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I'm not a regular visitor to Boots' website, so when I clicked on it recently, I was surprised that the number of usability issues and potential barriers to purchase I found. 

The site does appear to be due a revamp, and there are plenty of areas for improvement where Boots could reduce customer friction.  

Here, I've picked out some of the most serious issues, and what Boots can do to improve conversion rates on the site. 

NB: I have no inside knowledge of Boots and its online performance. It may make a fortune online, but from what I know, there is lots of potential for improvement, so here we go... 

A facelift for the website

Perhaps it's just me, but Boots' site does look slightly dated compared to some of its high street rivals.

There's the way it's shrunk for starters, with lots of blue space either side of the main content, while there's a fair amount of clutter, as if every department wants a mention on the homepage. 

First impressions matter, and this isn't the best way to start. 

Consider the carousel

The most prominent feature of the homepage is the carousel, which moves rather too quickly to be useful.

I did write an article about carousels, canvassing opinion from various ecommerce experts, and the overwhelming opinion was that can be a waste of time, as they often tend to be a compromise solution to allow various stakeholders a piece of prime homepage real estate. 

However, I've also seen examples where they can be successful if implemented correctly and tested for maximum effect. Here, Boots should consider slowing it down, adding clearer calls to action, and testing what works for different user segments. 

Why not set up a Twitter account? 

I might be wrong here, but I can't find a Twitter account, either via Google or on Boots' own website. It's on Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube, but for some bizarre reason, no Twitter. 

Hey, it's not obligatory, but given its sheer popularity, you would think that a well established retailer like Boots could find some value in it

Remove the email address barrier to checkout

I'm not a regular Boots customer, but one point in the past I must have created an account, probably for something connected to this blog. Or maybe I bought some anti-wrinkle cream.

Either way, I've no idea what my password is, and Boots doesn't give me anywhere to go from this point. It tells me I can't use that email address, and doesn't give me the option of resetting. 

So, as an old customer, I have to register with a new email address or give it up as a bad job. Sites shouldn't be presenting users with this kind of barrier to purchase. 

Sure, if I had entered my email address into the 'existing customer' box, then I may have a reset option, but I didn't even know I was a customer. 

A better way to handle dormant accounts like this comes from Amazon, which offers to disable the existing account and start anew: 

Improve the confusing and cluttered basket page

There's a lot going on here, and the overall impression is confusing, particularly the different colours/calls to action for checkout and checkout with points. 

Boots shopping basket page

Boots is trying to advertise the benefits of its Advantage card, which is fine, but does it really want to take customers away from the checkout to apply for a card? 

The form is nuts too. You have to work hard to get your card... 

Boots should consider simplifying the basket page and presenting only information which is important for the customer to complete their purchase. Advantage cards can always be advertised after purchase. 

Look at the coupon code box

All this box is saying to customers without codes is that they could be getting their purchase cheaper. So why would they checkout without searching for one? 

Boots coupon code box

So, if I see this, the next thing I'm doing is heading for Google. Then I enter the world of the coupon/voucher code site, from where I may never return to the Boots checkout, especially if I see another code for my item elsewhere. 

These boxes just prompt customers to interrupt the purchase process, so think carefully about using them, and consider how you can minimise the risk. 

Here are a few suggestions for dealing with coupon codes (more here):

  • Only show the discount code box to those customers that have arrived via affiliate links or marketing emails. 
  • Use the code entry box to build an email list. By displaying a 'how do I get this?' message next to the box, retailers can keep users on site to get their discount code, with the added benefit of gaining a customer's opt-in for future email marketing. 
  • Link to your own coupon page. Again, this keeps customers onsite, and has the added SEO benefit of appearing in searches for brand name + voucher code. 
  • Place a discount code next to the box. This could be a less generous offer than those on voucher code sites, but it could keep customers within the process while still feeling they have bagged a bargain. 
  • Hide it below the fold. Those that have codes will find it anyway, but other shoppers won't immediately notice it. 

Make out of stock messages clear

This is one of the worst out of stock messages I have seen. At first, I thought Boots had forgotten to add a call to action to buy the razor on this page, but after some detailed investigation, I finally found the out of stock message.

Can you spot it? 

Yes, it's underneath the price. In fact, it's probably easier on the screenshot than the actual page. 

Now, this should be clearer (obviously) but Boots could also offer alternative products to visitor, offer to check stock at local stores, or perhaps to email customers when the item is available again. 

It does none of these things and just leaves customers at a dead-end. 

Don't charge for in-store collection

Absolutely bonkers. I can think of no other retailer that does this. It doesn't make a lot of sense, especially as many of these products will be held in stores anyway. 

Instead, Boots should focus on the advantages that reserve and collect services offer for multichannel retailers, such as the edge it gives over pureplay rivals, the way it fits well with consumer research and purchase behaviour (research online, buy offline) and the potential for cross-selling while customers are in-store. 

It's surely not worth deterring customers and negating these benefits for the sake of a £1.99 charge. 

No registration before checkout

This not-so best practice does seem to be on the way out, so it's a slight surprise to see this from a well-known retailer. It even wants your date of birth: 

It's a barrier to purchase, an interruption to the user experience, and it's completely pointless when you can capture the same customer details and ask them to register quickly at the end of the checkout process. 

