I like Hamleys. Unlike supermarket-style toy stores, it offers a special experience for kids and adults alike, and reminds me of the days before brands like Toys R Us dominated the market. 

In fact, as I've discussed often with Chris Lake, such a well-loved brand, known for quality and great in-store experience, should be able to thrive online, especially at this time of year. 

Indeed, It appears that it is doing well offline. It's expanding, but I don't think it's making the most of digital.

This post takes a close look at the site, and the general impression is that it hasn't kept with with the growth of ecommerce over the past few years. 

Interest declining? 

Here's a Google Trends chart showing search volume for 'Hamleys' over the last six years.

In this period the use of the internet, and ecommerce have grown rapidly in the UK, but interest in Hamleys has just about halved. 

Sales are good offline, so does this chart tell us something about its digital presence? 


Hamleys' homepage looks a little dated now. It's not awful but it isn't exactly inspirational either. It doesn't scream 'greatest toy shop in the world' at you. 

This is the site from 2005 (thanks to the Wayback Machine, which also explains the blanks): 

This was probably a fairly decent ecommerce site for 2005. The sad thing is, Hamleys doesn't seem to have moved on in the eight years since then. 

In fact, the latest toys / best seller recommendations are better than the merchandising on the current page. 


This is pretty basic. It kind of works, but it could be so much better. The design looks cheap, like the fonts used here on the product filters: 

There are lots of dead ends too. Here, I've clicked on Lego from the homepage. It shows me eight products with no options to view them all, expand my search, or add filters: 

Product pages

Let's compare this fantastic Tower Bridge Lego set on Hamleys' site...

...with the same product on Lego.com: 

Let's set aside the fact that you'll save £40 on Lego.com, but the product pages are like chalk and cheese, and the differences between the two tell you a lot about how much Hamleys could improve its website.

Here are a few: 

  • Product images. Hamleys has one image, which is the pattern across all the product pages I viewed on the site. Meanwhile, Lego has eight different photos, a video explaining the product, and the option of a 360 degree view. If people are going to spend £250 on a toy, they'll want to get a clear idea of it. Just offering one basic shot is no longer good enough. 
  • Reviews. Consumer reviews are a great sales driver. This has been known for some time, and now it's unusual for ecommerce sites not to use them. Hamleys has none at all, while Lego uses them very effectively. 

  • Product description / sales copy. These are just about identical, meaning that Hamleys has just used the standard manufacturer's copy. In this case, Lego's copy isn't so bad, but others are less than inspiring. Sales copy matters. Not only does it help to convert, but unique copy has SEO advantages. 
  • Cross-selling. Lego provides other product ideas, and most recently viewed items further down the page, Hamleys has none. 
  • Delivery and returns. Hamleys mentions a 30 day 'piece of mind' policy with links to more details, while Lego's is in the footer. Both aren't ideal. However, Hamleys makes the very annoying mistake of withholding delivery costs until the checkout

On-site SEO

I won't go into everything, but here are some useful observations from Ruth Attwood, SEO Manager at 4Ps Marketing:

The Hamleys store has a lot of its product content hidden behind 'want to know more' style links that aren’t doing the site any SEO favours, and many of the landing and product pages are lacking fundamental markup components like H1s, content in <p> tags (a common mistake many retailers make. Remember to put your product descriptions in <p>s, not just <div>s!) and in many cases decent meta data.

Checkout process

You have to register before checking out on Hamleys. Clearly, the latest ecommerce best practice has passed it by. 

This post explains why making customers register is a bad idea, but basically it's prime cause of checkout abandonment

There's also the problem that, sometime in the past, I've registered before. No, I can't remember my password, so I have to go through the dreaded reset process. 

I enter email, then click forgot password, and it asks me for the email again. Hamleys isn't the only site that does this, but it's bloody annoying. By the time it says it's sending me a new password, I've entered my address three times. 

The key here is that, while customers are in the purchase process, any delay can cause them to abandon.

I've already been delayed by having to register, so this email should be instant. It does arrive within a minute or two, but ends up in my spam folder, something Hamleys' team should look into. If that happens to other customers, it may explain a number of abandonments. 

Armed with a new password, I then head back to the site and click this continue button. It should put me back to the login page but, no, it dumps me back on the homepage. 

Only at this point do I find out the delivery charges. They aren't especially generous, and many online shoppers would now expect delivery to be free for an order of this price (£250). 


I should also point out that the checkout hasn't been enclosed, with the top navigation and offers for magic pens and more providing distractions for shoppers when they should be concentrating on the purchase. 

Worse still, if I decide I want some magic pens, it takes me out of checkout, and then I have to go through three more pages to get back where I was. 

