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Urban Outfitters is an ever increasing presence on the UK high street and has been in the news repeatedly over the last 12 months for various t-shirt related controversies.
Yet despite this ubiquity I have never actually visited its site before writing this article today. Shameful I know.
UrbanOutfitters.com is an interesting site, with a few unique features. Some of them work, some of them don’t, but my primary concern here is the disconnect between its online business and its offline stores.
This manifests in a high street experience where you will be forgiven for thinking it didn’t even operate a website.
There are no messages inside the store advertising its online business, no web addresses, no Wi-Fi password offered, no QR codes, no links to out of stock items... I’m not expecting every store to offer a revolutionarily brilliant augmented reality app but the mention of a web address would at least suggest a small concession to digital.
Next door there is Uniqlo, which trumpets its click and collect offer clearly on the window, perfectly capturing the attention of people walking by when the store is closed.
Urban Outfitters however just manages this…
Hang on, lets take a closer look…
I missed this the first time, only catching it a second time while leaving the store. Bear in mind that I was actively looking for it both times. An average passer-by doesn't stand a chance.
Why write the ecommerce address using transparent text, with an imperceptible font size, hidden behind two mannequins? Is the retail store ashamed of its site? Does it feel its directly competing with the website for some complex reason?
Let's take a look if this disconnect manifests itself online too.
Delivery and returns
If you’re a first time visitor to Urban Outfitters, you’ll be greeted with this message on arrival.
Although this answers the question of whether or not Urban Outfitters offers free delivery immediately, this is a sneaky way to capture someone’s email address.
Free delivery, even with a threshold, should be offered as standard in ecommerce, as it’s what customers expect and it’s what your competitors are already doing. It shouldn't be used as a method of bribery to capture your data.
It’s very easy to immediately close pop-up boxes like this as we assume the message is going to be something spammy, thankfully however the same message remains at the foot of the page.
However there are no obvious links to returns and delivery information on the homepage (apart from the floating email sign-up message at the footer), neither is there any information on the product pages.
In fact you have to scroll down to the bottom of each page to find the links. Which are inaccessibly faint.
Once you've clicked through to the FAQ page, this is where you’ll learn that goods purchased online can be returned to its stores, which is a great first step in providing customer convenience.
This message should really be stated more plainly on the product pages though, rather than hidden behind multiple links.
Unfortunately there is no click and collect service, which is a shame as this would be an effective way to add convenience and provide an actual free delivery service for customers.
Frankly if you are able to distribute goods around the country, and have actual brick and mortar stores on the high street, there really is no excuse in not offering click and collect.
Find a store
Although there is a store locator which is easy enough to find at the bottom right of the desktop, when visiting the site on mobile, the locator disappears.
In fact you have to click on the hamburger menu…
Then scroll down below the fold…
Until you see this faint piece of text…
Once you’re eventually there, the locator itself is good, with click-to-call function and Google Map integration. However this needs to be placed directly on the front of the mobile homepage rather than hidden away, as it will help drive the footfall of those customers who are out and about and want to easily find your location.
There are so many excellent examples of retailers that have either mastered or are at least trying to get to grips with the multichannel journey, so it’s a surprise to see a retailer that not only fails at this but seems to directly work against creating a joined-up customer experience.
The benefits of multichannel are huge. Improved brand perception, higher conversion, improved customer lifetime value, better customer retention, more accurate data collection...
Obviously with companies who have been around for longer than a few decades, breaking down silos and instilling a major organisational rethink in order to accommodate digital will require a fundamental shift in strategy and attitude. However if old dogs like Marks and Spencer and John Lewis can do it, theoretically hip younger brands like Urban Outfitters born into the digital age, really shouldn’t be struggling like this.