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Debenhams launched a brand-new version of its website earlier this week.

As well as revamping the site, the retailer has added new product lines, including electricals, though this has been outsourced to Buy It Direct with a separate checkout.

I've been trying out the new site to see if the user experience has been improved...

Homepage

The homepage is well laid out and easy to scan, with the majority of the page pointing visitors to different departments and collections, rather than actually displaying any specific products.

The page now has what Jakob Nielsen calls 'mega drop-down menus', which display large numbers of product categories and sub-categories:

Larger drop-down menus like this one avoid some of the possible drawbacks of smaller versions, such as accidentally moving the mouse outside of the menu and having it disappear, or having to scroll down a long and narrow list of items.

Part of the thinking behind these menus was to remove mid-category pages to reduce the number of clicks between homepage and product pages, and with these menus customers can go to a more specific category straight away.

Site search / navigation

I tried a quick test on the site search for descriptive searches such as blue shirts, as well as some misspellings, and the results were relevant. Also, filtering and sorting options have been provided to narrow down search results.

In addition, Debenhams had added the option of searching for keywords within categories and sub-categories, though it only provides this option once you get down to the category pages, it may be useful to do this straight from the homepage.

The filtered navigation has been improved as well, with more options, greater ease of adding and removing filters and, crucially, the number of products matching each selection is displayed, which should help shoppers to avoid hitting a dead end when browsing.

I think it still needs some work though, as it can be confusing in some areas. For instance, when I searched for a suit, there are two separate filters for sizes; 'size' and 'larger sizes', which starts from 40in upwards.

These two options weren't next to each other on the left hand side, and the chest and waist sizes are all mixed in together, which makes it more difficult to find your size from the list.

Also, having searched for a jacket and trousers in a particular size, I was sent to this product pages, only to find that the combination I had selected was out of stock, meaning that the time spent using the filtering options was wasted.

This seems to be an issue with a number of products on the site, and it could be a cause of customer frustration. If particular sizes are out of stock, it may be best not to display them at all.

Product pages

The product pages do the basics well, giving clear information about delivery charge, a size and measuring guide, a phone number to call if items are out of stock, and a clear call to action. 

Reviews have also been added, though since its gathering reviews itself, it will take some time to build up a decent number on its product pages.

Product images are a mixed bag on the site, and this is something Debenhams will have to improve as it updates its product range. There is only one picture for the suit in the screenshot above, which means I can't things like the number of vents on the back of the suit jacket, the lining, and so on.

However, for this suit, all these views and more are provided, which shows how it should be done. 

Basket / checkout

The shopping basket icon on each page works well, and should catch the eye more than a simple text link would. However, the shopping basket page could be improved:

While the price and size is summarised, delivery charges are missing, and there is no information on payment methods, or reassurances about server security.

Also, the cross selling options are need some work, especially as so much of the page is devoted to this. While a pair of socks could be a useful purchase to go with a suit, the rest seem bizarre. Having bought a suit, do people really want a Toblerone or some jelly beans as well?

On a more positive note, the checkout process is well-designed, form-filling is easy enough, though it does produce an error when customers enter O instead of zero in their postcodes.

Debenhams provides choices around registration, so that customers can choose to register before they checkout or just go straight ahead, which is a good way to avoid making an obstacle out of registration while still giving customers the option.

The checkout process is almost fully enclosed, with only one link that will remove users from the purchase, and this is clearly labelled. This removes unnecessary distractions from shoppers sat this stage, and enables them to concentrate on the important business of entering card details.

Conclusion

Debenhams has been active in social media, it has a blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook group with decent numbers of followers/fans, and recently conducted an interesting Twitter experiment, where shop assistants in one store answered customer queries via Twitter,

However, as Trevor Ginn pointed out yesterday in his post on social media for retailers, there is no reference to any of this on the site, not even a blog or Twitter link at the foot of the page.

The site is generally easy to use, and is certainly an improvement on the previous incarnation, though some further changes here and there would improve it further, and Debenhams does point out that this is not the completed version. 

Debenhams online sales hit £55.1m and visitor numbers grew 36.8% in the year to August 29, so there is an opportunity here for the retailer to make the most of this traffic growth with a better converting site.

Graham Charlton

Published 26 November, 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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Anonymous

Its interesting to look through the changes, especially working for a competitor. As a site it was well overdue for a redesign given they replatformed and yet kept the previous design and layout at the time and ongoing. I can't help but spot the similarities to the House of Fraser site but then maybe this type of layout is now becoming the defacto standard for us all to follow. The navigation works reasonably well, the site is fast to respond and the filter appear to be fairly relevant. There seems to be a lot of merchandising opportunity lost as most pages are purely a list of products with no headers, the product page is just a re-purpose of the previous page only slightly wider (bizzarely with reviews in a scrolling frame and a size select drop down on cosmetics). Its a shame the design wasn't adjusted to suit the new styling of the rest of the site as it makes things a bit disjointed. Other minor points, the checkbox next to the filters begs to be clicked on but can't, filter by price of £20 to £30 only shows products to £29.99, select by designer then baker by ted baker and you would expect to first filter by mens/womens/kids but instead you get a mix of results. Select a bag and the breadcrumb shows the category for that bag not your actual path to the product, clicing back takes you to another category. Following on the comments above, its also interesting to see there has been less regard for the SEO implications of the change of the site - quite dangerous one would think when the revenues for the site are so high and also because so much pubicity was made about the previous partnering with google to improve their rankings. To see what I mean search for dresses in google and you get a link to a page on the old layout with 120 products, use the on site navigation and there are 418. Overall though, a vast improvement and certainly room to grow (if they can keep the site up under load!).

over 6 years ago

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Ash

Well done Debs - a massive site improvement in terms of customer focussed search and navigation and a nice and crisp design.

Note the addition of multi-select facet navigation as per current best practice for fashion sites.

over 6 years ago

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alison

I like most of the changes apart from 1 major flaw. I was searching for some dresses and tried to filter to my size. It showed a list of available dresses but om closer inspection none of them were in stock! It took an age to try and find one that was a) Suitable and then B) in my size. Unless they can get this filtering sorted out I won't be me making to many return trips to Debenhams.com, its just too frustrating.

over 6 years ago

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Name

Thanks.

about 6 years ago

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bilgicity

thank you very much

about 6 years ago

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Mrs T

Debenhams online ordering is the poorest of the major retailers that I have experienced.  There is no order tracking through customer accounts, you can't check delivery status with any accuracy, many items shown as in stock will mysteriously be out of stock a week later while you're waiting for delivery and the email advice to customers is appalling.  The site has numerous flaws and has no way to measure customer satisfaction - it offers telephone contact to find out of stock items but the call centre staff haven't got a clue what they're doing and don't know how to check or reserve these items.  Overall, I would say it's one of the poorest online shops for a major retailer and there are plenty of alternatives to choose from.  Cheap software and no customer service back up means it's a very unpleasant retail experience.

almost 6 years ago

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hannah

you should have a search where you can search for things using product numbers.

almost 6 years ago

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Jansen

It's impressive that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our argument made at this time.

almost 4 years ago

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Duncan

This information is worth everyone's attention. When can I find out more?

almost 4 years ago

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