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Fashion retailer Next today announced some very positive results for the half year to July 2013, with 2.2% sales growth to £1.7bn.
As you might expect, online played a big part, with Next Directory sales growing by 8.3% to £597.6m, while profits were 13.4% higher at £156.1m.
I've been looking at the Next website to pick out some of the reasons for its success online, and some areas where it could still improve.
Next day delivery and collect in store options
Delivery options are very important for online shoppers, and they are increasingly demanding faster and more convenient options.
Here, Next offers next day delivery to home and local stores, while the late cut-off time is designed to appeal to people shopping online of an evening. A smart idea.
International ecommerce is a key area of growth for UK retailers, one which many are focusing on.
There are challenges, such as creating sites to appeal to different cultures, payment methods, customer service etc, but it offers a relatively low cost way to add extra revenue streams.
Here, Next can sell to pretty much anywhere in the world.
Inline validation on checkout forms
Here, if I make a mistake entering data, this is immediately pointed out to me, while a green tick reassures me if I've done it properly.
This ensures that customer errors are highlighted where they happen (and where they can be fixed) and avoids the frustration of completing a form and pressing continue, only to be told then that corrections are required (While we're on this point, a special circle of hell should be reserved for those sites that clear forms here).
An enclosed checkout
Next has removed all the standard navigation in the checkout process, except for two useful options: help and shop more.
This removes unnecessary distractions, allowing customers to focus on payment and address details, while the two remaining links allow them to get any information they need, or add something else to their baskets.
This is important, especially for a fashion retailer, as it can be hard to get the right fit when buying clothes online.
Flexible and hassle-free returns reassure the customer that, if they don't like the item for any reason, it'll be easy enough to take it back.
Next offers in-store returns, as well as a courier collection service, all free of charge. This is a great sales-driver, as well as a useful customer retention tactic.
One thing though: it should make this clearer, adding the information to product and shopping basket pages, as Webtogs does. Use it to drive sales:
Poor UX on sale site
The sale items are in a separate section, which can be a good idea, but this area doesn't perform like the rest of the site.
For one thing, there are no dedicated product pages here, so the information you see below is all you get, meaning no option to see multiple images or more details about the product.
Registration before checkout
Perhaps this is due to Next's Directory business model of having credit accounts for customers, but forcing people to register before checkout is likely to deter some first time shoppers.
Lack of clarity on credit accounts
Again, first time shoppers are not given any option other than to create a credit account, which many may not want to. Also, I don't think Next is making this as clear as it could.
If people skim over the smaller text below, then they will miss the fact that they're about to be credit checked and open up an account.
For first time buyers, a guest checkout and the option to pay for the item there and then is likely to attract more casual purchases.
No UK shoe sizes shown
Perhaps I'm the only one, but I only work in UK shoe sizes, so showing European sizes means I have to go and find out which one I need.
This information is two clicks away from Next's product page, which is giving users more to do.
It's not the worst thing in the world, but conversion rate optimisation is about decreasing the friction for users, so showing UK sizes to UK customers seems an obvious thing to do to make the purchase easier.
No mobile site
Next does have mobile apps, which is good, but I think a dedicated mobile site (or a responsive site) is essential now, especially for a well-established retailer like Next.
At the moment, people searching for Next on their mobiles will see this, not a great experience:
Next does get a lot right, especially around delivery and returns (a key area for online fashion), but I do think there remains plenty of room for improvement to the user experience.
For example, product pages don't contain the level of detail that online shoppers increasingly demand, while the lack of a mobile site is a serious flaw given the rise of mobile commerce.
Still, today's results show that the company is clearly performing well online. I just wonder how much better it could do with some serious conversion optimisation work on the site.
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