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UK online book retailer Book Depository launched a new version of its site recently, aiming to make it 'best in class, in e-commerce terms'. 

It's a pureplay e-tailer, and has certainly been performing well recently, with sales of more than £40m in the last twelve months, an impressive 160% increase on the previous year, and enough to make the Sunday Times' Fast Track 100 list.

Book Depository homepage

I've been taking a closer look at the site...

Homepage

The Book Depository homepage is well laid out and it's easy enough to find your way around. For users that know what they want, the site search box is nice and prominent at the top of the page, while browsers can navigate using the list of categories down the left hand side of the page.

Other links, to bestsellers, offers etc are available on the top menu bar, though only a couple of these links were working when I tried the site out, meaning I couldn't access the blog or interviews sections.

The rest of the page is taken up with featured books, including editor's picks and recommendations, and charts. One interesting feature is the 'watch people shop map', which shows what people are buying around the world, plotting them on a map and showing their purchases:

Book Depository - watch people shop

This can be pretty interesting to watch, and can be viewed in full screen as well. It also has the added effect of reinforcing the international free delivery offered by the site.

Search / navigation

There is a nice big search box and some decent advanced search options for if you want to look for a book by author, title, ISBN etc, while the browse section along the left provides plenty of categories. The website indexes some 1.8m titles so good browsing and filtering tools are important to make searches manageable for users.

There are some good filtering options here; for instance, you can browse by category and sub-category, sort results by price, publication date and popularity, as well as do a keyword search within the filtered results.

This works well for some searches, but if you're browsing through categories which contain a large number of titles, then these filter options are sometimes not enough.

Book Depository

For example, if I browse through to the General and World History section and search for 'Stalin', I still have 157 results over 8 pages to look through, which can be off-putting. Some further sub-categories like those provided on the Borders website would be useful, and would help users to produce a more manageable set of results.

Product pages

The product pages do the basics well, most of the crucial information on price and delivery charges is made clear, add to basket buttons stand out, while a selection of related titles is provided. 

Book Deoository product pages

There are a couple of issues though; while delivery charges are clear, information on when products will be delivered is harder to find. Perhaps a link to this from the product page might be more useful for shoppers.

Also, some more useful information on the books themselves could be provided. There is a space for reviews, but this is hidden below the fold, while more detailed information is hidden under the label 'bibliographic data'. Some clearer labelling and greater prominence for this kind of information would perhaps be more useful.

Book Depository MD Kieron Smith, who we interviewed last year, introduced some useful community features when he worked on BookRabbit, allowing users of the site to upload their own books and rate them, which provides more useful reviews and ratings information to help people decide on purchases. These kinds of features would be useful on this site.

Checkout process

This process on the site is impressive and follows much of e-commerce checkout best practice advice. It has been streamlined to make purchasing as smooth and simple as possible, with just two steps in the process after leaving the shopping basket page.

Making users register before the checkout is generally a bad idea; as this example from Jared Spool shows, it places unnecessary obstacles in front of customers and can reduce conversion rates. The Book Depository deals with this issue neatly by giver users the choice of either entering their existing login details or checking out without registering, with the chance to register afterwards if desired:

Checkout process - registration

With the exception of the contact and privacy policy links at the bottom of the page, the checkout has been enclosed, meaning distractions have been removed from shoppers. Key questions which users may have, on countries delivered to, payment methods etc are dealt with by this menu on the left hand side of the page; users can click on the links and see the information below without having to leave the checkout page:

Checkout FAQs

The checkout process, which takes three or four steps on most e-commerce sites (or about ten on GoDaddy), has been condensed into just two pages; payment and delivery details, and order confirmation:

Checkout process

Shoppers are only asked for the information that is essential to make a purchase, making it as smooth as possible, while error messages on the site are clear, and give users instructions to rectify problems, including explaining details such as CCV codes on credit card, all without sounding too patronising: 

Checkout error message

Conclusion

While some more filtering and browsing options would improve the site, along with more reviews and useful information on product pages would improve the site, The Book Depository is impressive, especially for the clarity of information and the ease with which shoppers can complete their purchases on the site.

I'm also impressed by the fact that the site does not limit itself to selling books in the UK, but allows anyone around the world (with some exceptions) to buy from the site, and have their books delivered free, which is a simple and attractive proposition for customers.

Jake Hird has written on this blog about cross-border e-commerce and the opportunities for growth that it provides for UK retailers. The Book Depository, with its impressive sales growth, provides an excellent example of how well this can work.

