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High end fashion retailer Net-A-Porter recently launched theOutnet.com, a clearance site which offers designer names at discounts of up to 80%.
Several retailers have been busy launching outlet sites this year; they offer a good way to offload out of season stock and, in the current economic circumstances, have the added effect of appealing to bargain hunters.
A bargain on theOutnet.com is more likely to mean paying £300 rather than £450 for a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, so it perhaps doesn't appeal the the same type of shoppers the Debenhams Outlet I reviewed recently, but how does Net-A-Porter's offering compare?
Unlike some other e-tailers, theOutnet.com is a standalone site, which distinguishes it from the main Net-A-Porter website. In fact, unless you click on the 'about us' pages, you wouldn't even see the connection.
The majority of the homepage above the fold is taken up with promoting the latest offers and other sections of the site, meaning that the main navigation options at the top of the page are relatively small.
The look of the site would also be improved if it filled up the whole screen. The vast majority of screen resolutions are now 1024 x 768 or larger, so it would look better for the maximum number of users.
There are some excellent filtered navigation options here, which is especially useful when there will be a lot of stock that is available in a limited number of sizes and colours.
This was an area where the Debenhams outlet section suffers; even after applying filters, I clicked on a number of products only to find that they were out of stock. A potential source of frustration for customers, but this wasn't a problem for the searches I tried on theOutnet.com.
The options for sorting and filtering are good too: you can narrow searches by designer, colour and size which, given the relatively limited stock, is enough to make for a more manageable set of product results.
There is some useful help for customers who are looking for a particular outfit, as the 'Dress Me' section of the site provides ideas for clothes and shoes for different occasions or trends, such as 'day out in the country', 'back to the 80s' or 'Cocktail Hour':
The product pages provide some good detail; the size conversion charts and measuring guides provide some useful information, while the overall page is clean and easy to understand.
The product photos are excellent, showing the shoes and clothes from a range of angles, and the picture quality is good enough to allow you to zoom in close:
Delivery charges should really be shown clearly on product pages, as this is often a big factor on purchase decisions, though when you are about to fork out £1,200 on a dress, this is less important than it would be on other sites.
Basket / checkout
No problems with the shopping basket, except for the lack of delivery charges. I liked the reminder of how much the customer will be saving on the RRP; this reinforces what a bargain they are getting and is one more little push towards the checkout stage:
At the checkout stage, users are made to register first without explanation of the benefits. This is not the best way to handle registration on e-commerce websites, but at least an email address is all that is insisted on.
There are some good features here; the process has been kept relatively short, a reminder of the shopping basket contents has been provided at the payment stage, and a contact phone number is displayed throughout in case shoppers need some assistance.
It could be smoother by adding a postcode lookup option instead of making users enter their entire address, while the whole process has not been enclosed; navigation links that would take shoppers to other areas of the site are visible throughout, which adds a potential distraction for shoppers when they should be concentrating on payment.
TheOutnet.com is an attractive and user-friendly website. While Debenhams has just tacked their clearance range onto its existing site, Net-A-Porter has created a brand new site which avoids the some of the problems of Debenhams Outlet (confusing site search for one), though it is odd that it doesn't seem to have a link from its parent site.
The filtered navigation and product pages are especially impressive, and there are some interesting features to help customers shop, like the 'Dress me' section. Though the checkout process is generally good, a few tweaks like making address entry easier and removing the need for registration may improve conversion rates for the site.