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While looking for ideas for my summer holiday recently, I looked at the Eurostar website, and was disappointed by the poor user experience. 

I've listed ten areas where Eurostar could improve online, and which would have a positive effect on its conversion rates...

Design a site for higher screen resolutions

My first impression of the website wasn't good, since it only fills half the screen. Most web users have higher screen resolutions than this site has been designed for, which means it looks pretty bad for most visitors. 

Give clear information about ticket collection

Customers can choose to either print tickets at home or else print them out at a fast-ticket machine (though people are advised to do this 45 minutes before departure). Curiously there is no third option of mailing tickets for people who don't have a printer, or just don't want to use the machines. 

However, as this customer's poor experience with Eurostar shows, the website clearly doesn't know which stations have these ticket machines and which don't.

Having booked a ticket from Cologne to London when flights were grounded recently, and being told to collect it from the ticket machine, he arrived at the station to find that Cologne had no Eurostar e-ticket machine. 

This error was made worse as they were forced to pay again on board the train and attempt to claim back the costs later. A case of a website badly letting customers down. 

Anticipate one-way journeys

I tried to search for one-way journeys from London to Paris, but the website simply won't let me do this. Having selected my journey date and time and clicked the search link, I get an error message: 

There is a tick box for a one-way journey, but this option could be made clearer, while a better solution would be to assume that users who leave the return date empty want a single ticket, thus eliminating the need for ticking boxes.  

Make searches more flexible

I arrived on the site looking for ideas for my holiday, and trying to find out what journeys were on offer, and how much they would cost, but it turns out this is not so easy to do on the site. 

For example, if I select a journey and see results and prices, while I can click the 'later trains' link to see other trains that same day, it won't let you move to the next or previous day, meaning that you have to go back and search for each individual day. 

There is also no modify search option, so to adjust dates and times, users have to start again from scratch. 

So, Eurostar completely fails to help users that are flexible on dates and times. 

Anticipate user errors

The best way to handle user errors is to anticipate common input errors and correct them as seamlessly as possible to avoid any unnecessary frustration for users. 

For example, some retailers anticipate that some customers will type the letter 'O' when entering a postcode when a zero is needed, and accept either entry to make the process smoother. 

Eurostar doesn't do this, so users can select journeys which are unavailable, or search for journeys when the return date is before the outward date. This will produce error messages and add to customer frustration.

Don't time users out too quickly

I encountered this message for too often when searching for trains. I appreciate that it can't display my results forever, but it often timed me out within a minute or two, which is far too quick. 

Help users find the cheapest deal

Most train websites will provide the option of searching for the cheapest tickets for a particular journey, either by listing the cheapest first, allowing users to search for two singles instead of a return ticket, or to include it in the advanced search options. 

There is an option to look for cheapest fares on the homepage, but I initially missed it. Perhaps this means it should be made clearer, or I need a better pair of glasses. 

Don't make users work to hard to book tickets

This is absolutely crazy. It is possible to travel between London and Aix En Provence, and these tickets are available on Eurostar, but you have to book the two legs of the journey separately.  

This means booking the London to Paris return ticket, going through the checkout and paying for it, before having to repeat the process for the Paris to Provence leg. 

As well as being annoying and time-consuming, this means customers have to book the first part without knowing connection times, and could easily end up with a long wait between trains. 

Why, when every other train website can deal with this kind of booking, does Eurostar make it such hard work? 

Make contact details easier to find

With so many usability issues, I imagine that users will have plenty of reason to call Eurostar to book or to find some help. 

When users encounter error messages during the booking process, it would be a good idea to provide a visible contact number so users know how to find assistance quickly. 

However, the contact link is buried at the foot of the page, and though there is a contact number, it is labelled 'telephone bookings', which may be misleading for customers wanting to ask a question. 

Clearer calls to action

Calls to action should be made easy for users to find; there should be no doubt about what they need to do to proceed to the next step in the booking or payment process. 

However, the calls to action on Eurostar are too easily missed, as in the example below, where the continue booking link not only appears well below the fold, but blends too easily into the rest of the text on the page:

An effective call to action should stand out clearly from the page by using clear language, large text sizes, colour and contrast to make them easily visible to users. 

