Often I find myself perusing the internet looking at how people are playing this game of ecommerce.

It’s an essential part of my role in trying to improve our own website, by learning how others are doing it.

For me there is one standout winner of ecommerce websites, and that is AO.com.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, show AO.com to somebody who works in design and they will be able to reel off hundreds of prettier websites, with fancy single page design and full screen imagery. 

AO.com wins it for me because it is doing such a sophisticated job of selling, and understands that the internet buyer is a different beast, one who requires as much information and guidance as possible.

I’m obviously not the only one who believes the AO.com hype. It was showcased back in May 2014 by Econsultancy who highlighted several best practice lessons to learn from the ecommerce impresarios. 

Navigation

Well, when your name is appliances online the user should expect to easily find appliances, which - considering the nature of this love letter - you will not be surprised to learn is a doddle.

A paltry eight main categories in the navigation bar will take you to where you want to go. AO is certainly aided by the nature of the game here - but has been sure to stick to thebread and butter, not diverging from the end goal of selling appliances. 

Take a look at the washing machines and dryers and you get just that, but collated into simple groups by main feature sets.

Washing machines are drilled down into straightforward integrated or freestanding, and there's also a option to see best buys and best premium. It is that simple

In one single dropdown AO has managed to create four categories that will cater for 99.9% of the washing machine buying audience. The options are there if you want to build your washing machine into your units or if you don’t. 

If you want to know what the majority of people are buying you get to see the best buys, if you want to know what the the more financially secure buyers are installing at their estates, yes, there’s an option for that.

When you delve further down into categories you are then presented with filtering, nothing groundbreaking - but the option is there for those who are more decisive with what features they want in their appliance.

Washing machines may be an easier product type to categorise, but even when comparing the more complex cooking categories to a competitor you can see where AO has nailed it.

Below you can see the navigation options for Appliances Direct, which has a fair amount of navigational real estate taken up by Cookers, Hobs, Range Cookers and Cooker Hoods.

Cooker Hoods are then categorised further into very detailed sub-categories. 

Take a look at how our protagonists categorise the same subjects - into one main category, and cooker hoods into five main categories (as opposed to the 22 offered by Appliances Direct). 

AO has made some great judgement calls on how to categorise its inventory, at every level.

Information, information, information

I previously mentioned that AO is particularly strong in their understanding of online buyers. Much of the time, people will be first time online purchasers and be dubious about this ‘new’ phenomena of online shopping, AO addresses these issues by informing as much as possible on every page of the site.

It isn’t revolutionary, most websites emblazon USPs all over their navigation bar, but actually if you look at the information contained in AO.com’s header, they answer a hell of a lot of potential questions.

Seven simple bits of information that are present throughout your visit are the facts that they offer some really good services to put you at ease, and reassure that you’re not purchasing your appliance from a faceless person sitting behind a computer. 

Furthermore, the site manages to convey really concisely what's on offer. There is nothing left to the imagination, even down to opening times under the phone number. My one criticism would be that an 0844 number for a large company could be a turn-off for would-be callers.

I may seem to be waxing lyrical over the most minor of details, but that is the point, taking care to iron out any big, yet simply answered, questions is really comforting for the interested party.

Take Curry's, another competitor, which use the same kind of tactic to sell itself to the purchaser.


There are four bits of information there which offer information on receipt of the product and price matching.

AO conveys its services much better with seven bits of information, which address:

  • Installation of the new.
  • Recycling of the old.
  • Price matching.
  • Alternative purchasing options using finance.
  • Returns information.
  • Even better, a human you can contact for further information.

Product pages: even more information

I think you all get the idea of this by now, AO does something brilliantly, I rave about it. 

When it comes to selling an actual product, AO is using a carefully plotted collection of techniques so well to sell that one product. Everybody in ecommerce should be aspiring to the standards set on their website.

Take the Samsung Ecobubble WF80F5E0W4W. Not the catchiest of names, and on the face of it simply a washing machine.

Seemingly contained in a rather simple product page with some blurb and pictures, there is a plethora of information assisting you to make your purchase.

They have videos, reviews, questions, finance information, delivery information, price match information, after sales information and even the ability to compare products contained in quite a small area of the product page.

