WHSmith last week launched a stand-alone website, selling DVDs and CDs, as well as its range of electronics and computing online, leaving everything else to be sold on WHSmith.co.uk.
The move also reflects the retailer's strategy of reducing its presence in entertainment offline. Sales in this category had fallen by 18% in the year to July 2008 and it has been removing such products from its stores.
I've been having a look at the new site...
However, it laid out in a way that makes it easy for visitors to understand, with a clear top navigation menu, search box, and browsing options on the left hand side of the page.
I like the fact that any questions about delivery costs are dealt with on the front page, with WHSmith offering free delivery on all products, this removes one potential barrier to purchasing from customers' minds straight away.
Search / navigation
The site provides plenty of categories for browsing, as well as best-selling and suggested products for each menu option. However, the lack of decent filtering options makes browsing more difficult for some products.
For instance, if you search for music CDs in the 'indie' category, you will find an A to Z list with hundreds of titles to search through, with no way of narrowing further, only options to sort by price, release date, title etc. If WHSmith wants to make its site more browsable it needs more sub categories and filters to make such searches more manageable.
The site search is accurate enough, and worked well for the queries I tried out, though it also needs more filtering options for search phrases which may return a lot of results. It also couldn't handle any misspelled search terms, just giving me a 'no results found' page.
Common or obvious misspellings should be dealt with by showing alternative product suggestions, or WHSmith could use an auto-suggest feature to make it more likely that customers' searches will return meaningful results.
The product pages on the site do provide most of the basic information required by customers; price, delivery details, product summary, but there are some omissions.
Most pages have only one product photo, and these are very small and cannot be zoomed in on. Other potentially useful feature for selling entertainment products, such as video previews or user reviews are missing.
WHSmith also displays some items that are out of stock, without either explaining when the product will be available again, or else offering options like emailing customers when they are back in stock.
This information is often conveyed in a way that could confuse customers: in this example, the product is labelled 'sold out' but underneath it is stated that the product is usually dispatched within four working days:
This wasn't the only example I found. On this product page for an Xbox 360 console, it is labelled in small text as out of stock, yet I was able to add it to my shopping basket, register and begin the checkout process. This is the sort of thing that will irritate customers and have them heading for a competitor. If an item is out of stock it should be clearly labelled as such.
Basket / Checkout
A summary of basket contents is displayed on the right hand side of the page on you browse the site, which is helpful for shoppers, while the basket page itself is simple enough.
WHSmith makes the mistake of forcing users to register before they start the checkout process. Customers dislike having to do this, and it is an unnecessary obstacle to place in front of customers. This example of a company that removed this step and made $300m in additional sales as a result should make e-tailers think about the need for registration.
The rest of the process is simple enough and has been enclosed to remove distractions from customers. Some key questions are dealt with by pop-up boxes that keep customers on the checkout page, while a clear customer service phone number has been provided on the page.
This website is not an awful one to use, and is relatively simple for customers to understand, but there are some basic errors made here that adversely affect the user experience. Things like showing out if stock items and making users register are errors which could be fixed easily, and could have a positive effect on the usability and conversion rates.
Also, the fact that WHSmith has chosen to launch a separate site for entertainment products is puzzling, and it is a move that runs the risk of confusing customers.
After all, the navigation links for DVDs, music etc are still there on the old site, so why not just leave all the products on the one site? Now, to get to the Entertainment section, customers have one more link to click, which just makes it that little bit harder for customers to make a purchase.