use defies sense. Aspirational sites can be fun and engaging, these are good examples of how not to do it.

Now we need the flip side of the coin - luxury brands doing it right!

over 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

You could argue we have three modes of buying:
1. "Dream" - we're not looking for anything as such but open to being inspired, wanting to aspire to a product etc.
2. "Research" - we know what we want but not exactly which product so we're looking around, researching.
3. "Find" - we know what we want and just want to get it.

Luxury brands typically exist in the 'Dream' mode. But their mistake, as evidenced in this article and these comments, is that they don't *also* do the research/find modes well. And not doing those well not only loses sales but it tarnishes the customer experience and therefore the (luxury) brand.

There are lots of examples of site that do Research/Find well (Amazon, for example) but I'm interested to hear if anyone can think of sites that deliver on all three modes? Or even any sites that 'feel' luxurious online as an experience in totality?

Net-a-porter? John Lewis? IKEA? Burberry? Apple? Some of the car brands like Porsche? Any of the luxury hotel/travel brands? Who best combines form/functionality with luxury/experience/dreaming...?

over 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook AirlinesEnterprise

Brilliant article. The worry is that alongside these is a wealth of other companies with exactly the same problems - apparently frustrating customers is now a requirement for a large volume of marketing directors...!

over 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Thanks for all of your comments.

@Eric - It's criticism, hopefully constructive, and nothing more. Lots of these examples are so easy to fix, or to reconsider. But I am just one voice and maybe some of the above madness works. Some unbiased user testing is what's required.

@Alexander - Perhaps, but Ferraris still require four wheels and a driving wheel in order to work. Moreover, web users have their own expectations of how websites should work, irrespective of brand. Luxury brands might undervalue function, but the user experience of their websites has a big impact on overall customer experience, and they *should* be concerned about that. Otherwise they're swimming in the same pond as Ryanair.

@Jon - Well said. It's amazing how many people think that a usable, hassle-free web experience is akin to "not being creative".

@Brian - Thanks for the good words. A usable / accessible website can still have the wow factor, especially in an age where HTML5, CSS 3 and JQuery have come to the fore.

@Tony - Mindreader. I'm aiming to do a follow-up post on luxury brands with lovely websites... ying meet yang. ; )

@Ashley - There are a few good ones out there, including some of the ones you've mentioned. To be honest I was expecting to see a lot more rubbish, having browsed most of these sites over the years, but overall there has been a lot of improvement recently.

over 3 years ago

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Robert Harrison, Director at 12am Limited

@Chris - great article & obviously hit a nerve among the online community. I wonder if "luxury brands" are above the DDA requirements not to discriminate against vision /sound / mobility challenged customers? In particular, the contrast on most of the luxury sites seems to ignore the legal requirement that vision-challenged customers must be able to discriminate well enough to use the site.

over 3 years ago

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Naomi Brown, Digital Advertising Manager at Wex PhotographicSmall Business Multi-user

Great article- I've always found it incredible that so many luxury brands spend so much on their shop fit outs, but can't get the same attention to detail online. For me a badly thought through website doesn't feel luxury- it feels cheap.

Ashley- interesting you mention Burberry as a possible site that does this well. In my opinion the Burberry site really doesn't work- the photography is lovely but it uses grey-on-black navigation and the product information is standard at best.

Mulberry is another example- they've done great things with adding video content into their site, but kept the horrible side scrolling and although you can see larger images you can't zoom- with luxury brands where detail is crucial this is so important.

over 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Naomi Yes, I agree Burberry UX isn't actually that great. Art of the Trench (http://artofthetrench.com/) is often cited as a great initiative and example of 'content marketing'. I think the idea is great but it takes about nine hours to load the page even on a fast connection. I'm gone.

over 3 years ago

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Jos Williams, Marketing Director

In my experience the best e-commerce people come from the flinty world of low margins. They are brought up in the hard school of knocks, constant innovation, and real focus on holes in the funnel. And, sad to say, most of these guys won't get hired by the luxury lovies. So I think it's probably a cultural issue more than anything.

I think Apple has traditionally been the optimal dream / research / find leader.

over 3 years ago

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Nigel Boor

Tom Ford goes one further & requires latest Flash version. (Not on Android 4 or iOS then.)

over 3 years ago

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JP

I think this is a great article and the comments are interesting.