This article, referring to HMV's checkout process explains in more detail why this is a very bad idea. 

If Boots needs further convincing, it should check out the example of ASOS, which halved its abandonment rate at the registration page simply by removing any mention of creating an account (NB: it still got customers to create an account). 

If more is needed, a famous example from Jared Spool explains how one retailer added $300m to its annual revenues simply by removing the registration button. 

Don't ask customers for information they've already entered

This is frustrating, time-consuming and unnecessary. I've already registered, in the course of which I've entered my name, address and date of birth. So why can't the site remember my address and offer to pre-fill the field for me? 

It does the same for the billing address so, if you do end up buying something, you'll have entered your address three times during this checkout process

This is making customers work too hard, and risking extra checkout abandonment through sheer frustration. It is mind-bogglingly bad. 

Enclose the checkout process

Again, more distractions for the customer, when Boots should want them to concentrate on buying and paying for something.

Thus enclosing the checkout process and removing distractions from customers can increase conversions. 

All the standard navigation is still visible: search boxes, big drop-downs, store locators, you name it. Lots of ways to leave the checkout. 

(To be fair, the delivery options, including the named day delivery, are pretty solid...)

Instead, Boots should remove the navigation options, leaving just a help link, and perhaps a route back to the homepage, as John Lewis does here:

Enclosed checkout 3

Place the basket link where people are likely to look

Unlike most ecommerce sites, where the basket link is somewhere around the top right of the page, Boots has placed its basket right in the centre of the header. 

Also, by making the Advantage Card link pink, it makes the basket even less visible. In cases like this, there's something to be said for following convention.

In summary...

It does seem to me that Boots hasn't updated this site for some time, and perhaps isn't doing enough testing and optimisation work, as otherwise you would think issues such as registration, resetting email addresses, and the confusing basket page would be flagged up. 

Or perhaps the ecommerce team has identified the issues but is unable to get senior management to approve the changes. When most major retailers have vastly improved their sites over the past five years or so, it does seem that Boots has fallen behind. 

Perhaps, since it is the most famous high street chemist, with a regular customer base, it has managed to make enough from the sheer growth in ecommerce that conversion optimisation has been overlooked or set to one side. 

Whatever the reason, there is little doubt in my mind that there is vast potential here for improving the overall user experience on the site and therefore increasing conversion rates. 

I've picked out 11 problems, here and I could have picked more. While it's necessary to be critical, I hope I have also been constructive in offering solutions for the issues. And, of course, it's about testing and finding what works and what doesn't. 

Do you agree with my assessment of the site? Please let me know below...

Econsultancy's JUMP event on October 9 is all about creating seamless multichannel customer experiences. Now, in its fourth year it will be attended by more than 1,200 senior client-side marketers. This year it forms part of our week-long Festival of Marketing extravaganza.

Graham Charlton

Published 28 August, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Mike Upton, E-Commerce Manager at Demon Tweeks

It's a very poor website for such a high profile company.

My biggest gripe though, and I couldn't believe it wasn't mentioned as I thought it would be #1, is the placement of the basket in the header and the lack of any highlighting of it when an item is added to the basket. The first time I tried to use the site it took me at least 60 seconds to find the basket after I had added a product to it to purchase. Had I not been doing the process for research and had actually been trying to buy something then I would have almost certainly have given up!

Given the high volume of traffic they must get and the number of major points they have wrong then they must be haemorrhaging millions of pounds revenue every year!

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Mike You're right - that's probably worse than my first point. It's a bad placement in the first place, but the colour of the Advantage Card link makes the basket even less prominent.

As with the basket page, Boots seems to be keener to promote the Advantage Card than to get people to buy.

I'll add your point, thanks.

over 3 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Very nice review!

It's sort of a strange one. Most customers will buy there based on:

1. The Boots brand.
2. Product selection.
3. Loyalty. (If you're an advantage card user, you already have a built-in reason to purchase from them)
4. Habit.

Based on those, many of the usual issues don't apply to them. Therefore, I think focus areas may be around:

1. First-time customers (or very casual boots buyers who haven't bought online before).
2. Loyal store customers who've never purchased online before.

From a 'conversion rate' point of view, I would try to isolate those people separately, especially in any A/B tests (etc). I would probably also prioritise 'new customer acquisition' over straight 'conversion rate'.

Therefore the main priorities in terms of the site itself might be:

1. Product page.
2. Basket & basket page.
3. Navigation.
4. Registration.
(5. Abandoned basket saving/remarketing)

dan

over 3 years ago

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paul

Some great points here, but wanted to state that i suspect that the registration criteria is linked to the fact that Boots.com is a Pharmacy based company. As a result a lot of the details like DOB are necessary and a legal requirement esp if that customer goes on to order a P-med. By collecting that data up front it prevent needless customer re-entry when trying to buy a pack of codine based pain killers for example.

