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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 

Graham Charlton

Published 2 May, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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Jon

I'm getting a little bored with these site reviews and wonder how much value they actually hold for most readers of this blog.

The author nearly always points out the same issues, such as the drop-down menus ,which many including myself probably disagree with him about anyway. I wonder if it would be possible to base these reviews on more hard facts and research rather than personal preference ?

He has also managed to miss next.co.uk's biggest failing which is that the website actually SHUTS at midnight each night, which is absolutely crazy.

about 8 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Jon,

Sorry to bore you!

If I'm pointing out similar things in these posts, this is because a lot of e-commerce sites are making the same mistakes, some of which should be relatively easy to fix.

My observations on these sites are grounded in our research into e-commerce best practice. We aim to highlight areas where sites can improve their conversion rates.

As for Next shutting at midnight, that is crazy if that is the case. Having looked at the site during daylight hours, I missed that.

Graham

about 8 years ago

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LEON Bailey Green

Jon, I have to disagree with you. I enjoy reading Graham's site reviews.

They are positive and focus on what improvements can be made.

You point out that "next.co.uk's biggest failing which is that the website actually SHUTS at midnight each night". Rather than look at 'failings', do you not think it is more constructive to read about improvements?

about 8 years ago

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amartin

Graham, How etailers should deal with Amazon's terms on negative feedback would be interesting. More and more shoppers on Amazon have twigged that if they leave negative feedback even when entirely satisfied they can then barter with the seller for a refund/free product etc in return for removing it. Amazon's terms accept feedback may be a mistake but then state the only way something that is wrong can be removed is for the etailer to offer the customer some inducement to remove it.

'Sometimes buyers make a mistake in how they evaluate a merchant. However, once feedback is submitted it cannot be edited, whether the rating or the comment is inaccurate. If buyers submit feedback and then want to retract it, the only solution is to remove the feedback ratings and any associated comments.

Please note: Only buyers can remove their own feedback, and they can do so only within 60 days from the date they submitted the feedback. Buyers remove their feedback using the Order Summary page in the Your Account section of the Amazon.co.uk Web site.

Advice on how to deal with this would be helpful.

How removing negative feedback helps your feedback ratings

This removal of feedback gives merchants a way to recover from negative buyer experiences. When merchants address the concerns of buyers, they can request that buyers remove their feedback. This means buyers can reward merchants for the efforts the merchants take to address the buyers' problems.

If you feel you have done everything that you can do to address a problem, you can then politely ask buyers if they would feel comfortable removing the negative feedback for that transaction. '

about 8 years ago

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Kal

Hi,
Most likely Jon works for next. lol ...dont worry about him, some of us dont like to be critized.

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Well it's all intended to be constructive and I'm sure Next would increase revenues if it adopted some of these suggestions.

As for 'hard facts', well, we have no access to Next's backend data / KPIs so it is difficult to make suggestions on that basis, but in any case the data is a bit meaningless on its own. We'd need 'before data', then to implement changes, then 'after data'.

Obviously if Next does take any of this onboard we'd love to hear about the upside or, heaven forbid, downside... ; )

about 8 years ago

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Mukesh Rughani, Manager at Personal

One of the main observation of Next site is that it is designed to be a catalogue online. I guess from the days when migration from catalogue to online was key objective. The site needs to be redesigned with online shoppers in mind.

about 8 years ago

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Amanda Wright, Business Development Director at Pyott

I agree with all the comments in the review, and with the comments of MR. I would also add that their email marketing is not very good either. It also feels like they're trying to transpose what they do in mail order to the online channel, except the graphic design of the emails is poor quality in comparison with how they present themselves on their other retail channels. As a big internet 'impulse shopper', I have never been encouraged to buy anything from their website, although I like their products and I often buy things from their stores.

about 8 years ago

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Jens Jørgensen

I totaly agrre with everything here, and cud Next please do something about its customers in Denmark that would love to purchase online, cos the store attendants out here are plainly rude, uncutious and unhelpful. Very Rude manager also.

over 7 years ago

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Amanda Wright, Business Development Director at Pyott

Their emails have drastically improved over the last few months so perhaps our "boring" posts have some value after all!

over 7 years ago

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