To me, this is not about what these brands 'should' do, it's about what's in their best interests.

The fact is that a higher proportion than is necessary will not have a good experience on these sites. Of course there are the accessibility considerations but there are others too - If I'm on a mobile device connecting over a mobile data connection and my signal is poor then some of these sites take ages to download, not to mention the issues with displaying some of them on the device itself.

Take Tom Ford for example - I can pinch, but I can't move the view. Many of these deliver video too which again is an issue if I'm out and about/not on WiFi. There is no attempt to deliver content appropriate to the device.

The brand's interest is served best by delivering an experience experience that maximises reach and delivers a luxury class experience thereby reinforcing the luxury values of the brand. This is the case irrespective of medium. Tag Heuer would not allow their ad agency to release something that couldn't be read properly, so how is digital any different?

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Tom Ford's Google listing: http://i.imgur.com/UQG84.png

over 3 years ago

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Kareen Campbell

Interesting & helpful as we are about to revamp or start again with our current website. It's good to know what not to do, even although some do seem obvious. I look forward to reading about who does it right, too. Thank you.

over 3 years ago

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Sandra Pickering, Founding Partner at opentoSmall Business

Jos Williams has hit the nail on the head.
The brand identity reflects the internal cultural identity and - see my earlier post - the internal culture of many of these brands is actual or aspirational membership of the elite class not the school of hard knocks class.

over 3 years ago

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Gemma Holloway

Luxury brands pride themselves on a superior experience throughout their service - a good nights sleep, a beautiful view, a delicious wine - it's only right this superior user experience should start from the beginning - the booking of said experience.

They may have an operations guru who ensures a pleasant experience for a client during the service, but perhaps this supervision should begin from the decision making stage as this is often the most crucial; afterall it is the deciding factor as to whether or not the company receives the business in the first place.

over 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook AirlinesEnterprise

What is interesting is more recent Luxury brands (with less history of doing things their way and beliving this to be the only approac) are doing this.

I've been quite impressed by the way that Secret Escapes (www.secretescapes.com) manage to combine large amounts of imagery and the feeling of luxury with an easy to use functionality to allow you to find out everything you need to know about their breaks and a really simple conversion process.

over 3 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@Matt Yes, Secret Escapes is one I also know and like. Someone pointed out to me this luxury watch brand site - http://www.iwc.com - which I think is excellent.

over 3 years ago

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Jonathan Mallia

Interesting.. i give you four letters KISS and what about smartphone web user interface? some big brands are ignoring the fact that the percentage of people browsing internet from their phone is increasing more and more.. these flashy.. wide cinematic dolby sites are all dying out.. no?

over 3 years ago

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Adrian Jarvis

I suspect these SNAFU happen because (a) they pay agencies virtually nothing as competition to get these brands on their roster is very high (b) the staff at the companies are under paid and underskilled for the same competitive reason (c) they treat the web like a luxury magazines, fearing that a functional website might degrade the brand.

Thank gosh Flash is finally dead and we can get on with building website that work and have some style about them.

over 3 years ago

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Stephan Jaeckel Unternehmens-Berater

So design is what should count with a website and not useability? So we are living in a world where luxury brands offer everything but useability? Well at least in the cases documented we can see some clear failures.

Useability is equal to brand-experience in the web or on any devices used to virtually access the company or brand. Someone at the doorstep of a luxury boutique is the curtesey of the shop and the company and so is useability in the virtual context.

No useability is a clear brand-statement - an anti-statement. Even with luxury googs and luxury services the visitor of the website must be able to easily access what he or she was looking for - no matter if it is pics by a poor beggar admiring the brand or a brand-loyal multiplier from the top 20 percent of customers (by revenue).

And yes, both groups need to be addressed cause one can not feel for the luxury brand without the other ;-)

@Eric (first post) They will rather produce five independent ratings and auditings to their managers or execs to proove that they have doen right, than to improve what they done wrong.

over 3 years ago

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UXBandit

Adrian nailed it.

The most surprising fact is that no one has advised them better.

