What do you think of the new site? 

Stephen Croome, Founder at Firstconversion.com:

I think the new site is a perfectly functional ecommerce site, but does not deliver on luxury in any way. It is just a standard Magento site like many others. Just because it works on a tablet or mobile phone, doesn’t make it luxury. 

What is luxury about this? Its just a product feed with standard product information, like anyone else in the world can do. The site does not demonstrate or convey luxury.

Compare their homepage to the Orient Express or Maserati. You immediately see the difference in sense of style, quality of imagery and their history as luxury powerhouses.

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers:

The word that immediately springs to mind is functional.

There are no fundamental errors or glaring omissions but for me the site feels a bit vanilla and lacks the luxury feel and exclusivity you’d associate with the high street stores and falls some way short of delivering “the ultimate fashion experience”.

On the flip side, the new site is a lot easier to use and navigate than previous versions and the information architecture has been well thought out.

A couple of nice touches include the ability to view key product information and alternative images on category pages. This saves browsers from having to dive in and out of product pages.

I also like the Fashion Emergency feature allowing you to seek advice from a Style Advisor although sadly when I tried it (during normal opening hours) nobody was on hand to help.

Mike Upton, Ecommerce Manager: 

In essence the new site is perfectly usable, fairly well laid out and is a good starting point to improve upon.

If the brand wasn’t considered to be a luxury brand then people would likely be happy to commend the site as a whole.

Therein lies the problem though, Harvey Nichols is indeed a luxury brand and with that tag comes a unique set of expectations that users will judge against.

This is where the site appears to be falling short for many but the elements that make websites and brands feel luxurious can be quite challenging to pin down.

The decision to shun responsive design in favour of the site adapting to different devices is one that will likely divide opinion but there is no single solution that perfectly suits every business and so each company has to make the decision that suits their customers and their market best. 

Dan Barker, ecommerce consultant: 

I don’t think it’s as bad as others seem to. I think it’s a nice platform for growth, but is not necessarily ‘the finished product’.

Here’s my breakdown of what I’d choose as five aims if I was in charge of the site, and my notes on whether I think the site achieves each:

What should/could Harvey Nichols have done better? 

Stephen Croome:

Harvey Nichols should have focused on why it is a luxury brand and demonstrated these credentials.

I would be using sites like fivesecondtest.com, showing people my design and asking people “On a scale of 1 to 10 how luxury/expert/high quality does this website look” and “Does this website look like the shopping equivalent of Maserati?” 

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers:

I think the visuals could work harder to deliver a richer online experience.

The product range is largely aspirational and whilst there are sections such as ‘inspiration, editors picks & buzz’ to help get this across – better/more lavish use of lifestyle imagery would carry a greater impact (something M&S does really well).

Site load and response times are sluggish too which also detracts from the experience. There’s perhaps an over-reliance on user discovery across the website too.

Sections such as ‘The Buzz’ & ‘The Knowledge’ give little away up front and even the newsletter sign up pod doesn’t give any compelling reasons to do so.

Mike Upton:

Alongside the decision to steer clear of a responsive design Harvey Nichols also appears to have led with a tablet first design for the tablet/desktop version of the site.

Unfortunately though, I feel that somehow it hasn’t quite managed to make it work as it should for either device. The size of the site has clearly been aimed at the effective 1024px width of an iPad and this leaves it floundering in the centre of wider resolution screens with too much wasted space.

Chris Lake highlighted some examples of websites that deal well with higher resolution screens and this should have been better considered for Harvey Nichols.

Further to the website width, HN has also chosen to use a touch friendly navigation bar that opens when clicked rather than hover over.

This makes a lot of sense if you are targeting touchscreen devices but the spacing between items in that navigation bar just isn’t enough for me to consider it touch friendly which defeats the point. 

If you take a look at some luxury brand websites such as Burberry, Mulberry or Smythson you will see huge top quality high resolution photography showing off all the beauty of their products.

I feel that this is what is missing from the Harvey Nichols site and is exactly why many have denounced it to be a little bland and underwhelming.

The other aspect that I feel they is lacking a luxury feel in is the selection of fonts across the site. Fonts can play a huge part in how websites and content are perceived and I think that across the site fonts are used that lack that weight and authority that a good luxury brand font can provide. 

Dan Barker:

A few people have mentioned the site doesn’t feel luxury. I think that’s an interesting point.

If you scroll through one of the ‘new’ categories, you’ll see lots of expensive products from lots of well known luxury brands.

That basically leaves the UX, UI, and content tone as potential reasons for it not ‘feeling’ luxury. I think HN could fix all of that without any fundamental changes to the site.

First of all I’d:

  1. Clarify internally whether Harvey Nichols does want the site to feel ‘luxury’, or if they’re actually wanting to push more mainstream.
  2. Do some investigation into whether or not their target audience perceive the site as ‘luxury’ (or as matching their wishes).
  3. Make some simple tweaks to the UI layer to try and achieve that, and then test them. 

Here’s a silly 10-second example of how fiddling about with some of the visual cues can push forward a bit of a higher end feel:



One additional thing to mention is that the site is most definitely ‘tablet first’. Harvey Nichols needs to take a look at the mobile and desktop experience and bring those up to the same level.

If you look at the top-level navigation, the categories are ‘women’, ‘men’, ‘beauty’, ‘food & wine’, ‘brands’.

I’d bet 80% of the clicks there are within the ‘women’ section, and for every one of those clicks you have to click ‘women’ first and then click into it.

I’d have probably built good landing pages for each of those categories, making them essentially ‘department homepages’. The nearest the site has to that at present are ‘view all women’s clothing’ grid pages, which aren’t really a substitute.

Do luxury brands have a more difficult task when designing new sites? Is it harder to balance creativity and good UX?

Stephen Croome:

There is nothing mechanically more difficult about creating a luxury site than any other site. 

The gap in understanding lies with the marketers behind the sites and the ignorance of decision makers in the luxury space in general, when it comes to IT and digital marketing.

Many marketers think luxury marketing is just marketing, but until you sit down with a few millionaires and interview them on their online shopping habits, you really have no idea what makes them tick when buying online.

Albie Attias: 

I think it’s a balancing act that needs thinking through and testing carefully and there are likely tradeoffs to be made between style and substance but you don’t have to look far to find plenty of sites that have got this right (Nespresso, M&S, Mulberry & more).

Imagery and photography are hugely important as is the quality and tone of voice of the copy writing (which HN is already doing very well in my opinion).

Mike Upton:

Designing luxury sites has its own complexities to consider but I believe that is true of any website.

All sites are likely to have something that makes them uniquely awkward in one way or another and so I wouldn’t necessarily pick out luxury websites as being particular difficult. 

I’d also argue that designing for luxury/exclusivity and designing for usability are not conflicting ideologies and are by no means mutually exclusive.

The brands, products and websites that are able to achieve both of these aspects tend to the be the ones that break the mould and become huge commercial successes. 

Dan Barker:

Lots of what luxury sites do is around brand, and product, and fulfilment, and tone. Many of those are ‘people’ things and rely on good people, rather than specifically technology stuff.

The big, easy one of course is aesthetics. If you look at Selfridges, or Liberty’s homepage at the moment you may have the two same thoughts I did:

  1. They look more luxury than the Harvey Nichols site.
  2. If you pick apart why they look more luxury, Harvey Nichols could easily achieve all of that without any fundamental changes to the new platform:

Selfridges homepage

What do you think of the new site? Let us know below…