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Having been one of the higher profile victims of the credit crunch, Shop Direct Group relaunched Woolworths today as an online retailer.

There is still some affection and nostalgia for the brand, so resurrecting it online seems like a smart move, but how does the Woolworths website shape up?

Woolworths hompage

Homepage layout

I'm not especially impressed with the look of the homepage, and the site in general. A lot of the screen has been left bare, and the colour scheme and general look and feel is quite dated. It doesn't compare well with rival retailers like John Lewis or M&S for instance.

Most of the space above the fold is dominate by a Flash display which provides three shopping options; main website, entertainment, and Party and Pick n' Mix shop.

If you click on the main shop, you will get a display of small revolving pictures of random products. This takes up a lot of the valuable above-the-fold space without seeming to do much to actually promote products. A display of special offers, new stock, or bestsellers would be a much better idea.

It has added a feature which shows what people are buying from the site and plots in on a map of the UK. This is something The Book Depository has been doing for a while.  

It's an interesting feature, though displaying a smaller version on the homepage, as The Book Depository does, might be a better way to promote it and showcase the products that people are buying.

Search and navigation

The site has been split into three separate sections, which is confusing for customers, and seemingly unnecessary. This is something I criticised Asda for last year, and sensibly the supermarket changed this when it redesigned its site recently.

Effectively, the three sections are separate websites, with distinct checkouts and shopping baskets. This means that, if you select some pick n' mix, then decide you'd like to buy a DVD as well from the entertainment section, you will get a message like this:

Woolworths

The message tells you that you need to checkout before you visit a different section of the same website, otherwise you will lose the contents of your shopping basket.

In another example, the way the site is divided means that games and consoles are in separate sections, so if you want to buy an Xbox, then a couple of games to go with it, this requires them to register and checkout twice, and also means that Woolworths misses out on the opportunity to cross-sell games when people buy consoles.

This is absolute lunacy, as it's something that will no doubt infuriate shoppers, who will not understand why they need to checkout twice to buy items from the one site.

The madness continues though, as different logins are also required for the three sections. Having already signed up for the party section, going to the trouble of entering and confirming email addresses and paswords, my login details would not work for the entertainment site:

Woolies login madness

Making customers register is questionable enough on e-commerce sites, but making them do it three times on the same site is asking too much of customers, especially as there's no explanation at all as to why this is necessar. 

Returning customers, having registered for another section of the site to buy some pick'n mix, will wonder why their login details don't work when they want to buy a DVD, and many will simply give up in frustration.

While the site search was accurate enough for the terms I tested out, it forces users to select a category to search within, which means that if you just type in a query and press search, as you would expect to be able to do, you get an error message:

Woolies search error

Forcing users to select a category first is just making them work harder than they need to in order to find something on the site. Using the search box indicates a degree of purchase intent, so it should be made as easy as possible to do. Let them search first and refine using categories afterwards if necessary.

Product pages

The pick n' mix page is good, and is quite good fun to use. You do have to buy at least 100g of each type of sweet, so it doesn't exactly recreate the instore experience, but this is understandable:

Wollies pick n' mix

Elsewhere, though the product pages convey the basics, they do lack a few features and useful information for customers.

Delivery costs are not made clear, which is a mistake considering that this is an important factor in customers' purchase decisions. Product photos are basic, while the product descriptions don't really make enough of an effort to sell the product.

Woolies product page

Basket / checkout(s)

Having added it to my basket and headed for the summary page, I do find out about delivery charges for this Xbox console, and crucial information, such as returns and security policies and contact details are provided via links on the page. There are also logos to reinforce site security and show the different payment methods available.

The checkout processes for the three sections of the site are different. All require some form of registration, though the Party section does it best, taking an email address and asking customers to set a password as part of the checkout.

Woolies Party registration

On the entertainment section, the registration process is the most annoying, making you enter the most information before checking out, though it does at least set out some of the advantages of registering; offers, order tracking etc.

On the main site, you are asked for your date of birth as part of the checkout process, and this is a mandatory field (though it isn't on the other two checkouts the site).

While this may be useful for marketing purposes, this is something that some shoppers will object to, and since it isn't needed to complete the purchase, it should be left out, or made optional at the very least.

None of the three checkout processes is enclosed either, with the main navigation links left at the top of the page:

Conclusion

I'm disappointed with the Woolworths website, the general look and feel of the site is dated, and it doesn't stand up well next to rival retailers' websites, or even other Shop Direct sites such as Littlewoods.

The way the site has been split over three sections seems like a big mistake, as it is terrible for the customer experience, and is likely to wind-up several shoppers with its multiple logins and checkout processes.

Elsewhere, while most of the basic are covered, and the site works well enough, there are several issues to be fixes, such as clearly displaying delivery charges and making the site search easier to use.

Relaunching a well known brand like Woolworths online seems like a good idea, but an appealing and usable website is essential to make it work, and this isn't one. It doesn't even improve on the old Woolies website.