Or perhaps it is not surprising at all, in an industry that is overridden by hordes of amateurs and posers, and where coolness and aesthetics are supplanting knowledgeable UX at an impressive rate..

over 3 years ago

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Jose

These brands are more interested in design than usability and SEO. Hard to find balance.

over 3 years ago

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

This sort of thing never fails to astound me. When you think of the budget and vast array of highly experienced and talented people these companies could hire how does it do so wring so often? I find it exasperating!

I get that design is as important as usability, if not more so in some cases, but a site offering such pooor UX does little for its own reputation.

over 3 years ago

Stephen Pratley

Stephen Pratley, Digtal Marketing Consultant at Visibly Better Marketing Limited

I'm always surprised about how design & usability are put in separate camps. Steve Jobs once said

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

If you compare these sites to the in-store experience that the customer gets - an obsessive attention to detail and care of the customer - it's completely out of sync.

What's most distressing is watching lesser brands try to copy these examples because they think the big brands know what they're doing.

We've put shoppers through user tests on some of these sites to prove how bad they are to clients and the results have been conclusive to say the least.

It's perfectly possible to have a luxury experience which doesn't alienate your core customer - someone who is far too discerning to jump through hoops for the sake of your corporate ego. However few online brands (low or high margin) ever get close enough to their customers to ever find out what really makes them tick.

I do think a post on best practice rather than knocking such easy targets would be a worthwhile follow-up though.

over 3 years ago

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Ryan Kaye, Head of Digital at Uniform

I have a half written blog post on my computer somewhere on the design of e-commerce sites and I printed off homepages and product pages of over 30 sites I liked.

The one site that stood out when they were all printed out next to each other was http://www.indochino.com/, a great example of how to convey luxury and a great use of imagery, particularly on the product pages.

over 3 years ago

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Karen Wilson

Here's another quote from Steve Jobs: "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough - it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our heart sing."

I'd say these luxury companies forgot to connect the dots somewhere.

over 3 years ago

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Findshel

I would have had a better user experience reading this article if your site was mobile friendly... Just saying

over 3 years ago

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Sally

I find it equally surprises that so many businesses today rely soley on their website for advertising. What's leading your prospects there? NOTHING.

Wake up.

You're missing potential new customers with type of strategy especially the 45+ market that didn't grow up with computers and still listen to radio and read.

over 3 years ago

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Maria

I've just found this article and I honestly loved it, thanks Chris! Brilliant examples! There is one thing I'd like to ask you and it's about using PDF for luxury restaurant menus. Why do you think this sucks? Thanks for answering in advance.

over 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Maria,

Thanks for the good words. Modern browsers handle PDFs better than ever, but I can't see any good reason for not publishing a menu as HTML. The only real reason I've come across for not doing this is that 'it takes time', which is clearly nonsense. It's so easy to copy and paste PDF content into an online editor, and it will take minutes.

From the user's perspective, it's about keeping things simple. If you have a link marked 'menu' then why not show the content right away? Why force the user to click on another link, to a PDF file? Seems so arbitrary, and so pointless, when that content can be presented on the page.

On a related note I have almost completed a post on the anatomy of a perfect restaurant website, which may come in handy. I'll publish it in the next week or so.

Cheers,

c.

over 3 years ago

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Maria

Thanks Chris!

That all makes perfect sense to me. But the reason why I was asking you is because I'm starting to design and develop my own site for English people to make reservations in luxury restaurants in a foreign country. My idea here is that if you download the PDF menu into your phone or tablet, you could access it when you are abroad without an internet connection, meaning that you have the menu in English which you can perfectly understand! Do you think this would be the best thing to use in this case or would you recommend something else?

Sorry, maybe I should have explain all this from the beginning. It's not only about luxury restaurants but also about traveling.

I'm so looking forward to reading your post about the perfect restaurant website.

Thanks again.

over 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Maria: That's quite a specific use case, and I'm not sure how many people would download a menu before they've travelled. I certainly wouldn't, though maybe I'm not typical. I just think that would require a hell of a lot of planning!

A more likely scenario would be that they access the page when they're abroad, and if it is in another language then turn to Google Translate (or a phrasebook) for help. Or to visit via a Google Search, and spotting the 'translate this page' option (as shown here: http://i.imgur.com/A9nmq4k.png).

over 3 years ago

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Maria

Thanks for your comments Chris, really helpful!

over 3 years ago

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