There isn’t an overload of information either, a simple couple of paragraphs and the dimensions are there for you to see at first glance (or above the fold if you will), and if you want to read more you click on some links to take you to a goldmine of further specifications and more comprehensive description.

Its when you dig deeper you find that these guys are taking every product they sell really seriously. Take into account the fact that there has been an enormous 491 reviews of this single product. 

How reassured would you be to see that as a prospective buyer? A 4.5 star rating sounds great, when that is from almost 500 people then your head will have been seriously turned by this product.

What AO have done is use customer engagement to help it make money. By being attentive and intelligent AO has managed to make customers do the selling. One huge advantage to having an online shop. Yes it may not always work to your advantage in terms of negative reviews, but it is worth the risk.

If I was to criticise I’d say looking at the same product on John Lewis, it does a great job of selling the product visually. In roughly the same area of the screen, John Lewis makes better use of product imagery. Does that mean AO is doing something wrong? 

John Lewis has a rating of 3.5 stars for the same product and a measly 45 reviews. So, once again AO is completely winning the internet.

AO is also utilising video reviews to further enhance the selling strategy, John Lewis isn’t. So nicer images may look nice, but a video review would hold a lot more sway when decisions are being made. 

What they don’t do is show the fact that there are actually 24 supplementary videos they have made to detail the exact features of this washing machine - they are hidden away in the image slideshow. Some are a matter of seconds long, but the content is incredible. 

These videos are so helpful, so much so that when I was out physically shopping for a tumble dryer I watched one of the videos explaining what sensor drying entailed. Lo and behold, I went home and made the purchase from AO.com because the assistant in the shop wasn’t attentive enough to be there, when quite melodramatically, AO was.

Please AO, for the love of the customer, brag that you have 25 videos on a single product.

Product reviews and customer engagement

I alluded to the volume of reviews for a single product which is really impressive, but one thing I have noticed on various products is the customer engagement in these reviews.

Imagine having such good engagement with your customers that some even take the effort to make their own video reviews, of a washing machine.

Well imagine no longer, AO have that engagement. Back to the ecobubble, the top review includes a video review not made in-house, but in-customer-house. Incredible.

There is no wonder that 371 out of 371 people found this review helpful, there is a plethora of information and a video to boot. It really is the dreamboat of product reviews, and this one is followed by another customer video and equally impressive review. This is word-of-mouth on steroids.

The influence doesn’t end there, type “samsung WF80F5E0W4W reviews” into a little known search engine name Google and what do you think you will see?

AO comes up trumps, they may not be top of the organic results, but the review figures come up as part of the search result and further down the page the actual video posted by their customer appears. In the description of the video is further acknowledgement to the gods of appliances, “Review of this ace Samsung washing machine from Appliances Online”.

This kind of engagement has to be the best free publicity a marketer could wish for, this video to date has over 65,000 views on YouTube. Put that into context for a minute. A video created by a customer who has already purchased a product from somebody has had tens of thousands of views for a review they made, for the website that sold it to them. It is incredibly powerful.

Attention to the minor details

What I love about the internet is when you encounter a feature that is really small but has had a lot of thought put into it from a user perspective. 

There are websites that I use that clearly spend a lot of time thinking into the minutiae. Users of Mailchimp will appreciate their attention to the smallest of details.

A good example being when you’re about to send your email out to your mailing list.

Once again, AO is in on the act, of course it is. The one feature that actually inspired me to write this piece in the first place occurs when you highlight a product name on a product page.

This is sheer genius. The question is, why would somebody be highlighting the product name in the first place? Clearly they want to search the internet for a price comparison.

By further highlighting the fact that product match is on offer, AO is encouraging purchasers to search around and come back when they’ve found a better deal.

What’s more is that when you navigate from their tab to another (provided you have highlighted the product name) you are further reminded of the price match offering.

I really hope there is somebody at AO who is perhaps sitting there feeling undervalued reading this and knowing that their brilliance is appreciated. I salute you.

Site search

Congratulations, you’ve managed to make it this far down this edition of ‘This is Your Life’ for AO.com. If you have, then like me you are passionate for making good products and can appreciate that there are some people out there just absolutely smashing it. 