Graham Charlton

Published 5 March, 2009 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 (24)

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Hate "Watch people shop"

I *hate* the Watch People Shop feature. Do you know how I can turn it off, or how I can get it so my own purchases don't appear? Otherwise, I just won't shop there.

over 7 years ago

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Ian

Give them (The Book Depository) your e-mail and get their SPAM for ever more.  I opened an account (with all the options saying "don't e-mail me anything".  I still got marketing from them.  I unsubscribed (loads of times) and still got marketing spam from them.  I e-mailed them about it and they apologised and I still got marketing spam from them.  I told them to pull their fingers out and to start behiving reputably and they just ignored me and I still get marketing spam from them.

Open and account giving them your e-mail address only if you love spam as they are certainly a totally disreputable company with regards to spam.

about 7 years ago

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Kieron

In reply to the two comments,

(1) I'm sorry you dislike the watch people shop feature, the map has received a huge number of positive comments and all purchases are completely anonymous and at country or state level (in the US).

(2) Ian, I'm sorry you've had issues with our e-mail, it sounds like something definitely went wrong there as our intention isn't to spam anyone, if you're still having issues please email me at md @ bookdepository.co.uk and I'd be happy to resolve.

All the best

Kieron

about 7 years ago

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Kate

I've ordered 5 books with the Book depository on the 13th July, afer a week 2 books arrived. However, there's no sigh of remaining 3 books ( they worth £100). I've tried to get in touch with them writing 12 e-mails, to which they didin't even bother to reply. There's no phone no. and if they fail to respond to e-mails it means that you're left high and dry. Customer's  service is non existant. What they do is outrageous!!! I will Never ever use tham again

about 7 years ago

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Kate

Does anybody know the phone number to the non existant customer service department? ( as they do not replyied to any of my numerous e-mails)I would apreciate. Thanks

about 7 years ago

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mark

So how do you turn of watch people shop i find it distracting

over 6 years ago

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Kirss

why on earth they are doing maintainence repairs unnoticed???!!

one day the site works just perfect, another day i want to track my order,,, and whoalaaa:

Sorry!

Due to planned maintenance the site is currently unavailable.

We are working on some important updates and we will be back with you soon.

------

Is this normal?

over 6 years ago

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João M

the book depository sucks. Every pre-order I made was canceled. I didn't get a single product I pre-ordered. And they don't tell you anything, you check status and it may say "awaiting publication" for months. And I don't know where my money is. Don't trust them anymore

over 6 years ago

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Mark

I've had no trouble with the .uk book depository site, but the FIRST TIME I made an order with the .com site it all went arse up. I paid for it immediately, they said it should be dispatched within 3 days, now a month later and I've heard nothing from them and I don't have my book.

over 6 years ago

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Peter

I've been using the bookdepository since December last year, I mentioned it to my supervisor (our old manager had recommended it to her), so it's getting quite a reputation as a worthwhile place to order one's books from. I've order close to 50-60 books and all have arrived very fast and in excellent condition - all order items have been filled with no cancellations. Overall, my experience has been excellent, customer service wise. Bookdepository has a presence on Twitter and I've found the manager to be very diligent in responding to queries / addressing customer service issues - overall 5/5 - well recommended for Australian customers who are sick of paying A&R / Borders' extraordinary pricing for their books

over 6 years ago

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BookDepository fan

I'm a big fan of BookDepository. I had been buying books at Amazon but they have huge shipping costs for delivering books to my country. Switched to BD and never looked back.

about 6 years ago

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Simon Kennett

I have only used them once. I ordered two books 2 weeks ago and still nothing has arrived. I've received a couple of e-mails fobbing me off but little else. Yes their website is very good but their customer service is lousy in my book (!). Amazon has little to fear in my opinion.

The lack of a telephone number doesn't instill confidence and speaks volumes about how they operate. I for one won't be using them again, life's too short.

My advice is to look at Amazon first and then other sites. A visit to The Book depository should be viewed as a 'last resort' option.

Now, where are my books???!!!

almost 6 years ago

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Nina

Like Ian (comment in 2009) I have tried many times to unsubscribe from this 'bloody' site, but with no success. So quite clearly they have not cleaned up their act in that respect. This site is a joke - be warned - steer clear!!

almost 6 years ago

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Hawker

thebookdepository.co.uk

bookdepository.co.uk

Customer services telephone : UK (44) 01452 307905

No telephone numbers on their website?

BEWARE!!!! Customer pays postage for any returns!

