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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?? 

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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. 

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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: 

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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. 

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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... 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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...

Conclusion

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: 

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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. 

Graham Charlton

Published 5 October, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Jay Anon

I am an employee of BHS but from the retail level, I can explain why the menswear selection is separated from the main website.

During the summer the mens division in store and online got taken over and revamp by Burton Menswear (Arcadia Group), however from an operational level the department is run by 50% BHS & 50% Burton.

If you have a look at the Burton website www.burton.co.uk it has almost exactly the same functionality and tools e.g. product zoom as the menswear site of BHS.

But I have to concede that the separation of the men's products is a problem and would rather opt for a seamless shopping experience and have it all unified under one web portal and perhaps incorporate the user experience from the BHS Men's website as pointed out in the article.

almost 6 years ago

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Andre Ferrari

Never mind the online BHS experience, what about the actual instore experience?  Here in Jersey the revamped store layout has squeezed the menwear section to the back of the store with a much reduced choice of garments.  Meanwhile the rest of the floor is given over to womens wear under the Dorothy Perkins, Wallis brands etc.  Ignoring the bias against male customers, this might make for some sort of marketing sense but for the fact that there is a dedicated Dorothy Perkins store just up the road!  If those in charge can make that sort of dumb decision, don't expect too much logic in the rest of the BHS empire.

over 5 years ago

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J. McMahon

I have just spent three hours on the B.H.S. Website trying in vain to place an order. It logged me out of the site when it didn't recognise my password. I was sent two new passwords to no avail. I was told by an automated reply that the website did not recognise my email address. B.H.S have been sending me their email advertising to my email address for the past two months.
I was then told that I could by-pass the log-in. No joy...I phoned their helpline four times and could not get through.
In conclusion:
I think that their website is crap. Their customer service is non existent. They are obviously doing so well in these reccessionary times that they do not need customers.

over 3 years ago

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Simon Hatch

BHS have really lost the plot and proved they do not have any customer service skills at all. I placed an order with THE COURIER decided had damaged packaging and returned to BHS as per their policy. Is BHS policy to re-dispatch the order...NO, is BHS policy to contact me to see if I wanted the goods resent or a refund...NO, Is BHS policy just to refund the order and not even tell me...YES. And to top it all, when you call the helpline, and after you wait 15 minutes to get through, if you ask to speak to a manage it is their POLICY that you will only be passed through if the agent feels that you will be told something different to what they have said...My suggestion is to use another online shop...any online shop that has a clue about customer service.

over 3 years ago

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