I can’t say I was surprised when British Home Stores went into administration earlier this year.

It was a high street staple, yet a lack of innovation meant it was never going to compete with digitally-focused competitors like Debenhams and House of Fraser.

Just months after its stores closed, it has returned in an online-only format. 

So, will it work as an ecommerce brand?

Here’s a closer look at the retailer’s new strategy as well as a quick review of the site itself.

Targeting loyal customers

According to the Managing Director, David Anderson, the BHS re-brand will be counting on the loyalty of the store’s original customers.

With a customer base of well over one million people and the fact that we have secured contracts with so many leading suppliers who are providing products that were among the most popular with our shoppers, we are in the best possible position for launch.

Of course, this audience is likely to be an older demographic – those who faithfully shopped from BHS up until the very end.

It makes sense that if the customers remain, so too will their desire to shop from BHS.

But will they be willing to go online?

Focus on biggest-selling products

BHS is hoping to draw in loyal customers with a limited but high quality product range.

With 75% of the store’s most popular stock being homeware and lighting, it will be specifically concentrating on these areas for the time being.

Clothing, shoes, furniture and food are gone, despite a promise to introduce some new ranges in future.

By streamlining its product offering, BHS appears to be banking on its reputation as an iconic homeware retailer – the area that contributed to its success in the first place.

Look & Design

So how does the new site compare to the old?

Old site

The old BHS website looked cluttered and mismatched, with the traditional logo and imagery feeling slightly dated.

It also heavily focused on deals and discounts, using this as its main incentive for online consumers.

The main navigation menu was also quite cluttered, including an overwhelming amount of categories.

New site

In comparison, the new BHS site looks pleasingly minimal and sleek – a good reflection of the company’s streamlined product offering.

While there is still an emphasis on free delivery and returns, the new site definitely takes a subtler approach.

Gone are the in-your-face discounts, indicating that the new BHS has a renewed confidence in its product range.

The main menu is better organised and less overwhelming in terms of choice.

User experience

When it comes to the browsing experience on the relaunched BHS.com, it's all a bit hit and miss.

The categories are well defined and the navigation is straightforward.

However, the filter system is a bit of a let-down, with no ‘clear all’ button and a lack of any rating or review system.

I also found the copy on the ‘Homeware’ category page to be a very baffling addition.

Firstly, the opening paragraph doesn’t actually make sense, and the sheer amount of copy included when you click 'read more' is unnecessary.

Oddly enough, a category description is nowhere to be found in the ‘Lighting’ section. 

Maybe they haven’t got round to it yet… but I’m kind of hoping they don’t.

Onto the product pages, and they are very minimal to say the least.

Most include just one image (which is very unhelpful for online consumers buying large household items like lighting fixtures).

And most of the page is made up of white space, with no links to other products or categories. This means there is zero encouragment for the user to carry on browsing.

The product names and descriptions are pretty bland too.

Fancy buying a “Carlton Swing Arm Table Lamp” or “Cut Chenille Fern Cushion, Black, One size”?

Not exactly inspiring.

Onto checkout and it's an easy enough process, with the positives being free delivery and a pleasing option to checkout as a guest.

However, there’s no option to pay via Paypal or any real call-to-actions to incentivise further purchases.

In conclusion…

All in all, I found the revamped BHS experience to be pretty frustrating, mainly because the early signs were good. 

The streamlined categories and sleek design are bound to appeal to both new and old customers alike. 

However, regardless of the consumer’s opinions or pre-conceptions of the retailer, a poor UX is always going to make or break a site’s success.

Most of the site is bare, leaving the user with the feeling that the site is unfinished or just poorly made.

With the best ecommerce sites offering greater personalisation, social proof and general ease-of-use, BHS still has a long way to go before it can really compete as an online retailer.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 3 October, 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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Comments (2)

George Cole

George Cole, Digital Marketing Manager at TN

Interesting - I'm wondering how long it took to get together a new design for their eCommerce site? Perhaps they're planning t0 develop it further and this is a 1.0 version. I certainly would expect to see related products, for example. Old-style BHS was one of those shops where you never paid full price for anything and it was full of green sale stickers, so I agree its a relief to see some more confidence and fewer discount messages - I think they did devalue their offering previously.

about 1 year ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Will loyal customers be impressed that that company shareholding is outside the UK: British Virgin islands ?

But anyway - a previous UK retail icon that crashed and went online is Woolworths: but that didn't remain for long: the new owners instead concentrated on their very.co.uk brand.
So BHS has a tough path ahead it seems.

about 1 year ago

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