In short, this is a very poor checkout process, with lots of barriers and friction, and I'll wager the abandonment rates are relatively high. 

In summary: what could Hamleys do instead? 

This is a very poor ecommerce site. Not a total disaster, since it is possible to find products and buy them, but there is lots of room for improvement (I haven't even mentioned half of the issues). 

We're talking about one of the most famous toy retail brands in the world, one which is known for its fantastic in-store experience. The problem is, it totally fails to even begin to match this online. 

It should learn some lessons from the Lego.com site. It's flipping brilliant. It's fun, it's colourful, has fantastic high quality images of toys, reviews, a community, lots of games, as well as lots of ways to navigate, (theme, age, category and so on). 

In short, it's fun and inspirational (It's also convinced me to buy some Lego for my daughter this Christmas). 

This is what Hamleys should be doing. Like Lego, it has a great brand and great products. It just needs to make them sing online. 

Get a modern website design, use reviews, add games and fun things for kids to do on the site (it's as much about marketing to children as adults), make those product pages exciting, as toys are supposed to be. 

At the moment, the site doesn't do al lot to represent the brand, it fact it may even detract from it. It could do much better than this. 

Graham Charlton

Published 18 November, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (11)

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Matt Stannard

Great article Graham.

Is it me or do the Hamleys messages, like the Password Reset one look like their styling takes after the IIS6 error page? When I first looked at the screenshot I thought it was a server error!

almost 5 years ago



Nice review of an ecommera powered site... it would be interesting to get a response from them on these issues.

almost 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

A brilliant post - thanks, Graham.

I think they have 2 options 'strategy' wise:

1. Fix all the nuts & bolts online, and 'iron out all problems'. That's essentially the 'John Lewis' strategy.
2. Add elements / extra online functionality to make the experience truly fantastic & memorable. (basically what they try to do in store).

At the moment, it feels like they're aiming for '1', but not there.

In fairness, they are way ahead of where they were a few years ago, but still *miles* behind what 'the brand' deserves.


almost 5 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

Good analysis. In a nutshell, Hamleys have to redo totally their site...and revise their pricing structure to match the manufacturers or competitors...but that is what eCommerce is all about isn't it?

over 4 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

Let's not forget Hamleys is primarily a luxury high street store that offers a shopping experience that no website can match. People travel and queue up to buy at Hamleys...people who actually will pay the £40 difference in the shop, rather than buying online...yes Hamleys website sucks but so does their SEM: searching for "tower bridge Lego" does not bring Hamleys page. So do they really need to go through the expense, hassle of redoing a website with "close up" photos, reviews etc?
Is etailing that important for Hamleys?

over 4 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant Agency

Great post Graham, and I agree with Dan's comments - they deserve a better website, as do their fans and customers.

I disagree with Antoine's comments. Hamleys is a magical brand and this critique shows that the spark is definitely missing, online. This digital gap, is the reason that we have lost some great brands from our highstreet over the past few years. I am not suggesting that this will happen in this case, but as Antoine mentioned - they are a luxury brand. This is most definitely not a luxury online customer experience.

over 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Antoine don't you think there's a market for quality toys/a luxury toy brand for those customers who can't get to the store easily?

I think, given the brand, it could be very successful online.

over 4 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

@Philip, I am not too sure on which part of my comment you disagree with: I seriously mentioned the site "suc-ed" and yes for we all can see some SEO failures*, UX and UI improvements to make.
By the way @Philip, I beg to differ as I do think we lost great brands from our high-streets because of poor "brick and mortar" retailing strategies, not because of the "digital gap" - unless you can enlighten me on this point.

And yes @Graham, given the brand a better website could be very successful...

My point was: Should Hamley's aim at providing a Luxury Online Experience for online buyers? Is it really what they are?

*Regarding SEO and after some (Disney) tests, some SERPs show Hamleys products (cheaper than Amazon!). I am more annoyed that they actually don't use Google Shopping!

over 4 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant Agency

@Antoine - I disagreed specifically with this:

"do they really need to go through the expense, hassle of redoing a website with "close up" photos, reviews etc?
Is etailing that important for Hamleys?"

I think I have already covered this above. I would also add that in support of Graham's last comment, I think the international/overseas opportunity for Hamleys is massive.

With regards to the brands that we lost from the high street, I agree that some of them likely had poor high street retailing strategies. However, many of those businesses failed because they did not embrace new channels and technologies. Some didn't even see the pure plays as competitors, then paid the ultimate price...

over 4 years ago



Such interesting stats.. great blog. Really enjoyed it

over 4 years ago


Caitlyn Lau, Student at Arrows Resource Centre

Just a quick question. Does Hamleys have USPs and do they have first mover advantage.

over 2 years ago

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