Graham Charlton

Published 25 June, 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 (20)

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Gavin Will

Have you seen the html validation on this site ! 1010 errors http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.woolworths.co.uk%2F&charset=(detect+automatically)&doctype=Inline&group=0

almost 7 years ago

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Tim Moon

I've yet to use the site and most of your issues seem valid. However I would question you comparing the look and feel of the site to John Lewis and M&S - they're aiming at completely different markets. I'm not saying the site doesn't look dated, having had a quick glance I think you're right but it should have a very different feel to the other two.

having to register seperately for the different parts of the site is just annoying though!

almost 7 years ago

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Tim Redgate

I thought that what Woolies did to engage with customers through their blog while it was offline was a really nice touch and as Graham points out, there is still a lot of good will for the brand.  Which is why this site is so disappointing!  Here was an opportunity to breath new life into a century-old brand and they have launched what looks like a pretty formulaic, standard e-commerce site.  Sure, the map function is a nice little touch but thats all.  What about true interaction with the customers - user reviews and recommendations at the very least?

If they were still on the high street this re-launch wouldn't have even registered on my radar (indeed, i wonder if it would have featured on the e-consultancy blog...) but because of all the goings-on of the past few months I think they have missed a big opportunity to capture a new group of customers and take the proposition forward, building something for the web of today.

almost 7 years ago

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Roberto Hortal

I suspect many of the failings you rightly point out are cause by the fact the site is indeed 3 separate sites. I suspect a fair amount of white-labelling is at play here.

I'm a big fan of monetising brand assets by introducing customers to third party products through a branded window. A commission on every sale and no set up or operational costs are good incentives to do something like this on the side of your core business but I think Woolie's may have gone too far - looks like their only original shop is the pick and mix section, the rest being bolt-ons.

Woolie's should invest significantly on the user experience. They can retain the benefits of third-party fulfillment while providing a truly unique experience. Mydeco certainly have done just that. But I suspect they won't. They're likely to have a strategy of minimal investment, good rates on returns and a quick exit. Which may actually work for them really well, but doesn't do justice to what was an icon of British retail.

almost 7 years ago

Will Jones

Will Jones, IT Director at The BookDepository

Seeing as two of the three sites were built by The Hut, why wouldn't they at least make those two sites share the same basket and checkout?

almost 7 years ago

Will Jones

Will Jones, IT Director at The BookDepository

Graham - Indeed. I guess I was seeing things. That would explain three totally seperate sites.

almost 7 years ago

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Jason Merry

What an abomination.

I feel for the fore founders of Woolworth through out all it's recent troubles and then to be given this?

It shows that The Hut either have a very good work experience programe by not telling the teenager they employed what was wrong or they suffer severly from the HPPO effect.

A sad day for all involved but such a great day for all of us who care about our sites.

almost 7 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

i'd agree - very poor usability.

Amazing that for a project of this stature, nobody has really thought about the angle of approach of different site users.

A multiple such as Woolies by its very nature recognises that people will shop for a number of different types of items - to then split the sections in this way defies that very business goal. 

The site does look very dated, but Woolies always did have that feel about it, so I'd say it was a purposeful strategy to recreate the old feel of the brand.

It might be a bit of a token gesture (who will buy pick and mix online??) but the modus operandi of that section is great - very sticky, the best thing about the whole site.

As for the purpose of an e-commerce site - to sell, well, i wouldn't envisage a great conversion rate for any section of the site - not well thought out at all.

Which begs a question...why do web development companies take a brief from a company blindly, without advising on e-commerce best-practice? Surely the company that employs them has done so for a reason - because of some perceived expertise and not because they'll be completely compliant to 'in the bottle' company requirements. Otherwise, why bother - just get the IT boys to knock something up and continue down the blinkered road and satisfied with mediocrity. Which this is, very mediocre - i expected something much better from such an iconic brand, on such a big launch.

almost 7 years ago

Chris Averill

Chris Averill, CEO at We Are ExperienceSmall Business

It's not the best site I have ever seen and it's based on an existing platform, but you have to give them credit in getting it launched so quickly. 

It's easy to rubbish them for some obvious mistakes, but given the brand is pretty much at rock bottom, what's the harm in running some live user testing?

Bottom line is it works, all be it rather low budget and it does not meet the high standards that Shop Direct's boss Mark Newton-Jones’ statement in the FT that, “the site is about quality, value for money and great service”.

Hands up who has had to design and launch a big site in a few weeks and fore go many best practises!


almost 7 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

Best practice doesn't have to be sacrificed for the sake of speed Chris - the two aren't related. Choose a platform that works properly first - then if you do have to rush at least you've got good basics there. Design is a slightly different matter, an important part of the persuasion process, and I'd agree that can be compromised by rushing.

I have no idea why they might want to launch this 'half-cocked' though, surely such an organisation understands the damage that can be done by creating a sub-standard product or service. Look at all the ISP's a few years back, rushing to market with new technologies that didn't work. Some never recovered from the bad press. This isn't such a situation, this was obviously the desired outcome - just not well thought out, I'm afraid.