Site search is a just another small limb making up the monster that is an ecommerce website. I don’t think it is humanly possible to get this right from every possible angle. In order to get it completely right you’d never have a customer search for something and not get a relevant result.

A great test of a good search function on a website is to throw in some searches that aren’t actually guaranteed results, but are perfectly valid customer queries. Good examples are ‘delivery’ and ‘returns’. These are things that customers may search if they want more information. 

One that we have on our website that I know we have to fix is the search query ‘branches’. This doesn’t occur often, but clearly enough for me to know about it (*quickly adds to ‘must do soon’ list).

So what do you think happens when you search for delivery on AO.com? Obviously you are redirected to the delivery information page. The same goes for searching for returns, you are redirected to a 14-day returns guarantee. 

It is simple, but it is very effective, but isn’t limited to just AO.com, John Lewis and Currys and many more employ the same feature to good effect. It's another technique that a small ecommerce outfit, like the company I work for, can take heed from.

The one trick that AO do miss out on is the branch search, if you perform that search on John Lewis you are returned a list of their branches. In my opinion, AO could do with a holding page explaining that they are an internet only business.

Check out the checkout

Their box of tricks doesn’t end there, when you’re finally ready to part with your hard earned dollar AO starts pulling out the upsells.

Whilst it isn’t exactly groundbreaking to upsell on a cart, they do it in a way that is appealing and unintrusive. Better yet, it’s all in the universal language of human. 

"Do you want us to fit your new washing machine?"

"Do you want us to take away your old washing machine?"

I’d love to know how many upsells AO gets from this clever implementation. 

To put the icing of the cake of user friendliness they have a single page checkout where each step is thoroughly clear and easy to complete. Every thought has gone into a checkout process to make it conducive to quick purchases. It’s difficult to get an impulse buyer online, but AO tries hard to encourage this mindset.

Boom, boom, boom everybody say AO

Yeah, I said it....

If you’ve made it to the epilogue I’d be surprised if you didn’t really get the hint by now. AO.com is the king of ecommerce. I really admire the thought and effort that goes into making it the standout supplier of appliances online.

My job involves trying to grow a website and stand out from our competition, I often encourage myself that we are making strides to stand out in a crowd of many by putting as much effort into each product as possible.

AO has clear advantages in volume, it must have a rather large team putting all of this time and effort in, but this time is being used in the right places. Having an ecommerce website isn’t as simple as chucking a product on and hoping it gets bought. 

I genuinely could’ve gone on for twice the number of words about more angles where they are doing it right. If you are in the ecommerce game I highly recommend spending some time looking at AO and seeing where you can learn from its efforts.

To the staff at AO, keep it up. You really are doing an amazing job.

Daffy Kyle

Published 25 March, 2015 by Daffy Kyle

David Kyle is an ecommerce manager and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

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Comments (5)

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Kirsty Wilson, Customer Experience / Usability Manager at Santander UK plcEnterprise

They haven't just got it right for the sale. Their communications and after sale support are also delivered with personality and panache. Buying from them is a truly delightful experience. So much so, I can't wait to welcome my new fridge to the Wilson household!

over 3 years ago

Matthew Lawson

Matthew Lawson, eCommerce Director at loveholidays.com

This is what ecommerce looks like, when your culture is truly devoted to the customer!

over 3 years ago

Stephen Keable

Stephen Keable, Customer Experience Designer at Allies Computing Ltd

Love the changing of the page title when you move to another tab. Great way to grab people's attention back, if they are comparing you to a competitor in another tab.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Very nice.
They chosen not to go for a responsive site yet, I notice.

On their mobile site - where the 7-item bar you like so much, they've not kept in the top menu but pushed it right down. Space is tight I guess.

Impressive site overall: it's fast too.

over 3 years ago

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Meghan Hayes, UX Manager at Lane Crawford

Rather than 'good judgement calls' I'm going to guess that they invested a lot of time and money into speaking directly to their users during the taxonomy development, user requirements gathering, page design, etc. Something that more companies need to understand is vital if they want stellar experiences such as this :)

over 3 years ago

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