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With a well-known brand and a high street presence, BHS has the potential do well online, both in terms of web sales, and in driving sales into stores. After all, other multichannel rivals such as Debenhams and House of Fraser have been using their high street presence to increase their multichannel revenues.
However, the BHS website doesn't deliver the best user experience, and looks like it could do with a revamp. Here are ten ways it could improve online...
Remove irrelevant error messages
When you head for the men's section of the site, you get a message telling you to purchase any items in the basket before being redirected. What does this mean??
Since there is nothing in my basket, it is completely irrelevant, and this doesn't inspire shoppers' confidence in the website.
Besides, even if shoppers have items in their basket, why should they purchase them before looking elsewhere on the site. If there is a good reason for this (and I can't think of one), then this hasn't been explained.
Provide better zoom tools
The zoom options on the product pages of the main site (i.e. womenswear etc) are a little too basic, and could be improved. The controls are jerky and awkward, and though it can be shown in a larger window, you need to click a link to do this.
Problem is, the link to see a larger image is in a small font well below the photo where it can be missed (and where I missed it). Making the product image clickable would have been a better idea.
Stop sending customers to external websites
It turns out that the reason for the message above is that the menswear section is hosted on a separate website, though this isn't made as clear as it should be.
Electricals and mother and baby ranges are also hosted on an external site, though a different one to the menswear: BHSDirect.co.uk. At least this is explained a little here:
While BHS Direct is run by a third party, Easycom, I cannot see who is responsible for the menswear site, it seems to be separated from the rest of the site for no particular reason.
Since customers think they are shopping with the same brand, splitting one website into three separate sites is very confusing, and it also means that BHS cannot offer in store collection for a large portion of its product range.
It also means that customers who want to shop from all three sections will have to register and checkout three times. Madness.
Provide a more consistent experience
This is an offshoot of the previous point. One big problem with the way the site is sectioned up, apart from the checkout/registration madness, is that customers have a different experience depending on which section they choose to shop in.
Customers arrive at a BHS website expecting to shop with BHS, but instead they get this bizarre blend of three separate websites and checkouts, with different logins.
Of the three versions of the site, I think the menswear one seems to offer the best experience, at least on product pages. For instance, while the zoom tools on the womenswear section were poor, this one can be enlarged to almost full screen and viewed from several angles.
If BHS can get this right on one section, why can't it apply this to the whole site?
Don't make customers register before checkout
Whichever section you choose, registration is compulsory with BHS. There are good reasons why you shouldn't make customers register which I won't go into here, but this is one way BHS could reduce basket abandonment. There are better ways to get customers to register.
Avoid checkout errors
This is the screen of death, as far as conversions are concerned. This happened to me twice on the address page during checkout. I can't see many customers completing their purchases after seeing this...
I was using Chrome, so perhaps this is a problem with BHS and this browser, but since it is used by roughly 10% of web users, sites should be tested on it.
Avoid strict postcode validation
BHS also fails on the postcode validation test. Being too strict with form fields means more error messages, and therefore increased frustration and abandonment for customers.
In the case of Belron, it was found that 2.5% of customers were abandoning the checkout thanks to strict postcode validation, and BHS is making the same mistake here.
Belron found that customers were entering the letter 'O' when a zero was required, triggering an error message. Since this is a mistake which many customers may be unaware they are making, this frustration can cause them to abandon. After all, the error message doesn't help here.
A better approach is to anticipate the error, and accept either the letter 'O' or a zero, so customers don't even know they have made a mistake. The same principle applies to things like spaces in phone numbers and postcodes, and shifted characters i.e. £ instead of 3.
Improve reserve and collect
Reserve online and collect in store services have worked well for retailers like Halfords and Argos, and most multichannel retailers have been introducing their own versions of this.
BHS does offer this on the 'main' site, so you can collect in store if you are buying from the womens and homeware sections, but not if you want menswear, electricals or any baby products.
Also, the promise to deliver to a store in up to seven days isn't really that compelling, when other retailers can check stock for you at the local store and have items ready for collection the same or next day.
Show some information within the checkout process
BHS has enclosed the checkout, which is good practice in terms of focusing customers on purchase and minimising abandonment, but it has neglected to give customers links to information they may need during the process.
Not providing this info gives customers a reason to leave the checkout process, so it's a good idea to provide information about delivery/returns/contact details etc in a pop-up or lightbox so customers can see this information without leaving the process.
Don't try and sneak items into customers' baskets
On the electrical site, having selected a laptop and added it to my basket, I get this pop-up offering me various warranties and accessories I hadn't asked for. I'm not sure that using a pop-up to cross sell is a great idea anyway (H&M has this feature on its website), but pre-checking boxes is likely to get on customers' nerves.
BHS (or its partner in this case) has pre-ticked four boxes here, one for an extended warranty, and the other three for accessories, adding a total of £160 to the basket value. It also means more effort for the customer to get to checkout as they now have to untick the various boxes. I wonder how many customers abandon when they realise extra items have been added to their order...
It's not all bad; the BHS site does have some decent features, including some options which it doesn't promote enough. For instance, customers shopping on the menswear site have the choice of named day delivery. This is a great differentiator, and really useful for people who cannot be in for deliveries all the time, but it isn't really promoted enough on the site.
Google Trends suggests that, though less popular than Debenhams, there is some interest in BHS from searchers, at least not much less than that in House of Fraser, which increased its online sales by 150% this year:
By unifying its website, improving the user experience, and doing more to convert customers online, as well as promoting offline sales BHS could make a lot more of its brand and multichannel presence than it is doing at the moment.
BHS may be making a fortune online, there are plenty of tracking and affiliate tags on there for example, but it could surely do better by presenting customers with a more consistent online experience.