If someone came to us and asked for a launch in 4 or 6 weeks we'd tell them to go and see Mr Site! If they really did want quality, they'd be prepared to wait for it. The choice would be theirs.

almost 7 years ago

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Rob Varney

In fairness to their web team, they've turned this site round in twenty weeks, which is pretty good going. Perhaps they should have concentrated on getting the basics right though, rather than adding gimmicks like the rotating flash interface on the home page.

Maybe part of their strategy was to create a site that already feels ten years old, in the same way that their shops were stuck in the 70s!

almost 7 years ago

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Mike Page, E-commerce Content Manager at Supergroup Internet Ltd

Read yesterday that the three separate baskets will be merged later on in the year.  That might be too late to stop some customers from never returning.  Just looks to me like they rushed the 3 sites out too soon before the amalgamanted checkout process was ready.

almost 7 years ago

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Matt R

A totally useless exercise.  It does not reflect the old woolworths or really any vision of a forward looking future woolworths!  I would not use the site for all the reasons the author has suggested.  Woolworths has one place only and that is on the High Street, few people will use this site and it will I fear not capture the public imagination.  With all the history attached to the brand there should have been a better relaunch.  Where was the press? the T.V ads? Magazine features?

Shop direct have just plastered a great name over their operations.  Return Woolworths to someone who will use it to create jobs and a future for British workers.

Tony Page might be that man!

almost 7 years ago

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Craigm

Matt R.  " Woolworths has one place only and that is on the High Street".  Really? Is that why it went out of business, is that why it was a holocaust of a business for years (actually more like decades), propped up by its distribution arm?

The romanticism of the "High Street" is a myth that makes for nice "And Finally" sections on regional news programs. Folk said they loved Woolies, yet didn't go near it, preferring to go to places like Tesco or Play.com that actually met their requirements for choice, quality and price in the way that Woolies simply didn't.

Anyway, I'd bet my bottom dollar that every profitable Woolworths site has been purchased or leased by one of the supermarket chains by now so there'd be nowhere for them to go anyway.

Online is as good as it gets for Woolies.  Me, I personally find their hysterically bad website a fitting tribute to a rubbish, disjointed and ultimately pointless brand.

almost 7 years ago

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Anonymous

It's easy to criticise and there is a lot to take a pop at here (particularly having to re-register for each section) but they have got their fulfilment right! I ordered a long list of goodies for my son's birthday, including pick n mix, and it was all delivered less than 24 hours later. Nicely boxed with good Woolies branding, it was a pleasure to receive and open.  Now they just need to fix the site :-)

almost 7 years ago

zac craven

zac craven, IT consultant at Zac Craven Ltd

I think they should make the site more human.  One feature of High Street Woolies for me was the friendly old ladies that worked there.  This site doesn't match the image of the high street woolies. 

Maybe we still think of Woolies as being a major national brand and unreasonably expect it to have the finance and management to produce a site of similar quality.

I dont think theres a problem selling pick and mix online - I wouldnt know where else to buy it (should I get the urge to incur the wrath of my wife who brushes the kids teeth 5 times a day).

almost 7 years ago

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Ambarish Mitra

Woolworths have done a quick fix job to re-engage its core audience before they forget the brand. Sometimes timing of launch is more critical than fixing some bugs and usability. Woolworths need to do a  lot of work bring the site upto speed in terms of usability, design and merchandising.

I'm sure woolworths new buyer wanted to monetise on woolworths brand equity as early as possible.

almost 7 years ago

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craigm

Ambarish: Did you ever shop in Woolies?  I can only conclude that you didn't to come out with "re-engage its core audience" (a charming turn of phrase that really marks you down as an original thinker) as the reason for the rubbish website.

Woolies core audience (at the end) was 13 year olds on their way home from school and grannies just passing time, neither of whom are great "re-engagement" material. 

Plus to think that folk would forget a name as seared into the fabric of British commerce as Woolies is in little more than 6 months, suggests that you think we humble consumers are all thick as pig sh*t. 

But yes, someone as slavishly adherent to marketing doublespeak as you probably also concluded that monitising brand equity was the order of the day rather than investing in creating something decent that might actually have generated some more...

almost 7 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

i think the focus should be shifted firmly to Shop Direct here. Okay, Woolies was a bit of an anachronism but it is firmly in the hands of new masters who are now responsible for the brand and it's window to the world.

The buck stops here - a massive organisation with lines of communication that have become so disjointed that they've stopped working, and it appears from the outside that nobody really cares.

The Littlewoods site is riddled with seriously buggy code - ever extending product pages that scroll for ever, and error messages all over the place.

An e-commerce department that is really an IT department - and we all know what that spells...

I thought, if they're now going to outsource, that i'd make contact. 

I was given a name, and have asked to be put through to this person 3 times now. the phone has just rung, and rung, and then rung some more. i can just imagine an office full of people looking at it and thinking 'that's not for me, I'm not picking it up'.

Someone needs to take some responsibility!

almost 7 years ago

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Lau

I read this post completely on the topic of the difference of latest and earlier technologies, it's amazing article.

almost 4 years ago

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