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Retailer Toys R Us has just launched a revamped version of its website, with the stated aim of making the site more intuitive and easy to navigate for users.
The company, which also claims to have been the first national retailer to launch an e-commerce site back in 1996, has announced the fourth version of the site using the hybris e-commerce platform. So has it improved the user experience for shoppers?
The Toys R Us homepage is appealing to look at, and well laid out. Navigation options are laid out on the left as well as the top of the screen, while the search box has been moved to a prominent position under the navigation bar.
At the moment, much of the centre of the page above the fold is devoted to promoting the sale, and showcasing a handful of the best deals, while the space below the fold promotes email signups, other products like experience days and photos, as well as showing payment and server security logos. A fair amount of blank space has been left unfilled at the bottom though, which could perhaps be put to better use.
The navigation menu is easy to use and makes the site more browsable than the previous incarnation. As well as using the top and left menus on the homepage, you can search by sale offers promoted above the fold and narrow your search from there.
The top navigation is also present consistently across every page of the site, which makes it easier both for shoppers to get back to a previous point on their product search, or for visitors that have arrived directly at product pages from search engines to continue shopping.
The option to browse for products by age range is also a useful way of narrowing searches, though the age bands could be more useful by allowing users to select more than one age range for instance:
What makes the site more browsable is the fact that effective feature filtering options have been provided so that users can easily narrow down their product search by eliminating irrelevant results. There are plenty of features to choose from, and these filters can easily be added and removed:
I did come across a number of out of stock items though, including virtually the entire range of laptops. All were displayed in the product category, but most were unavailable for purchase. At least shoppers cannot add them to their basket, but Toys R Us should consider not displaying out of stock items at all, or else providing the option of emailing customers when products are available again which is a useful way of saving the sale as well as getting more customer details for marketing databases.
As well as increasing the size of the search box on the homepage where it will attract more users, the quality of search results is impressive. Results were accurate for the terms I tried, and the site even dealt effectively with most misspelled terms:
Some prompted search would be useful though, to avoid misspellings and make it easier to use, while options like being able to search for products within particular sections of the site would also be a good idea.
said, the search returns relevant results on the majority of searches,
while the filtering and sorting options make it easy to narrow and make
sense of the lists of products.
The product pages are fairly basic, and could do with some improvement. The basics are there, essential information for more technical products like laptops is provided, while quality product photos are offered. The zoom feature is useful, though the fact that you have to click on the 'zoom' link then hover over the photo to zoom in should be explained more clearly, as many users may miss this.
Elsewhere, the call to action buttons stand out clearly, but the problem with these pages is the features that have been left out. There is no information about delivery charges, except for the note that spending £150 or more will qualify you for free delivery. Likewise, no information on delivery times can be seen until you are well into the checkout process.
Shoppers like to know how much delivery will cost and when they can expect to receive their purchases, and providing this kind of information can make a big difference.
Contact details and returns policy information can be found, but only by hunting around for the links in the footer. This information could and should be made more accessible for customers.
In fact, on closer inspection, the contact information on offer is pretty shocking. Unless it has been very well hidden, a contact number cannot be found anywhere on the site, while contacting Toys R Us by email means filling out a form with address details and more and hoping for the best, as no response time is provided. An hour after sending a question by email, I hadn't even received an acknowledgement.
Some customers may have a question about the product, delivery etc that they want answering before placing an order. When they cannot get this information quickly by phone they may just choose to shop elsewhere instead.
Aside from this, product pages on the site would be improved by the addition of user reviews.
This can provide a nudge for customers debating a purchase, as can help
to improve conversion rates. Plenty of its competitors already have
this feature, and Toys R Us should consider the benefits of this
The basket is pretty basic, though at least customers will find out at this stage how much they will pay in delivery charges, although customers are still made to wait until the end of the checkout process for the full range of delivery options.
Making customers register or login before the checkout process is never a good idea, and Toys R Us makes this mistake by adding this page between the basket and checkout:
This means that new users have to enter an email address before they can proceed, and returning users need to enter their email address and password. Registration should be optional, and seamlessly integrated into the purchase process to avoid annoying customers. The current system places unnecessary obstacles in front of customers, and removing this step could be an easy way to help improve conversion rates.
I wasn't impressed with the overall checkout process on the site, which asks for too much information before customers can place their orders. Before you can even enter your address details, it asks for you to confirm the email you have already entered and set a password for future use. It also asks for customers' dates of birth which, though potentially useful for marketing purposes, is not necessary to make a purchase.
This should therefore be avoided, or at least made optional, but Toys R Us insists on this before you can proceed, which probably means that the company has a lot of false birth date information on its files. A link is provided to explain why it needs this information. I was curious to know the reason stated, but this is all I got:
As well as asking for such unnecessary information from its customers, half of the page is taken up with newsletter sign up options, which are not essential to get shoppers further into the purchase process.
The button to proceed is also pretty unclear, and may be missed by some users. Instead of labelling it something like 'proceed to next step' , it is labelled 'submit' which is too vague. Also, the call to action button is not the most prominent link on the page, which it should be.
Only at this point, having registered and entered your date of birth,
address etc, do you get to know the different delivery times and
charges, which is far too late in the whole process. This is not the
best checkout process I have seen.
While the redesign has improved the look of the site, and the search and browsing options are impressive, as well as the range of feature filters to make product searches more accurate, the site is let down by inadequate information on the product pages and a poor checkout process.
These are problems that can easily be fixed though, by adding some more detail to product pages and removing unnecessary steps and questions from the checkout.
Graham Charlton is Senior Reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.