Conclusion

Apart from the ten points I have highlighted here, the whole look and feel of the site feels very dated, and it looks like it hasn't been revamped for several years, not a great first impression for customers. 

While there are issues here and there with rail websites in the UK, most have improved considerably over the last few years, and avoid most of the usability issues outlines here. Eurostar should take note. 

Graham Charlton

Published 28 April, 2010 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 (12)

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Stephen Thair

Stephen Thair, Director at Seriti Consulting

HI Graham,

Add into that list SLOW (11sec before the DOM is ready, 15sec+ to load the entire page!), javascript blocking object downloads, poor caching, ridiculous cookie size, no favicon etc.

S.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Artur. Anyone have No. 12? 

over 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

On top of Artur's comment, the 'more info' page from Maps has a Google Streetview image/link to not Waterloo, not St. Pancras but VICTORIA!

over 6 years ago

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Thom

To be fair regarding the google results that are being mention in the comments, there is not much that Eurostar can do about this. Google is infamously obstinate about changing such details purely on a request from the company involved.

over 6 years ago

Artur Jach

Artur Jach, Technical SEO Manager at MPG Media Contacts

Hi Thom Google only does that if your listing has not been verified by the business owner. It will start displaying correct info as soon as you verify by going: More info > "Business Owner?" link (above the image) > follow next steps. I also found another post useful when my client's unverified listings got 'hijacked' - http://www.michaelwall.co.uk/seo/claim-back-a-hijacked-google-maps-listing/

over 6 years ago

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l simkins

I recently travelled with a relative of 84 who uses a cane due to a knee replacement.At Paris we were all shunted down together.Why aren't the elderly and those with children allowed on first as the airport do? Also luckily I decided to check my suitcases 10 munutes before getting off at Ebbsleet...just as well as someone had shifted them..you only get a short time to alight at Ebbsfleet. Imagine  trying to find them at the last moment. Why isn't there a limit to the amount of luggage you can take onboard?

over 6 years ago

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Alistair Carr

We currently CANNOT print out our tickets at home. Sent Eurostar an email. Their reply mentioned "unprecedented traffic". No resolution of our problem.  Sounds as if their online ticket system has a fault affecting many (potential) customers.

over 6 years ago

Stephen Thair

Stephen Thair, Director at Seriti Consulting

@Alistair - sounds like the quality of their back end performance matches that of their front end performance.

If the link between the website and the ticketing system has broken down due to "unprecedented traffic" clearly they (1) didnt forecast the demand accurately or didn't add a sufficient "margin of error" or (2) either didn't load test correctly and (3) clearly don't have the right incident management processes in place to handle failures while maintaining customer satisfaction.

"We are extremely sorry that the only printing service is unavailable, sir... if you are travelling urgently we can either arrange for the tickets to be collected at the station or have them couriered to you? In either case, please acccept this £10 refreshment voucher to enjoy on your journey with Eurostar..."

Not rocket science, is it?

over 6 years ago

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Alistair Carr

Sorry,

I should have been clearer: it was traffic in email enquiries they were referring to. The online ticket system was quick. If there's a glitch in the ticketing, you'd expect a sudden jump in email complaints....

over 6 years ago

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Sarah Bultler

Alistair, were you able to eventually print at home or did you get a response from them? I am having the same problem. I am not even given an option for printing at home on either of the tickets I have bought. I have tried calling their customer service but have been on hold for 45-50 minutes each time before giving up.

about 6 years ago

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Eurostar Offers

HI, you have pointed out very good facts which Eurostar have to be considered for their better improvement. In any online business you must become more user friendly as you much can. I especially agree with your point of quickly time out service. It will make users somewhat harsh and they don’t prefer to avail your services. It will be better you have to make that time long rather than users have to waste their time by repeating the whole procedure from scratch. Hope you catch my point.

almost 6 years ago

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the oracle

Sarah what is the jouenry you are doing? is it only Eurostar or does it include a connection?

almost 6 years ago

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