I won't be using them again.

almost 6 years ago

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jammin

Bought and paid for a pre-sale limted book- They gave me a confirmation. A week later they ran out of books so they canceled my order. The book is sold out everywhere so I cannot get it. They sold my book that I pre-paid for. Terrible customer service.

almost 6 years ago

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Lim

@Jammin : The same thing happened to me just yesterday. Was it one of the newly republished Chalet school books for you? My email message just informed me that the line was cancelled (I pre-ordered and paid in September). When I checked the website, that book was listed as out of stock. Ridiculous.

almost 6 years ago

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Adam

I also had spamming issues with Book Depository. I ticked all the 'don't email me boxes and they sent me a newsletter anyway'.

That's fine, they just don't get my business any more.

over 5 years ago

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Will

Their website mangled my data, and the books I ordered were sent to an address that was obviously incomplete: just my name and the name of the large town where I live. No books ever arrived, and Book Depository refused to send another shipment until they received the package back in their warehouse. They told me to "contact us on a weekly basis to see if we have received the titles." (!!) I then asked for a refund, but of course they refused. No phone number on the website, no way to talk with a live person. All communications via Email and extremely unhelpful. I greatly regret having ordered through them.

over 5 years ago

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Lola

Didn't receive the book after two months. They can't provide a tracking # or even the method of shipment. Turns out they sent it without my street address and fail to see how that is a problem. Also fail to see how that is their fault. They refuse to re-send the book or to give a refund. Horrible customer service. I've seen other comments/reviews with the exact same scenario. They are obviously choosing to rip off a percentage of their customers to appear they are offering good prices to everyone else. (USA)

over 5 years ago

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Stelios

I also ordered some books from BookDepository for the first time on October 2010.
At early November, and while my books never arrived, they said that a full refund of 137.5 euros will appear in my account shortly.
Shortly became FOREVER, so at January 10 of 2011 after I managed to find aphone number of them at last(!!!),some representative called Lu reassured me that they would send a cheque shortly (AGAIN!).
Then on February 17 after I wrote them that if I don't get my cheque until the 25th, everyone on the web would hear my story, they replied that they would immediately contact their accounting department in order to send the cheque ....guess again....SHORTLY!
I really hope they will clear my issue eventually and save me from 137.5 euros of expenditure, which -believe me- in Greece especially is a large amount of money!

over 5 years ago

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SteveWA

As a long time Amazon book shopper I thought I would try BD for a set of books that I have been wanting for a long time – The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (60 volumes).
I first e-mailed them and asked if they actually had it in stock, very quick reply – oh yes we have 30 sets. All good so on the 23rd Feb I ordered the books and almost immediately $AU2217.86 was debited to my AMEX. So far all good, with 30 copies in stock I expected to get them soon.
On the 4th March I received an e-mail and was told the order was cancelled, could not supply and would refund the money to my AMEX. Annoying but still OK, I will order from Amazon at a slightly higher price.
The next day I checked my AMEX and noted a deposit from BD of just under $AU1400, a shortfall of around $AU800.
Three e-mails later I eventually get an e-mail saying they had payed the correct amount and would do nothing about it and saying not to contact them about the matter again. They even hinted that they would not cooperate with AMEX in any investigation.
The matter is now in the hands of AMEX international investigations who I trust will resolve the matter.
Will I or anyone I know do business with BD again? Absolutely NO. Dont do business with them for anything other than cheap books where you potentially have little to lose.
If a BD manager wishes to contact me and resolve this matter I will be happy to post a retraction but as it stands at the moment I have been well and truly shafted by BD to the tune of over $AU800.

over 5 years ago

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allan baggett

I have had good service from the BD, UP UNTIL NOW - I ordered a Yoshitomo Nara book for NZ$200 (100GBP).
It arrived ok, but the outer box had been defaced (glossy label removed)and there was no Nara tote bag (included in all boxes). They'd obviously shipped me a return or taken the bag out and label off.
They want me to return the item (cost NZ$100), so I've said no to that. I've asked for a refund or a tote bag, but are still waiting for an answer a week later.
I will never buy from Book Depository again, Amazon and Fishpond NZ are far superior!!!

almost 4 years ago

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Antonio

I've used them before without issue (apart from the spamming). Although I use an auxiliary e-mail address as they are notorious for spamming.

Recently though I tried several times to order and got a "checkout unavailable" message. However other people seem to be "shopping" fine, so I wonder why I keep getting the message?

Anyway soon I gave up and just ordered it from Amazon (they are basically the same now anyway, just slightly different pricing models).

almost 4 years ago

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Rich

I've been using them over a year....minimal/no trouble far.

I only get cheap books, but love the free-postage policy, totally. Amazon is out of the question for me now, the postage just kills the deal.

over 3 years ago

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