This was going to be a rigorous test of another specific UK fashion retailer’s paid search strategy, through to landing page and eventually checkout. Essentially a complete ecommerce journey from the customer’s point of view.

But then I was bombarded with LED festooned Christmas tree jumpers, wool sweaters featuring Santa with a fake wobbly Santa belly and pullovers with Rudolph’s glowing red nose and things went dramatically off-course.

There is a very strong chance that at some point over the next couple of weeks you’ll be encouraged to wear something festive, in fact there’s even a specific day for it (Christmas Jumper Day is 12 December if you quickly need to get a holiday request form in).

And if you’re anything like my wife and I, then you will have forgotten until the last minute, scrambled to the laptop at midnight, thought to yourself “where the hell do I buy a stupid Christmas jumper from?” Google searched ‘Christmas jumper’ and clicked on the first ad you saw.

With this behaviour in mind, which retailer is taking the most advantage of our panicky shopping with some well timed, relevantly delivered, agile paid search marketing?

The competition

There are many retailers gunning for the top spot, on four separate searches for either ‘Christmas jumper’ or the plural, I was served this ridiculously detailed ad from ASOS…

Then ads from Amazon, Sainsbury’s, Burton, Topman, Topshop and Bonprix…

Most of these led to relevant product listings pages and checkout experiences which I’ve covered before. The only real disappointment in term of relevancy was perhaps Topshop, whose ‘women’s knitwear’ landing page rather misses the point somewhat.

However of all the retailers battling it out for the non-festive adorned chests of online shoppers, there was a clear winner in terms of relevance and experience…

River Island

In similar past customer journey tests, such as Apple, Halfords and John Lewis the most successful retailers are those that deliver a clearly written, eye-catching ad and provides an entirely relevant landing page.

In fact Google’s AdWords Quality Score ensures that it’s not just the highest bidder that appears at the top of the paid listings but also the one’s the provide the most relevant destination.

River Island does a fantastic job on both counts.

Search

Here’s the PPC ad, grabbing attention immediately with a 40% off proposition along with some other customer service highlights, such as free UK returns, click & collect and next day delivery. For those last minute shoppers, next day delivery will be very appealing.

Then upon clicking through, there’s everything you could possibly need for your office Christmas tree decorating ceremony.

There are quick navigation links to different styles, clearly highlighted delivery options and the filter for size (probably the most important filter) is given pride of place at top left.

The discount promised in the ad is also applied right here on the page in an obvious manner, rather than as a promotional code

Product page

As for the product pages… I love River Island’s product pages. They are a work of functional, no-nonsense beauty.

The drop down menus are large and obvious, the single green call-to-action is highly persuasive (if not the most tasteful of colours), the ‘wear it with…’ section featuring three complimentary items works really well, doesn’t bombard the user with choices, is relevant to the product and the text feels more personal than ‘recommended products’.

The large black text is easily read, the product images contrast well with the white and grey of the background and the hover-zoom function works efficiently to give customers a closer look.

Last but not least I also like the huge checkout total in the top right hand corner.

Did I also mention that the site is entirely responsive, and therefore great for purchasing a Christmas jumper while running down the street away from the gathering hoards of shoppers?

Shopping bag & checkout

Another uncluttered, distraction-free page from River Island.

There’s plenty of space and everything’s laid out well, there’s also little I would expect missing. I particularly like the red text clearly stating how much more you need to spend for free shipping (although I don’t think I’ll add another £55 worth just for a few quid), the plethora of accepted payment types including the time-saving PayPal and the ability to enter a promotional code right away to see how much you’ll immediately save.

Unfortunately then comes a big disappointment, River Island doesn’t have a guest checkout. 

Guest checkouts can have a huge effect on conversion, they allow users a fast, efficient route to purchase which is key to customer satisfaction and also means the convenient experience you provided will be at the forefront of that user’s mind the next time they need to make an online purchase.

You can always ask to ‘save a customer’s details for next time’ after the purchase has been made.

In terms of a non-guest checkout though, River Island’s create account page has large text entry boxes, with details that it already has filled in automatically. Then once you’re through to the payment page all of your options are presented on a single screen, so it’s as fast as it possibly can be without being a guest checkout.

Retargeting

One final thing that I should point out, River Island also has a retargeting campaign. I left the process briefly to reference an article I had written on checkouts, and was presented with this…

Well played River Island.