So here’s the bad news. It’s no longer enough for your site to be ‘usable’ and ‘intuitive’. Today’s best in breed online retailers mastered the usability thing a while back and have long moved on.

To survive in a competitive market your site must also draw customers in, provide ideas, inspiration and help all without being overly attentive and obtrusive. 

Whether your site is selling high fashion or stationery, we can all learn something from the most successful online retailers. We used to find out what was working best on two big fashion retail sites: ASOS and H&M.

Here are the five key themes both have hit upon to help them to their success.  

1. Value and support your regular customers

There are many figures which prove how much more expensive it is to gain new customers than retain current ones. Both of the sites we looked at are constantly evolving to remain attractive to repeat visitors.

That’s not to say you should plan for a complete overhaul of the design every few months but both sites used their home page and navigation to showcase latest products and display new images regularly.

ASOS also provides a sort order option for ‘What’s new’ in its product pages. 

2 Don’t just support your customer’s goals, help them be better at them  

It is a given that customers on these sites can achieve their main goal of finding fashionable clothes and completing the purchase process with relative ease.

What both sites also have achieved however is an extra level of assistance that helps their customers get that bit further, putting them ahead of the rest of the pack.

There are a number of ways the sites achieve this, either by passing on trends from the catwalk or providing ‘looks’ that the experts have pulled together – e.g. the ‘Holiday wardrobe’ or ‘Festival Fashion’ on ASOS.  

Both sites provide also provide suggestions as to what other items complement a chosen product with a ‘Complete the look’ /‘Style the item’ section on the product page.  

This is not just shopping; this is being taken to the catwalk shows with a personal stylist with a wealth of fashion advice to impart.

So while in the fashion world this can be done editorially, suggestions and guidance can also be automated. Since Amazon’s  first “Customers also bought” suggestion feature, most sites now provide suggested additional products, a feature that customers now seem to expect as a standard.

3 Images, images, images

If you’re selling a product that has even the most minimal aesthetic qualities online you need to provide plenty of clear images using a clear layout. It’s that simple.

ASOS was preferred for its clear product results pages and close up images. It also has a catwalk feature showing a model walking in the clothes which is a nice way to see how the fabric and cut behaves in motion.

Users also liked that H&M has the option to view both the item on the model and off within the results page but these images were felt to be a bit on the small side compared to ASOS.  



4 Tools and information that aid decision making

Information that is relevant at the point you need it is key for the busy shopper. ASOS again has gone the extra mile by giving the model’s size and height details on the product page so you can compare how that would look on yourself.  

It also has a ‘Fit Visualiser’ tool where users can enter their own measurements to see how a garment would look on themselves. These are extremely useful tools, perfectly suited to the online world to help you predict whether that short skirt will be suitable in the office or not.

Users on H&M liked that the range of colour options for each product were visible from the main results page. It also has a ‘try on’ feature to enable customers to see how different items worked together.

This is a brilliant way to avoid any fashion faux pas in the safety of the dressing room and a great method for upselling.

5 Findability

On fashion sites, as well as many other types of retail sites, navigation should support both unstructured browsing – the Saturday afternoon round the shops type behaviour -  as well as a targeted swoop with a specific item in mind as in ‘I need a maxi dress for my holiday’.

Both sites use a fly out mega menu for its main navigation which has become a standard in recent times but ASOS provides a more detailed breakdown of categories that aid findability. For example, ASOS has ten categories of dresses whereas H&M has just the two.

Labelling of menu items should resonate with the customer base so in the fashion world this means terms that are used in magazines, fashion blogs etc. – these customers are likely to know their skater dresses from their body cons!

For customers who know what they want and prefer to search rather than browse for it, of the two sites only ASOS provides a search function which is able to handle descriptive terms very well.


Published 31 July, 2013 by Kathryn McDonnell

Kathryn McDonell is a User Experience Consultant at and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (4)


Georgina Colley, Founder / Director at Cowfish Media

I have to say, I actually don't agree with H & M being a good example of a fashion Ecommerce site at all. From a shopper perspective, I've always found their site messy to navigate and have always hated their product titles (oftentimes they will title items of clothing very generically. Eg, if they were selling a pair of cotton flower print hot pants, they'd just label the item as 'Shorts' - massively off-putting.)

In terms of ASOS, their 'Model is X height and wears Y size' is very helpful, but I think one of the massive pulls that you've not mentioned is their free delivery & free returns policy. Imagine someone is thinking about buying one item only. If it's a top that costs £9.50 and they have to pay an extra £4.95 for delivery (as many sites charge, unfortunately!), someone's less likely to go for the purchase unless they're absolutely sure it's going to fit, suit them and that they'll be happy with it when it arrives. However, ASOS twigged on a long time ago that if the customer doesn't risk having to pay out dead money if they order something but need to send it back, they'll be far more likely to make a much more impulsive purchase, rather than shopping around to find a better alternative. It's totally risk-free shopping, and again as a consumer, it's one of the main reasons that I always check ASOS if I want to shop.

New Look have actually been a fantastic example in the past of giving users multiple dimensions through which to explore their products and get a real 'feel' for what they're buying without having to go in store. Their content is diverse and expansive, and hopefully more Ecommerce sites will wake up and realise that if they're going to keep (or gain) a notable position in the marketplace, they need to invest in their site far beyond pictures & only the 'essential' information.

almost 5 years ago


Kathryn McDonnell, User Experience Consultant at

Hi Georgina, I agree that H&M does not do a great job of labeling and categorising its products. ASOS in comparison does a much better job at helping people target the exact style e.g by having ten categories of dresses. And yes, its free delivery is a huge draw - great for a retail therapy hit!

almost 5 years ago



Hi Kathryn,

Great article! I agree that websites especially those in the fashion sector need to be on the cutting edge to really stand apart in such a competitive industry.

To your point on Bullet 3 I was curious how you felt about the idea of a closeup rotating runway instead of having the models start at the back end of a room? Snap36 showcased one at Fashion Digital earlier this summer and a sample youtube video is linked to my name. Just curious from a design and user experience point of view if you find additional value in the rotating runway over the traditional one.


almost 5 years ago


Sizzle factor

You are filled with brilliant idea, Kathryn. I'll keep them in mind. I also like the idea of using a fit visualizer tool. I haven't tried it yet but I think it's an effective eCommerce tool. It can definitely boost more sales. I will keep reading more of your posts. Keep it up!

almost 5 years ago

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