I know Boots.com have gone to a lot of effort to ensure that its website is based in the middle of their supply chain and whilst £1.95 delivery charge to pick up in store seems on the face of it out of kilter, Boots real estate is not similar to a PC Online or Curry's. Its huge and consists of lots of smaller shops with very little range diversification in far flung places throughout the UK.

over 3 years ago

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Martin Paul

For further entertainment, try Ryman and WH Smiths websites...

over 3 years ago

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Alan Ng

Nice review. As everyone has already said the website could do with some testing, but sadly, as it the case with most big brand sites, their brand weight can in most cases carry through the sale.

Just look at Tesco.com an even more confusing site in terms of UX yet it's still probably within the top 10 online sites in UK in terms of satisfaction and traffic (Hitwise data)

over 3 years ago

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Martin Shellaker

Further to Martin Paul's comment above can I add Disney to that list! Recently went onto their site to simply establish a price for my family to visit. 30 minutes later and having entered personal data at least 3 times on the same site I finally got what I was looking for.

over 3 years ago

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Alexander C

Only this morning - before reading this article - did I pay a visit to Boots.com after being referred by the famous Hot UK Deals forum.

My mission: to purchase a HOT heavily reduced sale item as voted +100 degrees by my HUKD peers.

The story is short. I clicked through, added said product to basket, checked out, hit a blank page with a Boots logo at the top. Then I left. Then, I went to Amazon and bought the same item for slightly more, and scheduled free delivery for tomorrow through my Amazon Prime account.

I won't use Boots.com again.

And no, I don't work for Amazon!

over 3 years ago

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Cindy X

Boots website is definitely not up to its brand standard, but I was a very loyal Boots web customers for years. The sign of the site is out of dated, but it does match its brand logo and give me taste of pharmacy store, so it is not the biggest issue to me.

What I hate is the load speed of the site and also whenever you add one item to basket, you will direct to basket page and you have to click "continue shopping" to be back to previous search result... I believe 99% of boots web customers are buying multiple items, this is really not a good UX.

over 3 years ago

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Sneha

Great article! I visit the Boots website regularly, and there are so many issues, it's ridiculous. My pet peeve with it is that 5 times out of 10, I'll land on a broken product page. Either the page won't load, or it'll show up with the formatting askew. Another common problem is the reviews not showing up. There's nothing more annoying than reading that a product was rated and reviewed by numerous people but not being able to read them because that section simply doesn't show up.

Get your act together, Boots! You have so many good products and your stores and loyalty program are great - don't let your digital presence hamper that.

over 3 years ago

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Holly Taylor, Thompson & Morgan (UK) Ltd

I think the worst thing is when you get onto the product page, you add a product to the basket and then it tells you that they don't have enough stock of it. I was on there last night and I added two things to my basket and the error message came up above the product name but still added the items to my basket. Now I don't know whether it was an issue with their website but very confusing for their customers as you cannot be sure if you will receive the items or not.

Good article with some very valid points.

over 3 years ago

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Lavina Advani, Marketing Manager at Argus Media Limited

Excellent article!! I have to be honest, I have never ever shopped on the boots.com website but I don't think I ever will...after reading what a nightmare it is!

over 3 years ago

Seema Kumari

Seema Kumari, Head of Digital Marketing at Hearst Magazines

This is the reason I always somehow end up on the boots site, but have never actually purchased anything! The site has so much potential and could see revenue increase substantially if it fixed a some of the UX issues pointed out in this article. Charging for store pick is crazy - i wonder how many customers actually use this?

over 3 years ago

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Sarah Taylor

I'll tell you what else is wrong with Boots' website: search for an optician.

My excellent optician in Hammersmith is a former Dollond & Aitchison, owned by Boots since 2009. Yet if you search for the nearest Boots optician for Hammersmith it will send you to Boots in Westfield or Ealing.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

A bad combination of nasty Usability, with weak technology around the issue of handling out-of-stock; that allows:

> tells you that they don't have enough stock of it....but still added the items to my basket...

Wonder how many confussed customer calls they get?

It's all just so solvable - <self promotion mode on> - my company even has an Inventory Management monitoring service that can help retailers solve that side of things in a matter of weeks.

But I guess the overall UI changes will take some time longer.

over 3 years ago

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Megan Toogood

A bit off-topic, but I wonder if Amazon refunds gift certificates to the people who bought them, if the user closes the account they are associated with? Or do they just keep the money?

Just wondering what the legal implications are of preventing access when users are effectively holding credit with the company.

Liked the review of boots - demonstrates how much there is to go wrong.

over 3 years ago

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Amy Manuel

Great to read such an in-depth analysis, I think you've covered every issue! Very glad to see I'm not the only one who finds the Boots website impossible.

Every time I visit it, I wonder how they have avoided properly investing in their user experience for so long. There are so many possibilities to make it an enjoyable and engaging experience and yet it has been like this for years.

The website dates the Boots brand and to an extent, undoes the good work they have done with the TV campaigns which in comparison are full of vitality, humour and personality.

over 3 years ago

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Gaspard Thielen

An alternative to the registration issue would be to send an invitation to the customer by email after the checkout process has been finalised.

over 3 years ago

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anthony lam

but do you know the exact conversion rate of boots.com?

about 3 years ago

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