Veering from thunder and lightning to glorious sunshine, the great British summer can be a confusing time for us all.

One thing’s for certain though... you can count on a good sale or two.

Department stores are a big draw for consumers looking for a bargain, offering a vast array of discounts across categories ranging from homeware to fashion.

With added convenience (because where else can you buy a £2 hat and a £200 handbag) retailers focus heavily on getting people to buy online.

I’ve chosen three popular stores that are fairly similar when it comes to price and demographic.

The department stores:

  • House of Fraser
  • John Lewis
  • Debenhams

Here’s how they are enticing shoppers online this summer.

Homepage design

All three stores have recently re-designed their homepages, specifically to highlight summer sale events.

House of Fraser

To me, the example that stands out as the most appealing is House of Fraser.

The 'Big Brand Sale' headline evokes the sense that it is a limited event, and the ‘up to 50% off’ offer is certainly eye-catching.

Alongside brand logos, the homepage showcases a good mix of categories included in the sale, using feature-style editorials to create an attractive and easy-to-navigate experience.

Debenhams

Its competitor, Debenhams, also chooses to focus on a large and enticing offer, promoting its savings of ‘up to half price*’. 

While the inclusion of the asterisk is somewhat off-putting – signalling to the consumer that the discounts might not be as good as they sound - its transparency is still appreciated.

The visibility of delivery charges provides further enticment.

Unlike House of Fraser's single image, Debenhams uses a carousel to highlight a few categories - however, the imagery and category choice does seem a little geared towards women. 

Similarly, the ‘Top Deals’ section showcases greater variety, but rather bold design does feel a little too in-your-face, and could prove off-putting for anybody uninterested in the sale.

John Lewis

Taking a different tack, John Lewis’s homepage concentrates on a slicker hero image.

By choosing to focus on the tagline of ‘More of what you love for less’, it effectively conveys a focus on the customer, as opposed to just shifting attention to the sale.

Its ‘Top Offers’ section - while similar to Debenhams – is subtler, including extra filtering options to point consumers to specific categories.

The size of sale

Sales can often be a bit hit or miss. While some sites might offer a limited number of sale items, others like to include as many as possible.

To make a comparison of size, I sorted each website into a specific category – namely ‘Women’s Dresses’ and ‘Size 10’.

Amount of products returned:

  • House of Fraser – 4,291
  • Debenhams – 1,959
  • John Lewis – 1,019

Carrying more brands than its competetors, it’s unsurprising that House of Fraser has the largest amount of sale items.

However, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.

According to research, big sales can often backfire, as consumers suffer from increased mental fatigue and less inclination to commit to a purchase.

As someone who often decides against shopping online at House of Fraser due to the sheer amount of products to trawl through, I’m definitely drawn to the select amount on offer at Debenhams.

But why not John Lewis?

I’m not entirely sure, but perhaps it’s related to the retailer insisting on calling its sale a ‘clearance’.

Though this clarification is intended to provide a greater sense of exclusivity, it doesn't provide any more benefits for customers.

So, essentially, it's still just a sale.

Calls-to-action & navigation

When it comes to product pages, there’s not much difference between the three sites in terms of extra incentive.

Each department store highlights prices before the sale, using big bold typography to advertise the discounted value.

Marginally better than the others, Debenhams also includes the amount saved, which does allow for greater insight at-a-glance.

One aspect of the John Lewis site which I particularly like is the ability to filter by sale percentage.

Allowing the user to quickly and easily find the most discounted items, it’s certainly the best filtering feature I have come across.

In terms of navigation, while Debenhams and John Lewis choose to include a dedicated sale page, both drop-down menus feel far too cluttered.

On the other hand, House of Fraser’s subtle yet effective ‘Sale’ sections in the drop-down menu ensures that the user knows exactly where to look for offers.

In conclusion...

While there isn't much to differentiate between the department stores in terms of strategy, House of Fraser's simple navigation and editorial-style certainly makes it the most appealing online sale out of the three.

It might offer a mind-boggling amount of items, but with other sites being completely overtaken by sales promotion, it manages to maintain some sense of decorum at least.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 28 June, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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