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Laura Ashley's website does have some good points, but having used it this week while searching for furniture, I think there are a few areas which could be improved upon.

I've come up with ten suggestions that would improve the usability of the Laura Ashley website...

Tone down the Flash

The website uses a large Flash display that showcases the various sections of the site, latest additions to its range, special offers etc. The problem is, it's just too big. It takes over more room on the page than it needs to, and also has the effect of making the pages on the site load more slowly than they otherwise would.

Don't hide too much below the fold

The huge Flash display is the main culprit here; the sheer size of the thing means that, even once you have selected an option from it, new collection for instance, you can't see it because it pushes everything else below the fold. I actually thought there was a fault on the site until I realised that I could actually scroll down. I wonder how many users give up on the site for this very reason. 

If Laura Ashley insists on having the Flash display, then it should at least restrict it to the homepage and shrink it it a little so that, once a shopper has selected an option from it, they can see the crucial navigation links they need to continue shopping.

Improve the FAQs

Clicking the customer service link at the top of the screen will take you to this page full of questions which do not link to any further information which actually answers them. This means that customers will struggle to find answers to crucial questions about things like delivery charges and returns policies. 

Laura Ashley FAQs

Use a larger font for navigation options

The text for navigation links is way too small, as well as being too close together, meaning that it stands out less than it should, making it that little bit harder for users to click on.

Navigation options

Make delivery information less vague

I'm not too impressed by the delivery options on the site and the related information. Amongst the navigation options are links for '28 day express delivery' and '35 day express delivery', neither of which sounds much like express delivery to me.

Clicking on either these links will give you a list of items, but when you get to the product pages, such as this one in the 28 day category, this delivery option is not available. The information is vague as well: 'approximate delivery lead time 8 weeks'.

If John Lewis can deliver this cupboard free within seven days, and on a set date, why can't Laura Ashley at least be a bit more specific about delivery times?

Show delivery charges on product pages

People like to know delivery charges before they make a purchase decision, so one way to deal with this is to provide this information on product pages, where this decision is likely to be made.

A flat fee or a free delivery offer advertised on the homepage and around the site is the best way to get this across and would prevent customers having to hunt around for the information.

As it is, Laura Ashley compounds this problem by making users go a couple of steps into the checkout process before revealing this information:

Laura Ashley delivery charges

Don't show out of stock products

I came across several items on the site that, though they showed up while browsing the site, turned out to be unavailable when I attempted to add them to my basket, like this lovely jumper for instance:

Laura Ashley out of stock item

Not displaying out of stock items at all is one way to deal with the problem and avoid customer frustration, while other options include offering alternative products or emailing people when the item comes back in. Laura Ashley doesn't do any of this.

Provide some signs of security

For customers with security concerns, displaying logos like Verisign provides a visual reassurance to customers that their card details are safe and that they can trust the site. Laura Ashley does provide links to security information, but these are easily missed.

Don't make users register before checkout

Laura Ashley insists that users register before entering the checkout, though at least this only requires an email address; a password is taken later. Providing the option to checkout without registering removes one potential obstacle for customers wanting to make a purchase.

It should consider making this optional, or at least do more to explain the benefits of registration (order tracking, saved details for next time etc) to customers.

Laura Ashley checkout registration

Enclose the checkout

The search box, top navigation menu, and all of the links along the bottom of the page are still on display during the checkout process, providing a potential distraction for customers when they are supposed to be getting on with the purchase.

Enclosing the checkout by removing the main navigation and all unnecessary links, except for those to things like returns policies and delivery details, can have the effect of focusing the customer's mind and funnelling them towards payment.

Graham Charlton

Published 30 April, 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

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Ed Sexton

Can my company get a free usability audit too?!

over 7 years ago

Adeel Farooq

Adeel Farooq, Director at Interactive Media Gems

some great tips. i strongly agree with cutting down on flash..

over 7 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Graham, the Help page you link, does include hyper-links that answer the questions - not sure how you missed the links (maybe the site has a weird browser compatibility issue  - what browser did you use?)

But they seem to have a confusing collection of 3 different help pages: the top 'customer services' tab that you mentioned leads to a  page titled 'Help' which is different to the 'Help & FAQ's link at the footer (page called Help and FAQs), which is different again to the 'FAQs' link within the 'Help' page above, which takes you to a 3rd variant, titled 'FAQ'.

Nearly as confusing as Asda, I just went there briefly , worked out I needed to click 'groceries' at the top before I could move on - entered my postcode and then was welcomed with the message:

---------------

Hello welcome back.

Not you? Click here

------------------

What did they mean ' not you' ?! (yeah, I know it would make sense if they'd spotted my cookies and said 'Hello Deri, welcome back'.... so I guess someone left that text in the template, regardless of whether users' cookies are recognised or not).

Deri

PS Laura Ashley pages seemed a little slow - wonder what kind of web load testing they've done

over 7 years ago

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brapdotya

could'nt agree more about the Flash part. Not all instances require Flash to flash out some highlights. Was a cool thing last time -- not today.

but i don't dig Laura Ashley anyway. The littlest fonts make you puke. Urrghh...  don't they know whats cool these days?

over 7 years ago

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Jaarus

Quite a few typo's as well. For example, the ruturns screen has a link called:

When so I get refunded once I've returned an item?

Which personally I would have not expected, coming from a brand such as this.

over 7 years ago

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robert

usability-wise, the main issue I can see is the text font, it's difficult to read.... in terms of the bulkiness of the homepage, it is not so bad, despite the flash the page is under 400Kb which is not ideal, but also not that heavy considering the multimedia, the images, in general are light and well optimised. perhaps the markup would benefit from a bit of maintenance as it does render 56 errors on W3C validation. I would perhaps review the title tags which, with exception of the product catalogue are perhaps too simple, but it  might work well for them.

over 7 years ago

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Joanne

Great feedback! As the site is powered by Venda it will be interesting to see how much influence Laura Ashley have in getting the changes made.

over 7 years ago

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Will Trafford

It's a shame, some of Venda's other sites really hit the mark. Agree that the font is an issue, and the massive flash banner that is on too many pages - it's fine for a section head, but once you've chosen say Cushions and Throws, think it would be a lot more usable if it dissapeared. Something that they seem to have missed is the close-up view from some of their products - a real shame. Suppose my mother (46) would be a traditional Laura Ashley customer - but think she'd struggle with this one.

over 7 years ago

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Justin

I like turtles.

over 6 years ago

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Charlie

Personally i find that the flash based content takes a while to load and is a little dated, I like the background though. I wish the site reflected the high quality of the company more.

over 5 years ago

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